I've always been taken with HL Mencken. Not only has his writing amused me, but I've often found it wise. True, he has often filled the role of the "gay fellow who heaved dead cats into sanctuaries and then went roistering down the highways of the world, proving to all men that doubt, after all, was safe -- that the god in the sanctuary was finite in his power and hence a fraud." But, he also was one of the more astute observers of the American psyche and our rather entertaining, if not sad, politics.
Mencken could be caustic, but objects of his ridicule usually earned his scorn. His coverage of the Scope's Trial sent fundamentalists back into the safety of their tent revivals. He heaped humor upon them until they could no longer carry the load. As Mencken said, "One horse-laugh is worth ten thousand syllogisms," and the fundamentalist sects just gave us so many choice targets.
Mencken wrote one short piece that I always loved: his credo, "What I believe." I'd like to quote it in whole, given his brevity:
"I believe that religion, generally speaking, has been a curse to mankind -- that its modest and greatly overestimated services on the ethical side have been more than overcome by the damage it has done to clear and honest thinking.
I believe that no discovery of fact, however trivial, can be wholly useless to the race, and that no trumpeting of falsehood, however virtuous in intent, can be anything but vicious.
I believe that all government is evil, in that all government must necessarily make war upon liberty and the democratic form is as bad as any of the other forms.
I believe that the evidence for immortality is no better than the evidence of witches, and deserves no more respect.
I believe in the complete freedom of thought and speech -- alike for the humblest man and the mightiest, and in the utmost freedom of conduct that is consistent with living in organized society.
I believe in the capacity of man to conquer his world, and to find out what it is made of, and how it is run.
I believe in the reality of progress.
I -- but the whole thing, after all, may be put very simply. I believe that it is better to tell the truth than to lie. I believe that it is better to be free than to be a slave. And I believe that it is better to know than be ignorant."
Yes, I could quibble with Mencken on some of his wording, but his general sentiments are my own. But, there are other things I would state, not because I will necessarily say it better than he, but because it would, after all, be my own credo, not his. While I can make a list as long as my arm, of thinkers who have influenced me, in the end it is my responsibility to formulate my own credo. In addition to what Mr. Mencken said allow me to add the following:
I believe reason is superior to faith, and science preferable to superstition.
I believe the individual who is free to make his own choices is better off than he who is not, provided he respects the equal liberty of others.
I believe the one thing worse than someone who incompetently manages his own life is someone who incompetently manages the lives of others.
I believe trade does more to improve the world than bombs.
I believe solutions sought out in fear are usually more destructive than the monster, often imaginary, who inspired the fear.
I believe in being charitable and that there is often nothing more lethal than charity. The difficulty is knowing one from the other.
I believe we should treat children with all the respect we demand from them, and then some.
I believe the only way we can have our own freedom and rights is to protect the freedom and rights of others -- especially those we dislike.
I believe that a government that doesn't trust its own people -- finding it necessary to spy on them -- is itself a government that cannot be trusted.
I believe that the politician who seeks power is the one who can't be trusted with it.
I believe every individual is an end in herself and not an a means to my ends, or those of others.
I believe power in the hands of a man certain he is right is more dangerous than in the hands of a man who knows he is wrong.
I believe those obsessed with the sexual morality of others are the ones with the most to hide.
What do you believe?