H. L. Mencken’s Obituary of Machen
H.L. Mencken’s laudatory obituary of Machen is here, as it appears as an appendix in Gary North’s 1995 book Crossed Fingers: How the Liberals Captured the Presbyterian Church. It originally appeared in the Baltimore Evening Sun on January 18, 1937.
Mencken was not at all inclined to Machen’s religious views, saying that he stood “much more chance of being converted to spiritualism, to Christian Science or even to the New Deal than to Calvinism, which occupies a place, in my cabinet of private horrors, but little removed from that of cannibalism.” Yet Mencken admired Machen’s courageous and intelligent struggle against modernism in seminaries and churches. Mencken rejected Christianity, but despised the efforts of ecclesiastical modernists to dispense with the substance of Christianity while retaining its nomenclature, ceremony, and semblance of piety. “It is one thing,” Mencken wrote, “to reject religion altogether, and quite another thing to try to save it by pumping out of it all its essential substance, leaving it in the equivocal position of a sort of pseudo-science.”
Mencken also commented favorably upon Machen’s stance against Prohibitionism in the Church. The anti-alcohol movement had become quite the rage in churches of Machen’s era (indeed, it has had an inexcusably long legacy), and Mencken suggests that Machen’s opposition to it may have had something to do with Machen’s break with mainstream Presbyterians.
Mencken clearly took pleasure in observing Machen’s thorough routing of modernists. “Dr. Machen argued them quite out of court,” Mencken exulted, “and sent them scurrying back to their literary and sociological Kaffeeklatsche.”
Unfortunately, Machen’s battles ended in retreat. Crossed Fingers discusses those battles and the liberal strategy that led to their victory.