Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion
Book One - The Church of the Conquerors
The Priestly Lie
When the first savage saw his hut destroyed by a bolt of lightning, he fell down upon his face in terror. He had no conception of natual forces, of laws of electricity; he saw this event as the act of an individual intelligence. Today we read about fairies and demons, dryads and fauns and satyrs, Wotan and Thor and Vulcan, Freie and Flora and Ceres, and we think of all these as pretty fancies, play-products of the mind; losing sight of the fact that they were originally meant with entire seriousness - that not merely did ancient man believe in them, but was forced to believe in them, because the mind must have an explanation of things that happen, and an individual intelligence was the only explanation available. The story of the hero who slays the devouring dragon was not merely a symbol of day and night, of summer and winter; it was a literal explanation of the phenomena, it was the science of early times.
Men imagined supernatural powers such as they could comprehend. If the lightning god destroyed a hut, obviously it must be because the owner of the hut had given offense; so the owner must placate the god, using those means which would be effective in the quarrels of men - presents of roast meats and honey and fresh fruits, of wine and gold and jewels and women, accompanied by friendly words and gestures of submission. And when in spite of all things the natural evil did not cease, when the people continued to die of pestilence, then came the opportunity of hysterical or ambitious persons to discover new ways of penetrating the mind of the god. There would be dreamers of dreams and seers of visions and hearers of voices; readers of the entrails of beasts and interpreters of the flight of birds; there would be burning bushes and stone tables on mountain-tops, and inspired words dictated to aged disciples on lonely islands. There would arise special castes of men and women, learned in these sacred matters; and these priestly castes would naturally emphasize the importance of their calling, would hold themselves aloof from the common herd, endowed with special powers and entitled to special privileges. They would interpret the oracles in ways favorable to themselves and their order; they would proclaim themselves friends and confidants of the god, walking with him in the night-time, receiving his messages and angels, acting as his deputies in forgiving offenses, in dealing punishments and in receiving gifts. They would become makers of laws and moral codes. They would wear special costumes to distinguish them, they would go through elaborate ceremonies to impress their followers, employing all sensuous effects, architecture and sculpture and painting, music and poetry and dancing, candles and incense and bells and gongs:
And storied windows richly dight,
So builds itself up, in a thousand complex and complicated forms, the Priestly Lie. There are a score of great religions in the world, each with scores or hundreds of sects, each with its priestly orders, its complicated creed and ritual, its heavens and hells. Each has its thousands or millions or hundrbds of milliohs of "true believers"; each damns all the others, with more or less heartiness - and each is a mighty fortress of Graft.
There will be few readers of this book who have not been brought up under the spell of some one of these systems of Supernaturalism; who have not been taught to speak with respect of some particular priestly order, to thrill with awe at some particular sacred rite, to seek respite from earthly woes in some particular ceremonial spell. These things are woven into our very fibre in childhood; they are sanctified by memories of joys and griefs, they are confused with spiritual struggles, they become part of all that is most vital in our lives. The reader who wishes to emancipate himself from their thrall will do well to begin with a study of the beliefs and practices of other sects than his own - a field where he is free to observe and examine without fear of sacrilege. Let him look into Madame Blavatsky's "Secret Doctrine," or her "Isis Unveiled" - encyclopedias of the fantastic inventions which terror and longing have wrung out of the tortured soul of man. Here are mysteries and solemnities, charms and spells, illuminations and transmigrations, angels and demons, guides, controls and masters - all of wnich it is permissible to refuse to support with gifts. Let the reader then go to James Freeman Clarke's "Ten Great Religions," and realize how many billions of humans have lived and died in the solemn certainty that their welfare on earth and in heaven depended upon their accepting certain ideas and practicing certain rites, all mutually exclusive and incompatible, each damning the others and the followers of the others. So gradually the realization will come to him that the test of a doctrine about life and its welfare must be something else than the fact that one was born to it.
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