Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion

Book One - The Church of the Conquerors

Priestly Empires

In every human society of which we have record there has been one class which has done the hard and exhausting work, the "hewers of wood and drawers of water"; and there has been another, much smaller, class which has done the directing. To belong to this latter class is to work also, but with the head instead of the hands; it is also to enjoy the good things of life, to live in the best houses, to eat the best food, to have choice of the most desirable women; it is to have leisure to cultivate the mind and appreciate the arts, to acquire graces and distinctions, to give laws and moral codes, to shape fashions and tastes, to be revered and regarded - in short, to have Power. How to get this Power and to hold it has been the first object of the thoughts of men from the beginning of time.

The most obvious method is by the sword; but this method is uncertain, for any man may take up a sword, and some may succeed with it. It will be found that empires based upon military force alone, however cruel they may be, are not permanent, and therefore not so dangerous to progress; it is only when resistance is paralyzed by the agency of Superstition, that the race can be subjected to systems of exploitation for hundreds and even thousands of years. The ancient empires were all priestly empires; the kings ruled because they obeyed the will of the priests, taught to them from childhood as the word of the gods.

Thus, for instance, Prescott tells us:

Terror, not love, was the spring of education with the Aztecs.

Such was the crafty policy of the priests, who, by reserving to themselves the business of instruction, were enabled to mould the young and plastic mind according to their own wills, and to train it early to implicit reverence for religion and its ministers.

The historian goes on to indicate the economic harvest of this teaching:

To each of the principal temples, lands were annexed for the maintenance of the priests. The estates were augmented by the policy or devotion of successive princes, until, under the last Montezuma, they had swollen to an enormous extent, and covered every district of the empire.

And this concerning the frightful system of human sacrifices, whereby the priestly caste maintained the prestige of its divinities:

At the dedication of the temple of Huitzilopochtli, in 1486, the prisoners, who for some years had been reserved for the purpose, were ranged in files, forming a procession nearly two miles long. The ceremony consumed several days, and seventy thousand captives are said to have perished at the shrine of this terrible deity.

The same system appears in Professor Jastrow's account of the priesthood of Babylonia and Assyria:

The ultimate sources of all law being the deity himself, the original legal tribunal was the place where the image or symbol of the god stood. A legal decision was an oracle or omen, indicative of the will of the god. The power thus lodged in the priests of Babylonia and Assyria was enormous. They virtually held in their hands the life and death of the people.

And of the business side of this vast religious system:

The temples were the natural depositories of the legal archives, which in the course of centuries grew to veritably enormous proportions' Records were made of all decisions; the facts were set forth, and duly attested by witnesses. Business and marriage contracts, loans and deeds of sale were in like manner drawn up in the presence of official scribes, who were also priests. In this way all commercial transactions received the written sanction of the religious organization. The temples themselves - at least in the large centers - entered into business relations with the populace. In order to maintain the large household represented by such an organization as that of the temple of Enlil of Nippur, that of Ningirsu at Lagasb, that of Marduk at Babylon, or that of Shamash at Sippar, large holdings of land were required which, cultivated by agents for the priests, or farmed out with stipulations for a gobdly share of the produce, secured an income for the maintenance of the temple officials. The enterprise of the temples was expanded to the furnishing of loans at interest - in later periods, at 20 percent - to barter in slaves, to dealings in lands, besides engaging labor for work of all kinds directly needed for the temples. A large quantity of the business documents found in the temple archives are concerned with the business affairs of the temple, and we are justified in including the temples in the large centers as among the most important business institutions of the country. In financial or monetary transactions the position of the temples was not unlike that of national banks....

And so on. We may venture the guess that the learned professor said more in that last sentence than he himself intended, for his lectures were delivered in that temple of plutocracy, the University of Pennsylvania, and paid out of an endowment which specifies that "all polemical subjects shall be positively excluded!"

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