Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion

Book One - The Church of the Conquerors


These priestly empires exist in the world today. If we wish to find them we have only to ask ourselves: What countries are making no contribution to the progress of the race? What countries have nothing to give us, whether in art, science, or industry?

For example, Gervaise tells us of the Talapoins, or priests of Siam, that "they are exempted from all public charges, they salute nobody, while everybody prostrates himself before them. They are maintained at the public expense." In the same way we read of the Negroes of the Caribbean islands that "their priests and priestesses exercise an almost unlimited power." Miss Kingsley, in her "West African Studies," tells us that if we desire to understand the institutions of this district, we must study the native's religion.

For his religion has so firm a grasp upon his mind that it influences everything he does. It is not a thing apart, as the religion of the Europeans is at times. The African cannot say, "Oh, that is all right from a religious point of view, but one must be practical." To be practical, to get on in the world, to live the day and night through, he must be right in the religious point of view, namely, must be on working terms with the great world of spirits around him. The knowledge of this spirit world constitutes the religion of the African, and his customs and ceremonies arise from his idea of the best way to influence it.

Or consider Henry Savage Landor's account of Thibet:

In Lhassa and many other sacred places fanatical pilgrims make circumambulations, sometimes for miles and miles, and for days together, covering the entire distance lying flat upon their bodies. ... From the ceiling of the temple hang hundreds of long strips, katas, offered by pilgrims to the temple, and becoming so many flying prayers when hung up - for mechanical praying in every way is prominent in Thibet. ... Thus instead of having to learn by heart long and varied prayers, all you have to do is to stuff the entire prayer-book into a prayer-wheel, and revolze it while repeating as fast as you can four words meaning, "O God, the gem emerging from the lotus-flower." ... The attention of the pilgrims is directed to a large box, or often a big bowl, where they may deposit whatever offerings they can spare, and it must be said that their religious ideas are so strongly developed that they will dispose of a considerable portion of their money in this fashion. ... The Lamas are very clever in many ways, and have a great hold over the entire country. They are ninety percent of them unscrupulous scamps, depraved in every way and given to every sort of vice. So are the women Lamas. They live and sponge on the credulity and ignorance of the crowds: it is to maintain this ignorance, upon which their luxurious life depends, that foreign influence of every kind is strictly kept out of the country.

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