Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion

Book One - The Church of the Conquerors


If shch a scene could be witnessed in the world today, it would only be in some remote and wholly savage place, such as the, mountains of Hayti, or the Solomon Islands. It could no longer happen in any civilized country; the reason being, not any abatement of the pretensions of the priesthood, but solely the power of science, embodied in the physical arm of a secular State. The advance of that arm the Church has fought systematically, in every country, and at every point. To quote Buckle: "A careful study of the history of religious toleration will prove that in every Christian country where it has been adopted, it has been forced upon the clergy by the authority of the secular classes." The wolf of superstition has been driven into its lair, but it has backed away snarling, and it still crouches, watching for a chance to spring. The Church which burned John Huss, which burned Giordano Bruno for teaching that the earth moves round the sun - that same Church, in the name of the same three-headed god, sent out Francesco Ferrer to the firing-squad; if it does not do the same thing to the author of this book, it will be solely because of the police. Not being allowed to burn me here, the clergy will vent their holy indignation by sentencing me to eternal burning in a future world which they have created, and which they run to suit themselves.

It is a fact, the significance of which cannot be exaggerated, that the measure of the civilization which any nation has attained is the extent to which it has curtailed the power of institutionalized religion. Those peoples which are wholly under the sway of the priesthood, such as Thibetans and Koreans, Siamese and Caribbeans, are peoples among whom the intellectual life does not exist. Farther in advance are Hindoos and Turks, who are religious, but not exclusively. Still farther on the way are Spaniards and Irish; here, for example, is a flashlight of the Irish peasantry, given by one of their number, Patrick MadGill:

The merchant was a great friend of the parish priest, who always told the people if they did not pay their debts they would burn for ever and ever in hell. "The fires of eternity will make you sorry for the debts that you did not pay," said the priest. "What is eternity?" he would ask in a solemn voice from the altar steps. "If a man tried to count the sands on the sea-shore and took a million years to count every single grain, how long would it take him to count them all? A long time, you'll say. But that time is nothing to eternity. Just think of it! Burning in hell while a man, taking a million years to count a grain of sand, counts all the sand on the sea-shore. And this because you did not pay Farley McKeown his lawful debts, his lawful debts within the letter of the law." That concluding phrase, "within the letter of the law," struck terror into all who listened, and no one, maybe not even the priest himself, knew what it meant.

There is light in Ireland today, and hope for an Irish culture; the thing to be noted is that it comes from two movements, one for agricultural cooperation and the other for political independence - both of them definitely and specifically non-religious. This same thing, has been true of the movements which have helped on happier nations, such as the republics of France and America, which have put an end to the power of the priestly caste to take property by force, and to dominate the mind of the child without its parents' consent.

This is as far as any nation has so far gone; it has apparently not yet occurred to any legislature that the State may owe a duty to the child to protect its mind from being poisoned, even though it has the misfortune to be born of poisoned parents. It is still permitted, that parents should terrify their little ones with images of a personal devil and a hell of eternal brimstone and sulphur; it is permitted to found schools for the teaching of devil-doctrines; it is permitted to organize gigantic campaigns and systematically to infect whole cities full of men, women and children with hell-fire phobias. In the American city where I write one may see gatherings of people sunk upon their knees, even rolling on the ground in convulsions, moaning, sobbing, screaming to be delivered from such torments. I open my morning paper and read of the arrest of five men and seven women in Los Angeles, members of a sect known as the "Church of the Living God," upon a charge of having disturbed the peace of their neighbors. The police officers testified that the accused claimed to be possessed of the divine spirit, and that as signs of this possession they "crawled on the floor, grunted like pigs and barked like dogs." There were "other acts, even more startling," about which the newspapers did not go into details. And again, a week or two later, I read how a woman has been heard screaming, and found tied to a bedpost, being whipped by a man. She belonged to a religious sect which had found her guilty of witchcraft. Another woman was about to shoot her, but this woman's nerve failed, and the "high priest" was called in, which decreed a whipping. The victim explained to the police that she would have deserved to be whipped had she really been a witch, but a mistake had been made - it was another woman who was the witch. And again in the Los Angeles "Times" I read a perfectly serious news item, telling how a certain man awakened one morning, and found on his pillow where his head had lain a perfect reproduction of the head of Christ with its crown of thorns. He called in his neighbors to witness the miracle, and declared that while he was not superstitious, he knew that such a thing could not have happened by chance, and he knew what it was intended to signify - he would buy more Liberty Bonds and be more ardent in his support of the war!

And this is the world in which our scientists and men of culture think that the battle of the intellect is won, and that it is no longer necessary to spend our energies in fighting "Religion"!

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