Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion
Book Two - The Church of Good Society
I begin with the Church of Good Society, because it happens to be the Church in which I was brought up. Reading this statement, some of my readers suspected me of snobbish pride. I search my heart; yes, it brings a hidden thrill that as for back as I can remember I knew this atmosphere of urbanity, that twice every Sunday those melodious and hypnotizing incantations were chanted in my childish ears! I take up the book of ritual, done in artistocratic black leather with gold lettering, and the old worn volume brings me strange stirrings of recollected awe. But I endeavor to repress these vestigial emotions and to see the volume - not as a message from God to Good Society, but as a landmark of man's age-long struggle against myth and dogma used as a source of income and a shield to privilege.
In the beginning, of course, the priest and the magician ruled the field. But today, as I examine this "Book of Common Prayer," I discover that there is at least one spot out of which he has been cleared entirely; there appears no prayer to planets to stand still, or to comets to go away. The "Church of Good Society" has discovered astronomy! But if any astronomer attributes this to his instruments with their marvelous accuracy, let him at least stop to consider my "economic interpretation" of the phenomenon - the fact that the heavenly bodies affect the destinies of mankind so little that there has not been sufficient emolument to justify the priest in holding on to his job as astrologer.
But when you come to the field of meteorology, what a difference! Has any utmost precision of barometer been able to drive the priest out of his prerogatives as rainmaker? Not even in the most civilized of countries; not in that most decorous and dignified of institutions, the Protestant Episcopal Church of America! I study with care the passage wherein the clergyman appears as controller of the fate of crops. I note a chastened caution of phraseology; the Church will not repeat the experience of the sorcerer's apprentice, who set the demons to bringing water, and then could not make them stop! The spell invokes "moderate rain and showers"; and as an additional precaution there is a counterspell against "excessive rains and floods": the weather-faucet being thus under exact control.
I turn the pages of this "Book of Common Prayer," and note the remnants of magic which it contains. There are not many of the emergencies of life with which the priest is not authorized to deal; not many natural phenomena for which he may not claim the credit. And in case anything should have been overlooked, there is a blanket order upon Providence: "Graciously hear us, that those evils which the craft or subtilty of the devil or man worketh against us, be brought to nought!" I am reminded of the idea which haunted my childhood, reading fairy-stories about the hero who was allowed three wishes that would come true. I could never understand why the hero did not settle the matter once for all - by wishing that everything he wished might come true!
Most of these incantations are harmless, and some are amiable; but now and then you come upon one which is sinister in its implications. The volume before me happens to be of the Church of England, which is even more forthright in its confronting of the Great Magic. Many years ago I remember talking with an English army officer, asking how he could feel sure of his soldiers in case of labor strikes; did it never occur to him that the men had relatives among the workers, and might some time refuse to shoot them? His answer was that he was aware of it, the military had worked out its technique with care. He would never think of ordering his men to fire upon a mob in cold blood; he would first start the spell of discipline to work, he would march them round the block, and get them in the swing, get their blood moving to military music, then, when he gave the order, in they would go. I have never forgotten the gesture, the animation with which he illustrated their going - I could hear the grunting of bayonets in the flesh of men. The social system prevailing in England has made necessary the perfecting of such military technique; also, you discover, English piety has made necessary the providing of a religious sanction for it. After the job has been done and the bayonets have been wiped clean, the company is marched to church, and the officer kneels in his family pew, and the privates kneel with the parlor-maids, and the clergyman raises his hands to heaven and intones: "We bless thy Holy Name, that it hath pleased Thee to appease the seditious tumults which have been lately raised up among us!"
And sometimes the clergyman does more than bless the killers - he even takes part in their bloody work. In the Home Office of the British Government I read (vol 40, page 17) how certain miners were on strike against low wages and the "truck" system, and the Vicar of Abergavenny put himself at the head of the yeomanry and the Greys. He wrote the Home Office a lively account of his military operations. All that remained was to apprehend certain of the strikers, "and then I shall be able to return to my Clerical duties." Later he wrote of the "sinister influences" which kept the miners from returning to their work, and how he had put half a dozen of the most obstinate in prison.
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