Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion

Book Two - The Church of Good Society

The Medicine-Men

Andrew D. White tells us that:

It was noted that in the 14th century, after the great plague, the Black Death, had passed, an immensely increased proportion of the landed and personal property of every European country was in the hands of the church. Well did a great ecclesiastic remark that "pestilences age the harvests of the ministers of God."

And so naturally the clergy hold on to their prerogative as banifiers of epidemics. Who knows what day the Lord may see fit to rebunke the upstart teachers of impious and atheistical inoculation, and scourge the people back into His fold as in the good old days of Moses and Aaron? Viscount Amberley, in his immensely learned and half-suppressed work, "The Analysis of Religious Belief," quotes some missionaries to the Ftji islanders, concerning the ideas of these benighted heathen on the subject of a pestilence. It was the work of a "disease-maker," who was burning images of the people with incantations; so they blew horns to frighten this disease-maker from his spells. The missionaries undertook to explain the true cause of the affliction - and thereby revealed that they stood upon the same intellectual level as the heathen they were supposed to instruct! It appeared that the natives had been at war with their neighbors, and the missionaries had commanded them to desist; they had refused to obey, and God had sent the epidemic as punishment for savage presumption!

And on precisely this same Fijian level stands the "Book of Common Prayer" of our most decorous and cultured of churches. I remember as a child lying on a bed of sickness, occasioned by the prevalence in our home of the Southern custom of hot bread three times a day; and there came an amiable clerical gentleman and recited the service proper to such pastoral calls: "Take therefore in good part the visitation of the Lord!" And again, when my mother was ill, I remember how the clergyman read out in church a prayer for her, specifying all sickness, "in mind, body or estate." I was thinking only of my mother, and the meaning of these words passed over my childish head; I did not realize that the elderly plutocrat in black broadcloth who knelt in the pew in front of me was invoking the aid of the Almighty so that his tenements might bring in their rentals promptly, so that his little "flyer" in cotton might prove successful; so that the children in his mills might work with greater speed.

Somebody asked Voltaire if you could kill a cow by incantations, and he answered, "Yes, if you use a little strychnine with it." And that would seem to be the attitude of the present-day Anglican church-member; he calls in the best physician he knows, he makes sure that his plumbing is sound, and after that he thinks it can do no harm to let the Lord have a chance. It makes the women happy, and after all, there are a lot of things we don't yet know about the world. So he repairs to the family pew, and recites over the Venerable prayers, and contributes his mite to the maintenance of an institution which, 14 Sundays every year, proclaims the terrifying menaces of the Athanasian Creed:

Whoever will be saved, before all things it is necessary that he hold the Catholick faith. Which faith, except one do keep whole and undefiled; without doubt he shall perish everlastingly.

For the benefit of the uninitiated reader, it may be explained that the "Catholick faith" here referred to is not the Roman Catholic, but that of the Church of England and the Protestant Episcopal Church of America. This creed of the ancient Alexandrian lays down the truth with grim and menacing precision - 44 paragraphs of metaphysical minutiae, closing with the final doom: "This is the Catholick faith: which except a man believe faithfully, he cannot be saved."

You see, the founders of this august institution were not content with cultural complacency; what they believed they believed really, with their whole hearts, and they were ready to act upon it, even if it meant burning their own at the stake. Also, they know the ceaseless impulse of the mind to grow; the terrible temptation which confronts each new generation to believe that which is reasonable. They met the situation by setting out the true faith in words which no one could mistake. They have provided, not merely the Creed of Athanasius, but also the "Thirty-nine Articles" - which are 39 separate and binding guarantees that one who holds orders in the Episcopal Church shall be either a man of inferior mentality, or else a sophist and hypocrite. How desperate some of them have become in the face of this cruel dilemma is illustrated by the tale which is told of Dr. Jowett, of Balliol College, Oxford: that when he was required to recite the "Apostles' Creed" in public, he would save himself by inserting the words "used to" between the words "I believe," saying the inserted words under his breath, thus, "I used to believe in the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost." Perhaps the eminent divine never did this; but the fact that his students told it, and thought it funny, is sufficient indication of their attitude toward their "Religion." The son of William George Ward tells in his biography how this leader of the "Tractarian Movement" met the problem with cynicism which seems almost sublime: "Make yourself clear that you are justified in deception; and then lie like a trooper!"

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