Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion

Book Two - The Church of Good Society

The Canonization of Incompetence

The supreme crime of the church today is that everywhere and in all its operations and influences it is on the side of sloth of mind; that it banishes brains, it sanctifies stupidity, it canonizes incompetence. Consider the power of the Church of England and its favorite daughter here in America; consider their prestige with the press and in politics, their hold upon literature and the arts, their control of education and the minds of children, of charity and the lives of the poor: consider all this, and then say what it means to society that such a power must be, in every new issue that arises, on the side of reaction and falsehood. "So it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be;" runs the church's formula; and this per se and a priori, of necessity and in the nature of the case.

Turn over the pages of history and read the damning record of the church's opposition to every advance in every field of science, even the most remote from theological concern. Here is the Reverend Edward Massey, preaching in 1772 on "The Dangerous and Sinful Practice of Inoculation"; declaring that Job's distemper was probably confluent smallpox; that he had been inoculated doubtless by the devil; that diseases are sent by Providence for the punishment of sin; and that the proposed attempt to prevent them is "a diabolical operation." Here are the Scotch clergy of the middle of the 19th century denouncing the use of chloroform in obstetrics, because it is seeking "to avoid one part of the primeval curse on woman." Here is Bishop Wilberforce of Oxford anathematizing Darwin: "The principle of natural selection is absolutely incompatible with the word of God"; it "contradicts the revealed relation of creation to its creator"; it "is inconsistent with the fullless of His glory"; it is "a dishonoring view of nature." And the Bishop settled the matter by asking Huxley whether he was descended from an ape through his grandmother or grandfather.

Think what it means, friends of progress, that these ecclesiastical figures should be set up for the reverence of the populace, and that every time mankind is to make an advance in power over Nature, the pioners of thought have to come with crow- bars and derricks and heave these figures out of the way! And you think that conditions are changed today? But consider syphilis and gonorrhea, about which we know so much, and can do almost nothing; consider birth-control, which we are sent to jail for so much as mentioning! Consider the divorce reforms for which the world is crying - and for which it must wait, because of St. Paul! Realize that up to date it has proven impossible to persuade the English Church to permit a man to marry his deceased wife's sister! That when the war broke upon England the whole nation was occupied with a squabble overthe disestablishment of the church of Wales! Only since 1888 has it been legally possible for an unbeliever to hold a seat in Parliament; while up to the present day men are tried for blasphemy and convicted under the decisions of Lord Hale, to the effect that "it is a crime either to deny the truth of the fundamental doctrines of the Christian religion or to hold them up to contempt or ridicule." Said Mr. Justice Horridge, at the West Riding Assizes, 1911: "A man is not free in any public place to use common ridicule on subjects which are sacred.

The purpose, as outlined by the public prosecutor in London, is "to preserve the standard of outward decency." And you will find that the one essential to prosecution is always that the victim shall be obscure and helpless; never by any chance is he a duke in a drawing-room. I will record an utterance of one of the obscure victims of the Britsh "standard of outward decency," a teacher of mathematics named Holyoake, who presumed to discuss in a public hall the starvation of the working classes of the country. A preacher objected that he had discussed "our duty to our neighbor" and neglected "our duty to God"; whereupon the lecturer replied: "Our national Church and general religious institutions cost us, upon accredited computation, about twenty million pounds annually. Worship being thus expensive, I appeal to your heads and your pockets whether we are not too poor to have a God. While our distress lasts, I think it would be wise to put deity upon halt pay." And for that utterance the unfortunate teacher of mathematics served six months in the common Gaol of Gloucester!

While men were being tried for publishing the "Freethinker", the Premier of England was William Ewart Gladstone. And if you wish to know what an established church can do by way of setting up dullness in high places, get a volume of this "Grand Old Man's" 'Writings on theological and religious questions. Read his "Juventus Mundi," in the course of which he establishes a mystic connection between the trident of Neptune and the Christian Trinity! Read his efforts to prove that the writer of Genesis was an inspired geologist! This writer of Genesis points out in Nature "a grand, fourfold division, set forth in an orderly succession of times: First, the water population; secondly, the air population; thirdly, the land population of animals; fourthly, the land population consummated in man." And it seems that this division and sequence "is understood to have been so affirmed in our time by natural science that it may be taken as a demonstrated conclusion and established fact." Hence we must conclude of the writer of Genesis that "his knowledge was divine"! Consider that this was actually published in one of the leading British monthlies, and that it was necessary for Professor Huxley to answer it, pointing out that so far is it from being true that "a fourfold division and orderly sequence" of water, air and land animals "has been affirmed in our time by natural science," that on the contrary, the assertion is 'directly contradictory to facts known to everyone who is acquainted with the elements of natural science." The distribution of fossils proves that land animals originated before sea-animals and there has been such a mixing of land, sea and air animals as utterly to destroy the reputation of both Genesis and Gladstone as possessing a divine knowledge of Geology.

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