Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion

Book Two - The Church of Good Society

The Elders

What the Church means in human affairs is the rule of the aged. It means old men in the seats of authority, not merely in the church, but in the law-courts and in Parliament, even in the army and navy. For a test I look up the list of bishops of the Church of England in Witaker's Almanac; it appears that there are 40 of these functionaries, including the archbishops, but not the suffragans; and that the total salary paid to them amounts to more than $900,000 a year. This, it should be understood, does not include the pay of their assistants, nor the cost of maintaining their religious estaplishments; it does not include any private incomes which they or their wives may possess, as members of the privileged classes of the Empire. I look up their ages in Who's Who, and I find that there is only one below 53: the oldest of them is 91, while the average age of the goodly company is 70. There have been men in history who have retained their flexibility of mind, their ability to adjust themselves to new circumstances at the age of 70, but it will always be found that these men were trained in science and practical affairs, never in dead languages and theology. One of the oldest of the English prelates, the Archbishop of Canterbury, recently stated to a newspaper reporter that he worked 17 hours a day, and had no time to form an opinion on the labor question.

And now - here is the crux of the argument - do these aged gentlemen rule of their own power? They do not! They do literally nothing of their own power; they could not make their own episcopal robes, they could not even cook their own episcopal dinners. They have to be maintained in all their comings and goings. Who supports them, and to what end?

The roots of the English Church are in the English land system, which is one of the infamies of the modern world. It dates from the days of William the Norman, who took possession of Britain with his sword, and in order to keep possession for himself and his heirs, distributed the land among his nobles and prelates. In those days, you understand, a high ecclesiastic was a man of war, who did not stoop to veil his predatory nature under pretense of philanthropy; the abbots and archbishops of William wore armor and had their troops of knights like the barons and the dukes. William gave them vast tracts, and at the same time he gave them orders which they obeyed. Says the English chronicler, "Stark he was. Bishops he stripped of their bishopricks, abbots of their abbacies." Green tells us that "the dependence of the church on the royal power was strictly enforced. Homage was exacted from bishop as from baron." And what was this homage? The bishop knelt before William, bareheaded and without arms, and swore: "Hear my lord, I become liege man of yours for life and limb and earthly regard, and I will keep faith and loyalty to you for life and death, God help me."

The lands which the church got from William the Norman, she has held, and always on the same condition - that she shall be "liege man for life and limb and earthly regard." In this you have the whole story of the Church of England, in the 20th century as in the llth. The balance of power has shifted from time to time; old families have lost the land and new families have gotten it; but the loyalty and homage of the church have been held by the land, as the needle of the compass is held by a mass of metal. Some 250 years ago a popular song gave the general impression -

For this is law that I'll maintain
Until my dying day, sir:
That whatsoever king shall reign
I'll still be vicar of Bray, sir!

So, wherever you take the Anglican clergy, they are Tories and Royalists, conservatives and reactionaries, friends of every injustice that profits the owning class. And always among themselves you find them intriguing and squabbling over the dividing of the spoils; always you find them enjoying leisure and ease, while the people suffer and the rebels complain. One can pass down the corridor of English history and prove this statement by the words of Englishmen from every single generation. Take the 14th century; the "Good Parliament" declares that:

Unworthy and unlearned caitiffs are appointed to benefices of a thousand marks, while the poor and learned hardly obtain one of twenty. God gave the sheep to be pastured, not to be shaven and shorn.

And a little later comes the poet of the people, Piers Plowman -

But now is Religion a rider, a roamer through the streets, A leader at the love-day, a buyer of the land, Pricking on a palfrey from manor to manor, A heap of hounds at his back, as tho he were a lord, And if his servant kneel not when he brings his cup. He loureth on him asking who taught him courtesy. Badly have lords done to give their heirs' lands Away to the Orders that have no pity; Money rains upon their altars. There where such parsons be living at ease They have no pity on the poor; that is their "charity." Ye hold you as lords; your lands are too broad, But there shall come a king and he shall shrive you all And beat you as the bible saith for breaking of Your Rule.

Another step through history, and in the early part of the 16th century here is Simon Fish, addressing King Henry the Eighth in the "Supplicacyon for the Beggars," complaining of the "strong, puissant and counterfeit holy and ydell" which "are now increased under your sight, not only into a great nombre, but ynto a kingdoms."

They have begged so importunatly that they have gotten ynto their honds more than a part of all youre Realme. The goodliest lordships, manors, londs, and territories, are theyres. Besides this, they have the tenth part of all the corne, medowe, pasture, grasse, woole, coltes, calves, lambes, pigges, gese and chikens. Ye, and they looke so narrowly uppon theyre proufittes, that the poore wyves must be countable to thym of every tenth eg, or elles she gettith not her rytes at ester, shal be taken as an heretike. ... Is it any merveille that youre people so compleine of povertie? The Turke nowe, in your tyme, shulde never be abill to get so moche grounde of christendome ... And whate do al these gredy sort of sturdy, idell, holy theves? These be they that have made an hundredth thousand idell hores in your realme. These be they that catche the pokkes of one woman, and bere them to an other.

The petitioner goes on to tell how they steal wives and all their goods with them, and if any man protest they make him a heretic. "so that it maketh him misshe that he had not done it." Also they take fortunes for masses and then don't say them. "If the Abbot of Westminster shulde sing every day as many masses for his founders as he is bounde to do by his foundacion, 1000 monkes were too few." The petitioner suggests that the king shall "tie these holy idell theves to the cartes, to be whipped naked about every market towne till they will fall to labours!"

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