Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion

Book Two - The Church of Good Society

Bishops and Beer

For example, the International Shylocks wanted the diamond mines of South Africa - wanted them more firmly governed and less firmly taxed than could be arranged with the Old Man of the Boers. So the armies of England were sent to subjugate the country. You might think they would have had the good taste to leave the lowly Jesus out of this affair - but if so, you have missed the essential point about established religion. The bishops, priests, and deacons are set up for the populace to revere, and when the robber-classes need a blessing upon, some enterprise, then is the opportunity for the bishops, priests and deacons to earn their "living." During the Boer war the blood- lust of the English clergy was so extreme that writers in the dignified monthly reviews felt moved to protest against it. When the pastors of Switzerland issued a collective protest against cruelties to women and children in the South African concentration-camps, it was the Right Reverend Bishop of Winchester who was brought forward to make reply. Nowadays all England is reading Bernhardi, and shuddering at Prussian glorification of war; but no one mentions Bishop Welldon of Calcutta, who advocated the Boer war as a means of keeping the nation "virile"; nor Archbishop Alexander, who said that it was God's way of making "noble natures."

The British God had other ways of improving nations - for example, the opium traffic. The British traders had been raising the poppy in India and selling its juice to the Chinese. They had made perhaps a hundred million "noble natures" by this method; and also they were making a hundred million dollars a year. The Chinese, moved by their new "virility," undertook to destroy some opium, and to stop the traffic; whereupon it was necessary to use British battleships to punish and subdue them. Was there any difficulty in persuading the established church of Jesus to bless this holy war? There was not! Lord Shaftesbury, himself the most devout of Anglicans, commented with horror upon the attitude of the clergy, and wrote in his diary:

I rejoice that this cruel and debasing opium war is terminated. We have triumphed in one of the most lawless, unnecessary, and unfair struggles in the records of history; and Christians have shed more heathen blood in two years, than the heathens have shed of Christian blood in two centuries.

That was in 1843; for 70 years thereafter pious England continued to force the opium traffic upon protesting China, and only in the last two or three years has the infamy been brought to an end. Throughout the long controversy the attitude of the church was such that Li Hung Chang was moved to assert in a letter to the Anti-Opium Society:

Opium is a subject in the discussion of which England and China can never meet on a common ground. China views the whole question from a moral standpoint, England from a fiscal.

And just as the Chinese people were poisoned with opium, so the English people are being poisoned with alcohol. Both in town and country, labor is sodden with it. Scientists and reformers are clamoring for restriction - and what prevents? Head and front of the opposition for a century, standing like a rock, has been the Established Church. The Rev. Dawson Burns, historian of the early temperance movement, declares that "among its supporters I cannot recall one Church of England minister of influence." When Asquith brought in his bill for restriction of the traffic in beer, he was confronted with petitions signed by members of the clergy, protesting against the act. And what was the basis of their protest? That beer is a food and not a poison? Yes, of course; but also that there was property invested in brewing it. Three hundred and thirty-two clergy of the diocese of Peterborough declared:

We do strongly protest against the main provisions of the present bill as creating amongst our people a sense of grave injustice as amounting to a confiscation of private property, spelling ruin for thousands of quite innocent people, and provoking deep and widespread resentment, which must do harm to our cause and hinder our aims.

I have come upon references to another and even more plainspoken petition, signed by 1,280 clergymen; but war-time facilities for research have not enabled me to find the text, In Prof. Henry C. Vedder's "Jesus Christ and the Social Question," We read:

It was authoritatively stated a short time ago that Mr. Asquith's temperance bill was defeated in Parliament through the opposition of clergymen who had invested their savings in brewery stock, the profits of which might have been lessened by the bill.

Also the power of the clergy, combined with the brewer, was sufficient to put through Parliament a provision that no prohibition legislation should, ever be passed without providing for compensation to the owners of the industry. Today, all over America, appeals are being made to the people to eat less grain; the grain is being shipped to England, some of it to be made into beer; and a high Anglican prelate, his Grace the Archbishop of York, comes to America to urge us to increased sacrifices, and in his first newspaper interview takes occasion to declare that his church is not in favor of prohibition as a measure of war-time economy!

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