Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion

Book Two - The Church of Good Society

Dead Cats

For more than 100 years the Anglican clergy have been fighting with every resource at their command the liberal and enlightened men of England who wished to educate the masses of the people. In 1807 the first measure for a national school- system was denounced by the Arch-bishop of Canterbury as "derogatory to the authority of the Church." As a counter- measure, his supporters established the "National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Doctrines of the Established Church"; and the founder of the organization, a clergyman, advocated a barn as a good structure for a school, and insisted that the children of the workers "should not be taught beyond their station." In 1840 a Committee of the Privy Council of Education was appointed, but bowed to the will of the Archbishops, setting forth the decree of "their lordships" that "the first purpose of all instruction must be the regulation of the thoughts and habits of the children by the doctrine and precepts of revealed religion." In 1850 a bill for secular education was denounced as presenting to the country "a choice between Heaven or Hell, God or the Devil." In 1870, Forster, author of the still unpassed bill, wrote that while the parsons were disputing, the children of the poor were "growing into savages."

As with Education, so with Social Reform. During the struggle to abolish slavery in the British colonies, some enthusiasts endeavored to establish the doctrine that Christian baptism conferred emancipation upon Negroes who accepted it; whereupon the Bishop of London laid down the formula of exploitation: "Christianity and the embracing of the gospel do not make the least alteration of civil property."

Gladstone, who was a democrat when he was not religious, spoke of the cultured classes of England:

In almost every one, if not every one, of the greatest political controversies of the last 50 years, whether they affected the franchise, whether they affected commerce, whether they affected religion, whether they affected the bad and abominable institution of slavery, or what subject they touched, these leisured classes, these educated classes, these titled classes have been in the wrong.

The "Great Commoner" did not add "these religious classes," for he belonged to the religious classes himself; but a study of the record will supply the gap. The Church opposed all the reform measures which Gladstone himself put through. It opposed the Reform Bill of 1832. It opposed all the social reforms of Lord Shaftesbury. This noble-hearted Englishman complained that at first only a single minister of religion supported him, and to the end only a few. He expressed himself as distressed and puzzled "to find support from infidels and non-professors; opposition or coldness from religionists or declaimers."

And to our own day it has been the same. In 1894 the House of Bishops voted solidly against the Employers' Liability Law. The House of Bishops opposed Home Rule, and beat it; the House of Bishops opposed Womans' Suffrage, and voted against it to the end, Concerning this establishment Lord Shaftesbury, himself the most devout of Englishmen, used the vivid phrase: "this vast aquarium full of cold-blooded life." He told the Bishops that he would give up preaching to them about ecclesiastical reform, because he knew that they would never begin. Another member of the British aristocracy, the Hon. Geo. Russell, has written of their record and adventures:

They were defenders of absolutism, slavery, and the bloody penal code; they were the resolute, opponents of every political or social reform; and they had their reward from the nation outside Parliament. The Bishop of Bristol had his palace sacked and burnt; the Bishop of London could not keep an engagement to preach lest the congregation should stone him. The Bishop of Litchfield barely escaped with his life after preaching at St. Bride's, Fleet Street. Archbishop Howley, entering Canterbury for his primary visitation, was insulted, spat upon, and only brought by a circuitous route to the Deanery, amid the execrations of the mob. On the 5th of November the Bishops of Exeter and Winchester were burnt in effigy close to their own palace gates. Archbishop Howley's chaplain complained that a dead cat had been thrown at him, when the Archbishop - a man of apostolic meekness - replied: "You should be thankful that it was not a live one."

people had reason for this conduct - as you will always find they have, if you take the trouble to inquire. Let me quote another member of the English ruling classes, Mr. Conrad Noel, who gives "an instance of the procedure of Church and State about this period":

In 1832 six agricultural laborers in South Dorsetshire, led by one of their class, George Loveless, in receipt of 9s. a week each, demanded the 10s. rate of wages usual in the neighborhood. The result was a reduction to 8s. An appeal was made to the chairman of the local bench, who decided that they must work for whatever their masters chose to pay them. The parson, who had at first promised his help, now turned against them, and the masters promptly reduced the wage to 7s., with a threat of further reduction. Loveless then formed an agricultural union, for which all seven were arrested, treated as convicts, and committed to the assizes. The prison chaplain tried to bully them into submission. The judge determined to convict them, and directed that they should be tried for mutiny under an act of George III, specially passed to deal with the naval mutiny at the Nore. The grand jury were landowners, and the petty jury were farmers; both judge and jury were churchmen of the prevailing type. The judge summed up as follows: "Not for anything that you have done, or that I can prove that you intend to do, but for an example to others I consider it my duty to pass the sentence of seven years' penal transportation across His Majesty's high seas upon each and every one of you."

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