Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion

Book Two - The Church of Good Society

Suffer Little Children

The founder of Christianity was a man who specialized in children. He was not afraid of having His discourses disturbed by them, He did not consider them superfluous. "Of such is the Kingdom of Heaven," He said; and His Church is the inheritor of this tradition - "feed my lambs." There were children in Great Britain in the early part of the 19th century, and we may see what was done with them by turning to Gibbin's "Industrial History of England":

Sometimes regular traffickers would take the place of the manufacturer, and transfer a number of children to a factory district, and there keep them, generally in some dark cellar, till they could hand them over to a mill owner in want of hands, who would come and examine their height, strength, and bodily capacities, exactly as did the slave owners of the American markets. After that the children were simply at the mercy of their owners, nominally as apprentices, but in reality as mere slaves, who got no wages, and whom it was not worth while even to feed and clothe properly, because they were so cheap and their places could be so easily supplied. It was often arranged by the parish authorities, in order to get rid of imbeciles, that one idiot should be taken by the mill owner with every 20 sane children. The fate of these unhappy idiots was even worse than that of the others. The secret of their final end has never been disclosed, but we can form some idea of their awful sufferings from the hardships of the other victims to capitalist greed and cruelty. The hours of their labor were only limited by exhaustion, after many modes of torture had been unavailingly applied to force continued work. Children were often worked 16 hours a day, by day and by night.

In the year 1819 an act of Parliament was proposed limiting the labor of children 9 years of age to 14 hours a day. This would seem to have been a reasonable provision, likely to have won the approval of Christ; yet the bill was violently opposed by Christian employers, backed by Christian clergymen. It was interfering with freedom of contract, and therefore with the will of Providence; it was anathema to an established Church, whose function was in 1819, as it is in 1918, and was in 1918 B.C., to teach the divine origin and sanction of the prevailing economic order. "Anu and Baal called me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince. worshiper of the gods" ... so begins the oldest legal code which has come down to us, from 2250 B.C.; and the coronation service of the English Church is made whole out of the same thesis. The duty of submission, not merely to divinely chosen King, but to divinely chosen Landlord and divinely chosen Manufacturer, is implicit in the church's every ceremony, and explicit in many of its creeds. In the Litany the people petition for "increase of grace to hear meekly Thy Word"; and here is this "Word," as little children are made to learn it by heart. If there exists in the world a more perfect summary of slave ethics, I do not know where to find it.

My duty towards my neighbor is. ... To honor and obey the King, and all that are put in authority under him; To submit myself to all my governors, teachers, spiritual pastors, and masters: To order myself lowly and reverently to all my betters. ... Not to covet nor desire other men's goods; But to learn and labor truly to get mine own living, and to do my duty in that state of life, unto which it shall please God to call me.

A hundred years ago one of the most popular of British writers was Hannah More. She and her sister went to live in the coal-country, to teach this "catechism" to the children of the starving miners. The "Mendip Annals" is the title of a book in which they tell of their ten years' labors in a village popularly known as "Little Hell." In this place 200 people were crowded into 19 houses. "There is not one creature in it that can give a cup of broth if it would save: a life." In one winter 18 perished of "a putrid fever," and the clergyman "could not raise a six- pence to save a life."

And what did the Pious sisters make of all this? From cover to cover you find in the "Mendip Annals" no single word of social protest, not even of social suspicion. That wages of a shilling a day might have anything to do with moral degeneration was a proposition beyond the mental powers of England's most popular woman writer. She was perfectly content that a woman should be sentenced to death for stealing butter from a dealer who had asked what the woman thought too high a price. When there came a famine, and the children of these mine-slaves were dying like flies, Hannah More bade them be happy because God had sent them her pious self. "In suffering by the scarcity, you have but shared in the common lot, with the pleasure of knowing the advantage you have had over many villages in your having suffered no scarcity of religious instruction." And in another place she explained that the famine was caused by God to teach the poor to be grateful to the rich!

Let me remind you that probably that very scarcity has been permitted by an all-wise and gracious Providence to unite all ranks of people together, to show the poor how immediately they are dependent upon the rich, and to show both rich and poor that they are all dependent upon Himself. It has also enabled you to see more clearly the advantages you derive from the government and constitution of this country - to observe the benefits flowing from the distinction of rank and fortune, which has enabled the high to so liberally assist the low.

It appears that the villagers were entirely convinced by this pious reasoning; for they assembled one Saturday night and burned an effigy of Tom Paine! This proceeding led to a tragic consequence, for one of the "common people" known as Robert "was overtaken by liquor," and was unable to appear at Sunday School next day. This fall from grace occasioned intense remorse in Robert. "It preyed dreadfully upon his mind for many months," records Martha More, "and despair seemed at length to take possession of him." Hannah had some conversation with him, and read him some suitable passages from "The Rise and Progress." "At length the Almighty was pleased to shine into his heart and give him comfort."

Nor should you imagine that this saintly stupidity was in any way unique in the Anglican establishment. We read in the letters of Shelley how his father tormented him with Archdeacon Paley's "Evidences" as a Cure for Atheism. This eminent churchman wrote a book, which he himself ranked first among his writings, called "Reasons for Contentment, addressed to the Laboring Classes of the British Public." In this book he not merely proved that religion "smooths all inequalities, because it unfolds a prospect which makes all earthly distinctions nothing"; he went so far as to prove that, quite apart from religion, the British exploiters were less fortunate than those to whom they paid a shilling a day.

Some of the conditions which poverty (if the condition of the laboring part of mankind must be so called) imposes, are not hardships, but pleasures. Frugality itself is a pleasure. It is an exercise of attention and contrivance, which whenever it is successful, produces satisfaction. ... This is lost among abundance.

And there was William Wilberforce, as sincere a philanthropist as Anglicanism ever produced, an ardent supporter of Bible societies and foreign missions, a champion of the antislavery movement, and also of the ruthless "Combination Laws," which denied to British wage-slaves all chance of bettering their lot. Wilberforce published a "Practical View of the System of Christianity," in which he told unblushingly what the Anglican establishment is for. In a chapter which he described as "the basis of all polities," he explained that the purpose of religion is to remind the poor

That their more lowly path has been allotted to them by the hand of God; that it is their part faithfully to discharge its duties, and contentedly to bear its inconveniences; that the objects about which worldly men conflict so eagerly are not worth the contest; that the peace of mind, which Religion offers indiscriminately to all ranks, affords more true satisfaction than all the expensive pleasures which are beyond the poor man's reach; that in this view the poor have the advantage; that if their superiors enjoy more abundant comforts, they are also exposed to many temptations from which the inferior classes are happily exempted; that, "having food and raiment, they should be therewith content," since their situation in life, with all its evils, is better than they have deserved at the band of God; and finally that all human distinctions will soon be done away, and the true followers of Christ will all, as children of the same Father, be alike admitted to the possession of the same heavenly inheritance. Such, are the blessed effects of Christianity on the temporal well- being of political communities.

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