Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion

Book Two - The Church of Good Society

Trinity Corporation

There stands on the corner of Broadway and Wall Street a towering brown-stone Edifice, one of the most beautiful and most famous churches in America. As a child I have walked through its church yard and read the quaint and touching inscriptions on its gravestones; when I was a little older, and knew Wall Street, it seemed to me a sublime thing that here in the very heart of the world's infamy there should be raised, like a finger of warning, this symbol of Eternity and Judgment. Its great bell rang at noon-time, and all the traders and their wage-slaves had to listen, whether they would or no! Such was Old Trinity to my young soul; and what is it in reality?

The story was told some 10 years ago by Charles Edward Russell. Trinity Corporation is the name of the concern, and it is one of the great landlords of New York. In the early days it bought a number of farms, and these it has held, as the city has grown up around them, until in 1908 their value was estimated at anywhere from 40 to 100 million dollars, The true amount has never been made public; to quote Russell's words:

The real owners of the property are the communicants of the church. For 94 years none of the owners has known the extent of the property, nor the amount of the revenue therefrom, nor what is done with the money. Every attempt to learn even the simplest fact about these matters has been baffled. The management is a self perpetuating body, without responsibility and without supervision.

And the writer goes on to describe the business policy of this great corporation, which is simply the English land system complete. It refuses to sell the land, but rents it for long periods, and the tenant builds the house, and then when the lease expires, the Corporation takes over the house for a nominal sum. Thus it has purchased houses for as low as $200, and made them into tenements, and rented them to the swarming poor for a total of $50 a month. The houses were not built for tenements, they have no conveniences, they are not fit for the habitation of animals. The article, in Everybody's Magazine for July, 1908, gives pictures of them, which are horrible beyond belief. To quote the writer again:

Decay, neglect and squalor seem to brood wherever Trinity is an owner. Gladly would I give to such a charitable and benevolent institution all possible credit for a spirit of improvement manifested anywhere, but I can find no such manifestation. I have trampled the 8th Ward day after day with a list of Trinity properties in my hand, and of all the tenement houses that stand there on Trinity land, I have not found one that is not a disgrace to civilization and to the City of New York.

It happens that I once knew the stately prelate who presided over this Corporation of Corruption. I imagine how he would have shivered and turned pale had some angel whispered to him what devilish utterances were some day to proceed from the lips of the little cherub with shining face and shining robes who acted as the bishop's attendant in the stately ceremonials of the Church! Truly, even into the goodly company of the elect, even to the most holy places of the temple, Satan makes his treacherous way! Even under the consecrated hands of the bishop! For while the bishop was blessing me and taking me into the company of the sanctified, I was thinking about what the papers had reported, that the bishop's wife had been robbed of $50,000 worth of jewels! It did not seem quite in accordance with the doctrine of Jesus that a bishop's wife should possess $50,000 worth of jewels, or that she should be setting the bloodhounds of the police on the trail of a human being. I asked my clergyman friend about it, and remember his patient explanation - that the bishop had to know all classes and conditions of men; his wife had to go among the rich as well as the poor, and must be able to dress so that she would not be embarrassed. The Bishop at this time was making it his life-work to raise a million dollars for the beginning of a great Episcopal cathedral; and this of course compelled him to spend much time among the rich!

The explanation satisfied me; for of course I thought there had to be cathedrals - despite the fact that both St. Stephen and St. Paul had declared that "the Lord dwelleth not in temples made with hands." In the 25 years which have passed since that time the good Bishop has passed to his eternal reward, but the mighty structure which is a monument to his visitations among the rich towers over the city from its vantage-point on Morningside Heights. It is called the Cathedral of St. John the Divine; and knowing what I know about the men who contributed its funds, and about the general functions of the churches of the Metropolis of Mammon, it would not seem to me less holy if it were built, like the monuments of ancient ravagers, out of the skulls of human beings.

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