Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion

Book Two - The Church of Good Society

Spiritual Interpretation

There remains to say a few words as to the intellectual functions of the Fifth Avenue clergy. Let us realize at the outset that they do their preaching in the name of a proletarian rebel, who was crucified as a common criminal because, as they said, "He stirreth up the people." An embarrassing "Savior" for the Church of Good Society, you might imagine; but they manage to fix him up and make him respectable.

I remember something analogous in my own boyhood. All day Saturday I ran about with the little street rowdies, I stole potatoes and roasted them in vacant lots, I threw mud from the roof of apartment-houses; but on Saturday night I went into a tub and was lathered and scrubbed, and on Sunday I came forth in a newly brushed suit, a clean white collar and a shining tie and a slick derby hat and a pair of tight gloves which made me impotent for mischief. Thus I was taken and paraded up Fifth Avenue, doing my part of the duties of Good Society. And all church-members go through this same performance; the oldest and most venerable of them steal potatoes and throw mud all week - and then take a hot bath of repentance and put on the clean clothing of piety. In this same way their ministers of religion are occupied to scrub and clean and dress up their disreputable Founder - to turn him from a proletarian rebel into a stained-glass-window divinity.

The man who really lived, the carpenter's son, they take out and crucify all over again. As a young poet has phrased it, they nail him to a jeweled cross with cruel nails of gold. Come with me to the New Golgotha and witness this crucifixion; take the nails, of gold in your hands, try the weight of the jeweled sledges! Here is a sledge, in the form of a dignified and scholarly volume, published by the exclusive house of Scribner, and written by the Bishop of my boyhood, the Bishop whose train I carried in the stately ceremonials: "The Citizen in His Relation to the Industrial Situation," by the Right Reverend Henry Codman Potter, D.D., L.L.D.,D.C.L. - a course of lectures delivered before the sons of our predatory classes at Yale University, under the endowment of a millionaire mining king, founder of the Phelps-Dodge corporation, which the other day carried out the deportation from their homes of a thousand striking miners at Bisbee, Arizona. Says my Bishop:

Christ did not denounce wealth any more than he denounced pauperism. He did not abhor money; he used it. He did not abhor the company of rich men; he sought it. He did not invariably scorn or even resent a certain profuseness of expenditure.

And do you think that the late Bishop of J.P. Morgan and Company stands alone as an utterer of scholarly blasphemy, a driver of golden nails? In the course of this book there will march before us a long line of the clerical retainers of Privilege, on their way to the New Golgotha to crucify the carpenter's son: the Rector of the Money Trust, the Preacher of the Coal Trust, the Priest of the Traction Trust, the Archbishop of Tammany, the Chaplain of the Millionaires' club, the Pastor of the Pennsylvania Railroad, the Religious Editor of the New Haven, the Sunday-school Superintendent of Standard Oil. We shall try the weight of their jewelled sledges - books, sermons, newspaper-interviews, after-dinner speeches - wherewith they pound their golden nails of sophistry into the bleeding hands and feet of the proletarian Christ.

Here, for example, is Rev. F.G. Peabody, Professor of Christian Morals at Harvard University. Prof. Peabody has written several books on the social teachings of Jesus; he quotes the most rabid of the carpenter's denunciations of the rich, and says:

Is it possible that so obvious and so limited a message as this, a teaching so slightly distinguished from the curbstone rhetoric of a modern agitator, can be an adequate reproduction of the scope and power of the teaching of Jesus?

The question answers itself: Of course not! For Jesus was a gentleman; he is the head of a church attended by gentlemen, of universities where gentlemen are educated. So the Professor of Christian Morals proceeds to make a subtle analysis of Jesus' actions; demonstrating therefrom that there are three proper uses to be made of great wealth: first, for almsgiving - "The poor ye have always with you!"; second, for beauty and culture - buying wine for wedding-feasts, and ointment-boxes and other objects de virtu; and third, "stewardship," "trustee-ship" - which in plain English is "Big Business."

I have used the illustration of soap and hot water; one can imagine he is actually watching the scrubbing process, seeing the proletarian Founder emerging all new and respectable under the brush of this capitalist professor. The professor has a rule all his own for reading the scriptures; he tells us that when there are two conflicting sayings, the rule of interpretation is that "the more spiritual is to be preferred." Thus, one gospel makes Jesus say: "Blessed are ye poor." Another puts it; "Blessed are the poor in spirit." The first one is crude and literal; the second must be what Jesus meant! In other words, the professor and his church have made for their economic masters a treacherous imitation virtue to be taught to wage-slaves, a quality of submissiveness impotence and futility, which they call by the name of "spirituality." This virtue they exalt above all others, and in its name they cut from the record of Jesus everything which has relation to the realities of life!

So here is our Professor Peabody, sitting in the Plummer chair at Harvard, writing on "Jesus Christ and the Social Question," and explaining:

The fallacy of the Socialist program is not in its radicalism, but in its externalism. It proposes to accomplish by economic change what can be attained by nothing less than spiritual regeneration.

And here is "The Churchman," organ of the Episcopalians of New York, warning us:

It is necessary to remember that something more than material and temporal considerations are involved. There are things of more importance to the purposes of God and to the welfare of humanity than economic readjustments and social amelioration.

And again:

Without doubt there is a strong temptation today, bearing upon clergy and laity alike, to address their religious energies too exclusively to those tasks whereby human life may be made more abundant and wholesome materially. ... We need constantly to be reminded that spiritual things come first.

There come before my mental eye the elegant ladies and gentlemen for whom these comfortable sayings are prepared: the vestrymen and pillars of the Church, with black frock coats and black kid gloves and shiny tophats; the ladies of Good Society with their Easter costumes in pastel shades, their gracious smiles and their sweet intoxicating odors. I picture them as I have seen them at St. George's, where that aged wild boar, Pierpont Morgan, the elder, used to pass the collection plate; at Holy Trinity, where they drove downtown in old-fashioned carriages with grooms and footmen sitting like twin statues of insolence; at St. Thomas' where you might see all the "Four Hundred" on exhibition at once; at St. Mary the Virgin's, where the choir paraded through the aisles, swinging costly incense into my childish nostrils, the stout clergyman walking alone with nose upturned, carrying on his back a jewelled robe for which some adoring female had paid $60,000. "Spiritual things come first?" Ah, yes! "Seek first the kingdom of God, and the jewelled robes shall be added unto you!" And it is so dreadful about the French and German Socialists, who, as the "Churchman" reports, "make a creed out of materialism." But then, what is this I find in one issue of the organ of the "Church of Good Society"?

Business men contribute to the Y.M.C.A. because they realize that if their employees are well cared for and religiously influenced, they can be of greater service in business!

Who let the material cat out of the spiritual bag?

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