Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion

Book Three - The Church of the Servant-Girls


As everyone knows, the "society lady" is not an independent and self-sustaining phenomenon. For every one of these exquisite, sweet-smelling creatures that you meet on Fifth Avenue, there must be at home a large number of other women who live sterile and empty lives, and devote themselves to cleaning up after their luckier sisters. But these "domestics" also are human beings; they have emotions - or, in religious parlance, "souls;" it is necessary to provide a discipline to keep them from appropriating the property of their mistresses, also to keep them from becoming enceinte. So it comes about that there are two cathedrals in New York: one, St. John the Divine, for the society ladies, and the other, St. Patrick's, for the servant-girls. The latter is located on Fifth Avenue, where its towering white spires divide with the homes of the Vanderbilts the interest of the crowds of sight-seers. Now, early every Sunday morning, before "Good Society" has opened its eyes, you may see the devotees of the Irish snake-charmer hurrying to their orisons, each with a little black prayer-book in her hand. What is it they do inside? What are they taught about life? This is the question to which we have next to give attention.

Some years ago Mr. Thomas F. Ryan. traction and insurance magnate of New York, favored me with his justification of his own career and activities. He mentioned his charities, and speaking as one man of the world to another, he said: "The reason I put them into the hands of Catholics is not religious, but because I find they are efficient in such matters. They don't ask questions, they do what you want them to do, and do it economically."

I made no comment; I was absorbed in the implications of the remark - like Agassiz when some one gave him a fossil bone, and his mind set to work to reconstruct the creature.

When a man is drunk, the Catholics do not ask if it was long hours and improper working-conditions which drove him to desperation; they do not ask if police and politicians are getting a rake-off from the saloon, or if traction magnates are using it as an agency for the controlling of votes; they do not plunge into prohibition movements or good government campaigns - they simply take the man in, at a standard price, and the patient slave-sisters and attendants get him sober, and then turn him out for society to make him drunk again. That is "charity," and it is the special industry of Roman Catholicism. They have been at it for a thousand years, cleaning up loathsome and unsightly messes - "plague, pestilence and famine, battle and murder and sudden death." Yet - puzzling as it would seem to anyone not religious - there were never so many messes, never so many different kinds of messes, as now at the end of the thousand years of charitable activity!

But the Catholics go on and on; like the patient spider, building and rebuilding his web across a doorway; like soldiers under the command of a ruling class with a "muddling through" tradition -

Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die.

And so of course all magnates and managers of industry who have messes to be cleaned up, human garbage-heaps to be carted away quickly without fuss, turn to the Catholic Church for this service, no matter what their personal religious beliefs or lack of beliefs may be. Somewhere in the neighborhood of every steel- mill, every coal-mine or other place of industrial danger, you will find a Catholic hospital, with its slave-sisters and attendants. Once when I was "muck-raking" near Pittsburgh, I went to one of these places to ask information as to the frequently of industrial accidents and the fate of the victims. The "Mother Superior" received me with a look of polite dismay. "These concerns pay us!" she said. "You must see that as a matter of business it would not do for us to talk about them."

Obey and keep silence: that is the Catholic law. And precisely as it is with the work of nursing and almsgiving, so it is with the work of vote getting, the elaborate system of policemen and saloon-keepers and ward-heelers which the Catholic machine controls. This industry of vote-getting is a comparatively new one; but the Church has been handling the masses for so many centuries that she quickly learned this new way of "democracy," and has established her supremacy over all rivals. She has the schools for training the children, the confessional for controlling the women; she has the intellectual machinery, the purgatory and the code of slave-ethics. She has the supreme advantage that the rank and file of her mighty host really believe what she teaches; they do not have to listen to table-rappings and flounder through swamps of automatic writings in order to bolster their hope of the survival of personality after death!

So it comes about that our captains of industry and finance have been driven to a more or less reluctant alliance with the Papacy. The Church is here, and her followers are here, before the war several hundred thousand of them pouring into the country every year. It is no longer possible to do without Catholics in America; not merely do ditches have to be dug, roads graded, coal mined, and dishes washed, but franchises have to be granted, traffic-schedules adjusted, juries and courts manipulated, police trained and strikes crushed. Under our native political system, for these purposes millions of votes are needed; and these votes belong to people of a score of nationalities - Irish and German and Italian and French-Canadian and Bohemian and Mexican and Portuguese and Polish and Hungarian. Who but the Catholic Church can handle these polyglot hordes? Who can furnish teachers and editors and politicians familiar with all these languages?

Considering how complex is the service, the price is extremely moderate - the mere actual expenses of the campaign, the cost of red fire and torch-light, of liquor and newspaper advertisements. The rest may come out of the public till, in the form of exemption from taxation of church buildings and lands, a share of the public funds for charities and schools, the control of the police for saloon-keepers and district leaders, the control of police-courts and magistrates, of municipal administrations and boards of education, of legislatures and governors; with a few higher offices now and then, to flatter our sacred self-esteem, a senator or a justice on the Supreme Court Bench; and on state occasions, to keep up our necessary prestige, some cabinet-members and legislators and justices to attend High Mass, and be blessed in public by Catholic prelates and dignitaries.

You think this is empty rhetoric - you comfortable, easy- going, ultra-cultured Americans? You professors in your classic shades, absorbed in "the passionless pursuit of passionless intelligence" - while the world about you slides down into the pit! You ladies of Good Society, practicing your "sweet little charities," pursuing your "dear little ideals," raising your families of one or two lovely children - while Irish and French- Canadians and Italians and Portuguese and Hungarians are breeding their dozens and scores, and preparing to turn you out of your country!

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