Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion

Book Three - The Church of the Servant-Girls

God in the Schools

But that, you may say, was a long time ago. If so, let us take a modern country in which the Catholic Church has worked its will. Until recently, Spain was such a country. Now the people are turning against the clerical machine; and if you ask why, turn to Rafael Shaw's "Spain From Within":

On every side the people see the baleful hand of the Church, interfering or trying to interfere in their domestic life, ordering the conditions of employment, draining them of their hard-won livelihood by trusts and monopolies established and maintained in the interest of the Religious Orders, placing obstacles in the way of their children's education, hindering them in the exercise of their constitutional rights, and deliberately ruining those of them who are bold enough to run counter to priestly dictation. Riots suddenly broke out in Barcelona; they are instigated by the Jesuits. The country goes to war in Morocco; it is dragged into it solely in defense of the mines owned, actually, if not ostensibly, by the Jesuits. The consumos cannot be abolished because the Jesuits are financially interested in their continuance.

We have read the statement of a Jesuit father, that "the state cannot justly enforce compulsory education even in case of utter illiteracy." How has that doctrine worked out in Spain? There was an official investigation of school conditions, the report appearing in the "Heraldo de Madrid" for November, 1909. In 1857 there had been passed a law requiring a certain number of schools in each of the 79 provinces: this requirement being below the very low standards prevailing at that time in other European countries. Yet in 1909 it was found that only four provinces had the required number of elementary schools, and at the rate of increase then prevailing it would have taken 150 years to catch up. Seventy-five percent of the population were wholly illiterate, and 30,000 towns and villages had no government schools at all. The government owed nearly a million and a half dollars in unpaid salaries to the teachers. The private schools were nearly all "nuns' schools," which taught only needle-work and catechism; the punishments prevailing in them were "cruel and disgusting."

As to the location of the schools, a report of the Minister of Education to the Cortes, the Parliament of Spain, sets forth as follows:

More than 10,000 schools are on hired premises, and many of these are absolutely destitute of hygienic conditions. There are schools mixed up with hospitals, with cemeteries, with slaughter houses, with stables. One school forms the entrance to a cemetery, and the corpses are placed on the master's table while the last responses are being said. There is a school into which the children cannot enter until the animals have been sent out to pasture. Some are so small that as soon as the warm weather begins the boys faint for want of air and ventilation. One school is a manure-heap in process of fermentation, and one of the local authorities has said that in this way the children are warmer in winter. One school in Cataluna adjoins the prison. Another, in Andalusia, is turned into an enclosure for the bulls when there is a bull-fight in the town.

These conditions excited the indignation of a Spanish educator by the name of Francesco Ferrer. He founded what he called a "modern school," in which the pupils should be taught science and common sense. He drew, of course, the bitter hatred of the Catholic hierarchy, which saw in the spread of his principles the end of their mastery of the people. When the Barcelona insurrection took place, they had Ferrer seized upon a charge of having been its instigator; they had him tried in secret before a military tribunal, convicted upon forged documents, and shot beneath the walls of the fortress of Montjuich. The case was thoroughly investigated by William Archer, one of England's leading critics, a man of scrupulous rectitude of mind. His conclusion is that Ferrer was absolutely innocent of the charges against him, and that his execution was the result of a clerical plot. Of Ferrer's character Archer writes:

Fragmentary though they be, the utterances which I have quoted form a pretty complete revelation. From first to last we see in him an ardent, uncompromising, incorruptible idealist. His ideals are narrow, and his devotion to them fanatical; but it is devoid, if not of egoism, at any rate of self-interest and self-seeking. As he shrank from applying the money entrusted him to ends of personal luxury, so also he shrank from making his ideas and convictions subserve any personal ambition or vanity.

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