Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion

Book Four - The Church of the Slaves

Moth and Rust

It is especially interesting to notice what happens when the Bible texts work: against the interests of the Slavers and their clerical retainers. Then they are null and void - and no matter how precise and explicit and unmistakable they may be! Take for example the Sabbath injunction: "Six days shalt thou labor and do all that thou hast to do." Karl Marx records of the pious England of his time that

Occasionally in rural districts a day-laborer is condemned to imprisonment for desecrating the Sabbath by working in his front garden. The same laborer is punished for breach of contract if he remains away from his metal, paper or glass works on the Sunday, even if it be from a religious whim. The orthodox Parliament will hear nothing of Sabbath-breaking if it occurs in the process of expanding capital.

Or consider the attitude of the Church in the matter of usury. Throughout ancient Hebrew history the money-lender was an outcast; both the law and the prophets denounced him without mercy, and it was made perfectly clear that what was meant was, not the taking of high interest, but the taking of any interest whatsoever. The early church fathers were explicit, and the Catholic Church for a thousand years consigned money-lenders unhesitatingly to hell. But then came the modern commercial system, and the money-lenders became the masters of the world! There is no more amusing illustration of the perversion of human thought than the efforts of the Jesuit casuists to escape from the dilemma into which their Heavenly Guides had trapped them.

Here, for example is Alphonso Ligouri, a Spanish Jesuit of the 18th century, a doctor of the Church, now worshiped as St. Alphonsus, presenting a long and elaborate theory of "mental usury"; concluding that, if the borrower pay interest of his own free will, the lender may keep it. In answer to the question whether the lender may keep what the borrower pays, not out of gratitude, but out of fear that otherwise loans will be refused to him in future, Ligouri says that "to be usury, it must be paid by reason of a contract, or as justly due; payment by reason of such a fear does not cause interest to be paid as an actual price." Again the great saint and doctor tells us that "it is not usury to exact something in return for the danger and expense of regaining the principal!" Could the house of J.P. Morgan and Company ask more of their ecclesiastical department?

The reader may think that such sophistication are now out of date; but he will find precisely the same knavery in the efforts of present-day Slavers to fit Jesus Christ into the system of combatitive commercialism. Jesus, as we have pointed out, was a carpenter's son, a thoroughly class-conscious proletarian. He denounced the exploiters of his own time with ferocious bitterness, he drove the money-changers out of the temple with whips, and he finally died the death of a common criminal. If he had foreseen the whole modern cycle of capitalism and wage- slavery, he could hardly have been more precise in his exhortations to his followers to stand apart from it. But did all this avail him? Not in the least!

I place upon the witness-stand an exponent of Bible- Christianity whom all readers of our newspapers know well: a scholar of learning a publicist of renown; once pastor of the most famous church in Brooklyn; now editor of our most influential religious weekly; a liberal both in theology and politics; a modernist, an advocate of what he calls industrial democracy. His name is Lyman Abbott, and he is writing under his own signature in his own magazine, his subject being "The Ethical Teachings of Jesus." Several times I have tried to persuade people that the words I am about to quote were actually written and published by this eminent doctor of divinity, and people have almost refused to believe me. Therefore I specify that the article may be found in the "Outlook," the bound volumes of which are in all large libraries: volume 94, page 576. The words are as follows, the italics being Dr. Abbott's, not mine:

My radical friend declares that the teachings of Jesus are not practicable, that we cannot carry them out in life, and that we do not pretend to do so. Jesus, he reminds us, said, 'Lay not up for yourself treasures upon earth;' and Christians do universally lay up for themselves treasures upon earth; every man that owns a house and lot, or a share of stock in a corporation, or a life insurance policy, or money in a savings bank, has laid up for himself treasure upon earth. But Jesus did not say, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth." He said, "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth where moth and rust doth corrupt and where thieves break through and steal." And no sensible American does. Moth and rust do not get at Mr. Rockefeller's oil wells, nor at the Sugar Trust's sugar, and thieves do not often break through and steal a railway or an insurance company or a savings bank. What Jesus condemned was hoarding wealth.

Strange as it may sound to some of the readers of this book, I count myself among the followers of Jesus of Nazareth. His example has meant more to me than that of any other man, and all the experiences of my revolutionary life have brought me nearer to him. Living in the great Metropolis of Mammon, I have felt the power of Privilege, Its scourge upon my back, its crown of thorns upon my head. When I read that article in the "Outlook," I felt just as Jesus himself would have felt; and I sat down and wrote a letter -

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