Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion
Book Four - The Church of the Slaves
To Lyman Abbott
This discovery of a new method of interpreting the Bible is one of such very great interest and importance that I cannot forbear to ask space to comment upon it. May I suggest that Dr. Abbott elaborate this exceedingly fruitful plea, and write us another article upon the extent to which the teachings of the Inspired Word are modified by modern conditions, by the progress of invention and the scientific arts? The point of view which Dr. Abbott takes is one which had never occurred to me before, and I had therefore been completely mistaken as to the attitude of Jesus on the question. Also I have, like Dr. Abbott, many radical friends who are still laboring under error.
Jesus goes on to bid his hearers: "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin." What an apt simile is this for the "great mass of American wealth," in Dr. Abbott's portrayal of it! "It is serving the community," he tells us; "it is building a railway to open a new country to settlement by the homeless; it is operating a railway to carry grain from the harvests of the West to the unfed millions of the East," etc. Incidentally, it is piling up dividends for its pious owners; and so everybody is happy - and Jesus, if he should come back to earth, could never know that he had left the abodes of bliss above.
Truly, there should be a new school of Bible interpretation founded upon this brilliant idea. Jesus says, "Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men." Verily not; for of what avail are trumpets compared with the millions of copies of newspapers which daily go forth to tell Mr. Rockefeller's benefactions? How transitory are they, compared with the graven marble or granite which Mr. Carnegie sets upon the front of each of his libraries!
There is a paragraph, "Neither shalt thou swear by the head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black." I have several among my friends who are Quakers; presumably Dr. Abbott has also; and he should not fail to point out to them the changes which scientific discovery has wrought in the significance of this command against swearing, We can now make our hair either white or black, or a combination of both. We can make it a brilliant peroxide golden; we could, if pushed to an extreme, make it purple or green. So we are clearly entitled to swear all we please by our head.
Nor should we forget to examine other portions of the Bible according to this method. "Look not upon the wine when it is red," we are told. Thanks to the activities of that Capitalism which Dr. Abbott praises so eloquently, we now make our beverages in the chemical laboratory, and their color is a matter of choice. Also, it should be pointed out that we have a number of pleasant drinks which are not wine at all - "high-balls" and "gin rickeys" and "peppered punches" - also vermouth and creme de menthe and absinthe, which I believe are green in hue, and therefore entirely safe.
Then there are the Ten Commandments. "Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven Image." See how completely our understanding of this command is changed, so soon as we realize that we are free to make images of molten metal! And that we may with impunity bow down to them and worship them and serve them - even, for instance, a Golden Calf!
"The seventh day is the sabbath of the Lord thy God; in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, they manservant, nor thy cattle, nor the stranger that is within thy gates" This again, it will be noted, is open to new interpretations. It specifies maidservants, but does not prevent one's employing as many married women as he pleases. It also says nothing about the various kinds of labor-saving machinery which we have now taught to work for us - sail-boats, naphtha launches, yachts, automobiles, private cars - all of which may be busily occupied during the seventh day of the week. The men who run these machines - the guides, boatmen, stokers, pilots, chauffeurs, and engineers - would all indignantly resent being regarded as "servants,," and so they do not come under the prohibition any more than the machines.
"Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor anything that is thy neighbor's." I read this paragraph over for the first time in quite a while, and I came with a jolt to its last words. I had been intending to point out that it said nothing about a neighbor's automobile, nor a neighbor's oil wells, sugar trusts, insurance companies and savings banks, The last words, however, stop one off abruptly. One is almost tempted to imagine that the Divine intelligence must have foreseen Dr. Abbott's ingenious method of interpretation, and taken this precaution against him. And this was a great surprise to me - for, truly, I had not supposed it possible that such an interpretation could have been foreseen, even by Omniscience itself. I will conclude this communication by venturing the assertion that it could not have been foreseen by any other person or thing, in the heavens above, on the earth beneath, or the waters under the earth. Dr. Abbott may accept my congratulations upon having achieved the most ingenious and masterful exhibition of casuistical legerdemain that it has ever been my fortune to encounter in my readings in the literatures of some 30 centuries and seven different languages.
And I will also add that I respectfully challenge Dr. Abbott to publish this letter. And I announce to him in advance that if he refuses to publish it, I will cause it to be published upon the first page of the "Appeal to Reason," where it will be read by some 500,000 Socialist, and by them set before several million followers of Jesus Christ, the world's first and greatest revolutionist, whom Dr. Lyman Abbott has traduced and betrayed by the most amazing piece of theological knavery that it has ever been my fortune to encounter.
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