Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion

Book Four - The Church of the Slaves

Clerical Camouflage

I Have seen a photograph from "Somewhere in France," showing a wayside shrine with a statue of the Virgin Mary, innocent and loving, with her babe in her arms. If you were a hostile aviator, you might sail over and take pictures to your heart's content, and you would see nothing but a saintly image; you would have to be on the enemy's side, and behind the lines, to make the discovery that under the image had been dug a hole for a machine- gun. When I saw that picture, I thought to myself - there is capitalist Religion!

You see, if cannon and machine-guns are out in the open, they are almost instantly spotted and put out of action; and so with magazines like "Leslie's Weekly," or "Munsey's," or the "North American Review," which are frankly and wholly in the interest of Big Business. If an editor wishes really to be effective in holding back progress, he must protect himself with a camouflage of piety and philanthropy, he must have at his tongue's end the phrases of brotherhood and justice, he must be liberal and progressive, going a certain cautious distance with the reformers, indulging in carefully measured fair play - giving a dime with one hand, while taking back a dollar with the other!

Let us have an illustration of this clerical camouflage. Here are the wives and children of the Colorado coal-miners being shot and burned in their beds by Rockefeller gun-men, and the press of the entire country in a conspiracy of silence concerning the matter. In the effort to break down this conspiracy, Bouck White, Congregational clergyman, author of "The Call of the Carpenter," goes to the Fifth Avenue Church of Standard Oil and makes a protest in the name of Jesus. I do not wish to make extreme statements, but I have read history pretty thoroughly, and I really do not know where in 1,900 years you can find an action more completely in the spirit and manner of Jesus than that of Bouck White. The only difference was that whereas Jesus took a real whip and lashed the money-changers, White politely asked the pastor to discuss with him the question whether or not Jesus condemned the holding of wealth. He even took the precaution to write a letter to the clergyman announcing in advance what he intended to do! And how did the clergyman prepare for him? With a sword of truth and the armor of the spirit? No - but with two or three dozen strong-arm men, who flung themselves upon the Socialist author and hurled him out of the church. So violent were they that several of White's friends, also one or two casual spectators, were moved to protest; what happened then, let us read the New York "Sun," the most bitterly hostile to radicalism of all the metropolitan newspapers. Says the "Sun's" report:

A police billy came crunching against the bones of Lopez's legs. It struck him as hard as a man could swing it eight times. A fist planted on Lopez's jaw knocked out two teeth. His lip was torn open. A blow in the eye made it swell and blacken instantly. A minute later Lopez was leaning against the church with blood running to the doorsill.

And now, what has the clerical camouflage to say on this proceeding? Does it approve it? Oh no! It was "a mistake," the "Outlook" protests; it intensifies the hatred which these extremists feel for the church. The proper course would have been to turn the disturber aside with a soft answer; to give him some place, say in a park, where be could talk his head off to people of his own sort, while good and decent Christians continued to worship by themselves in peace, and to have the children of their mine-slaves shot and burned in their beds. Says our pious editor:

The true way to repress cranks is not to suppress them; it is to give them an opportunity to air their theories before any who wish to learn, while forbidding them to compel those to listen who do not wish to do so.

Or take another case. Twelve years ago the writer made an effort to interest the American people in the conditions of labor in their packing-plants. It happened that incidentally I gave some facts about the bedevilment of the public's meat-supply, and the public really did care about that. As I phrased it at the time, I aimed at the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach. There was a terrible clamor, and Congress was forced to pass a bill to remedy the evils. As a matter of fact this bill was a farce, but the public was satisfied, and soon forgot the matter entirely. The point to be noted here is that so far as concerned the atrocious miseries of the working-people, it was not necessary even to pretend to do anything. The slaves of Packing-town went on living and working as they were described as doing in "The Jungle," and nobody gave a further thought to them. Only the other day I read in my paper - while we are all making sacrifices in a "War for Democracy" - that Armour and Company had paid a dividend of 21 percent, and Swift and Company a dividend of 35 percent.

This prosperity they owe in good part to their clerical camouflage. Listen to our pious "Outlook," engaged in counter- mining "The Jungle." The "Outlook" has no doubt that there are genuine evils in the packing-plants; the conditions of the workers ought of course to be improved; BUT -

To disgust the reader by dragging him through every conceivable horror, physical and moral, to depict with lurid excitement and with offensive minuteness the life in jail and brothel - all this is to over-reach the object. ... Even things actually terrible may become distorted when a writer screams them out in a sensational way and in a high pitched key. ... More convincing if it were less hysterical.

Don't you see what these clerical crooks are for?

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