Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion

Book Five - The Church of the Merchants

The Head Merchant

Ours is the era of commerce, as its propagandists never weary of telling us. Business is the basis of our material lives, and consequently of our culture. Businessmen contort our polities and dictate our laws; businessmen own our newspapers and direct their policy; businessmen sit on our school boards, and endow and manage our universities. The Reformation was a revolt of the newly-developing merchant classes against the tyrannies and abuses of feudal clericalism: so in all Protestant Christianity one finds the spirit, ideals, and language of Trade. We have shown how the symbolism of the Anglican Church is of the palace and the throne; in the same way that of the non-conformist sects may be shown to be of the counting-house. In the view of the middle-class Britisher, the nexus between man and man is cent percent; and so in their Sunday services the worshipers sing such hymns as this -

Whatever, Lord, we lend to Thee,
Repaid a thousand fold shall be;
Then gladly will we give to Thee,
Who givest all.

The first duty of every man under the competitive system is to secure the survival of his own business; so on the Sabbath, when he comes to deal with eternity, he is practical and explicit:

Nothing is worth a thought beneath
But how I may escape the death
That never, never dies;
How make mine own election sure,
And when I fail on earth secure
A mansion in the skies.

Just as the priest of the aristocratic caste figures God as a mighty Conqueror -

Marching as to war
With the cross of Jesus
Going on before -

so the preacher to the trader figures the divinity as a glorified Merchant keeping books. The Head Merchant has a monopoly in His line; He knows all His reviles' secrets, so there is no getting ahead of Him, and nothing to do but obey His Word, as revealed through His clerical staff. The system is oily with protestations of divine love; but when you read the comments of Luther upon Calvin and of Calvin upon Luther, you understand that this love is confined to the inside of each denomination. And even so restricted, there is not always enough to go around. Recently I met a Presbyterian clergyman, to whom I remarked, "I see by the papers that you have just finished a church building." "Yes," he answered; "and I have had three offers of a new church." I did not see the connection, and asked, "Because you were so successful with this one?" The reply was, "They always take it for granted that you want to change when you've finished a new building, because you make so many enemies!"

The businessman puts up the money to build the church, he puts up the money to keep it going; and the first rule of a businessman is that when he puts up the money for a thing he "runs" that thing. Of course he sees that it spreads his own views of life, it helps to maintain his tradition. In the days of Anu and Baal we heard the proclamation of the divine right of Kings; in these days of Mammon we hear the proclamation of the divine right of Merchants. Some 15 years ago the head of our Coal Trust announced during a great strike that the question would be settled "by the Christian men to whom God in His Infinite Wisdom has given control of the property interests of this country." And on that declaration all pious merchants stand; whatever their denominations, Catholic, Episcopalians, Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterian or Hebrew, their Sabbath doctrines are alike, as their week-day practices are alike; whether it is Rockefeller shooting his Bayonne oil-workers and burning alive the little children of his miners; or smooth John Wanamaker, paying starvation wages to department-store girls and driving them to the streets; or that clergyman who, at a gathering of society ladies, members of the "Law and Order League" of Denver, declared in my hearing that if he could have his way he would blow up the home of every coal-striker with dynamite; or the Rev. R.A. Torrey, Dean of the Bible institute of Los Angeles, who refused to employ union labor on the million dollar building of the Institute, declaring that "the Church cannot afford to have any dealings with a band of fire-bugs and murderers!"

back Contents next page
Raven's Bookshelf at www.corax.com