Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion

Book Five - The Church of the Merchants

The Great American Fraud

Among the most loathsome products of our native commercial greed is the patent medicine industry. "The Great American Fraud," as its historian has called it. In 1907 this historian wrote:

Gullible America will spend this year some $75,000,000 in the purchase of patent medicines. In consideration of this sum it will swallow huge quantities of alcohol, an appalling amount of opiates and narcotics, a wide assortment of varied drugs ranging from powerful and dangerous heart depressants to insidious stimulants; and, far in excess of all other ingredients, undiluted fraud. For fraud, exploited by the skillfullest of advertising bunco men, is the basis of the trade.

One by one Mr. Adams tells about these medical fakes: habit- forming laxatives, headache powders full of acetanilid, soothing- syrups and catarrh-cures full of opium and cocaine, cock-tails subtly disguised as "bitters. "sarsaparillas," and "tonics." He shows how the fake testimonials are made up and exploited; how the confidential letters, telling the secret troubles of men and women, are collected by tens and hundreds of thousands and advertised and sold - so that the victim, as he begins to lose faith in one fake, finds another at hand, fully informed as to his weakness. He quotes the amazing "Red Clause" in the contract which the patent-medicine makers have with thousands of daily and weekly papers, whereby the makers are able to control the press of the country and prevent legislation against the "Great American Fraud."

There are a thousand religious papers in America, weekly and monthly; and what is their attitude on this question? Mr. Adams tells us:

Whether because church-going people are more trusting, and therefore more easily befooled than others, or from some more obscure reason, many of the religious papers fairly reek with patent medicine fakes.

He gives us many pages of specific instances:

Dr. Smith belongs to the brood of cancer vampires. He is a patron and prop of religious journalism. It is his theory that the easiest prey is to be found among readers of church papers. Moreover he has learned from his father-in- law (who built a small church out of blood-money) to capitalize his own sectarian associations, and when confronted recently with a formal accusation he replied, with an air of injured innocence, that he was a regular attendant at church, and could produce an endorsement from his minister.

And here is the "Church Advocate," of Harrisburg, Pa., which publishes quack advertisements disguised as editorials. One of them Mr.Adams paraphrases.

As Dr. Smith is, on the face of his own statements, a self-branded swindler and rascal, you run no risk in assuming that the Rev. C.H. Forney, D.D., L.L.D., in acting as his journalistic support-for-pay is just such another as himself!

And again:

Will the editor of the "Baptist Watchman" of Boston explain by what phenomenon of logic or elasticity of ethics he accepts the incubations of Dr. Bye, of Oren Oneal, of Liquozone, of Actina, that marvelous two-ended mechanical appliance which "cures" deafness at one terminus and blindness at the other, and all with a little oil of mustard?

And again:

The "Christian observer" of Louisville replied to a protesting subscriber, suggesting that the "Collier" articles were written in a spirit of revenge because "Collier's" could not get patent medicine advertising. When I asked the Rev. F. Bartlett Converse for his foundation for the charge, he said that one of the typewriters must have written the letter! Doubtless also the same highly responsible typewriter imitated the signature with startling fidelity to Dr. Converse's handwriting!

And here is - would you think it possible? - our "Church of Good Society"! It has an organ in Chicago called the "Living Church," most dignified and decorous. You have to study quite a while to ascertain what denomination it belongs to; it will not tell you directly, for the Anglican pose is that it is the church

Elect from every nation,
Yet one o'er all the earth,
Her charter of salvation,
One Lord one Faith, one Birth;
One holy name blesses,
Partakes holy food,
And toward one she presses,
With every grace endued.

And this one holy institution was found setting at its peak the black flag of the trader, the "Jolly Roger" of the modern commercial pirate - "Caveat emptor!" To quote the precise words:

P> And so it threw open its columns to the claims of America's champion labor-baiter, the late C.W. Post, that his "Grapenuts" would prevent appendicitis, and obviate the need of operations in such cases!

And here is the "Christian Endeavor World," organ of one of the most powerful non-sectarian religious bodies in the country. Some one wrote complaining of its medical advertising, and the answer was:

To the best of our knowledge and belief, we are not publishing any fraudulent or unworthy medical advertising. ... Trusting that you will be able to understand that we are acting according to our best and sincerest judgment, I remain, yours very truly, The Golden Rule Company, George W. Coleman, Business Manager.

Whereupon the historian of "The Great American Fraud" remarks:

Assuming that the business management of the "Christian Endeavor World" represents normal intelligence, I would like to ask whether it accepts the statement that a pair of "magic foot drafts" applied to the soles of the feet will cure any and every kind of rheumatism in any part of the body? Further, if the advertising department is genuinely interested in declining "fraudulent and unworthy" copy, I would call their attention to the ridiculous claims of Dr. Shoop's medicines, which "cure" almost every disease; to two hair removers, one an "Indian Secret," the other an accidental discovery," both either fakes or dangerous; to the lying claims of Hall's Catarrh Cure, that it is "a positive Cure for catarrh," in all its stages to "Syrup of Figs," which is not a fig syrup, but a preparation of senna; to Dr. Kilmer's Swamp Root, of which the principal medical constituent is alcohol; and, finally, to Dr. Bye's oil Cure for cancer, "particularly cruel swindle on unfortunates suffering from an incurable malady. All of these, with other matter, which for the sake of decency I do not care to detail in these columns, appear in recent issues of the "Christian Endeavor World."

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