Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion

Book Five - The Church of the Merchants

Captivating Ideals

In one of the writer's earlier novels. "Prince Hagen," the hero is a Nibelung out of Wagner's "Rheingold," who leaves his diggings in the bowels of the earth, and comes up to look into our superior civilization. The thing that impresses him most is what he Calls "the immortality idea." The person who got that up was a world-genius, he exclaims. "If you can once get a man to believing in immortality, there is no more left for you to desire; you can take everything he owns - you can skin him alive if it pleases you - and he will bear it all with perfect good humor."

And is that merely the spiritual deficiency of a Nibelung - or the effort of a young author to be smart? Would you like to hear that view of the most vital of Christian doctrines set forth in the language of scholarship and culture? Would you like to know how an ecclesiastical authority, equipped with every tool of modern learning, would set about voicing the idea that the function of the teaching of Heaven is to chloroform the poor, so that the rich may continue to rob them in security?

Here under my hand is a volume in the newest dress of scholarship, dated 1912, and written by Professor Georges Chatterton-Hill, of the University of Geneva. Its title is "The Sociological Value of Christianity," and from cover to cover it is a warning to the rich of the danger they run in giving up their religion and ceasing to support its priests. It explains how "the genius of Christianity has succeeded in making the individual suffering, the individual sacrifices, which are indispensable for the welfare of the collectivity, appear as indispensable for the individual welfare." The learned professor makes plain just what he means by "individual suffering, individual sacrifices"; he means all the horrors of capitalism; and the advantage of Christianity is that it makes you think that by submitting, to these horrors, you are profiting your own soul. "By making individual salvation depend on the acceptance of suffering, on the voluntary sacrifice of egotistical interests Christianity adapts the individual to society." And this, as the professor explains, is not an easy thing to do, in a world in which so many people are thinking for themselves. "The only means of causing the rationalized individual to consent to the sacrifice ... is to captivate him with a sufficiently powerful ideal." And the professor shows how beautifully Jesus can be used for this purpose. "Jesus, the so-called humanitarian, never ceased to insist on the necessity of suffering, the desirableness of suffering - of that suffering which a weak and sickly humanitarianism would fain suppress if it could."

You get this, you "blanket-stiff," you "husky," or "wop," or whatever you are - you disinherited of the earth, you proletarians who have only your labor-power to sell. you weak and sickly ones who are condemned to elimination? There has come, let us say, a period of "over-production"; you have raised too much food, and therefore you are starving, you have woven too much cloth, and therefore you are naked, you have finished the world for your masters, and it is time for you to move out of the way. As the sociologist from Geneva phrases it, "Your suppression imposes itself as an imperious necessity." And the function of the Christian religion is to make you enjoy the process, by captivating you with a sufficiently powerful ideal!" The priest will fill your nostrils with incense, your eyes with candle-light and images, your ears with sweet music and soothing words; and so you will perish without raising a finger! "Here," reflects the professor, "we see how magnificently the teaching of Jesus applies to all classes of society!"

Somebody has evidently put up to our Christian sociologist the embarrassing fact that so many of those, who survive under the capitalist system are godless scoundrels. But do you think that troubles him? Not for long. Like all religious thinkers, he carries with his scholar's equipment a pair of metaphysical wings, wherewith at any moment he may soar into the empyrean, out of reach of vulgar materialists, like you and me. "Inequality signifies inequality of capacity," he explains; but the standard whereby we judge this capacity "cannot be the standard of the moral law."

The laws which govern the biological evolution of man are known, but those which govern his moral nature cannot be known; the moral nature appertains to the Absolute, and hence is not subject to the law of inequality!

As an exhibition of metaphysical wing-power, that is almost as wonderful as the flight of Cardinal Newman when confronted with the fact that his divinely guided church had burned men for teaching the Copernican view of the universe; that infallible Popes had again and again condemned this heresy ex cathedra. Said the eloquent cardinal:

Scriptures says the sun moves and the earth is stationary, and science that the earth moves and the sun is comparatively at rest. How can we determine which of these opposite statements is the truth till we know what motion is?

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