Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion

Book Five - The Church of the Merchants

Running the Rapids

And now, can you form to yourselves a clear concept of what it means to society that practically all its moral teaching should be in the hands of men who are incapable of clean, straight thinking? That all the intellectual prestige of the Church should be lent to the support of vagueness, futility, and deliberate evasion? Here we are, all of us, caught in the most terrific social crisis of history; I search for a metaphor to picture our position, and I recall a canoe-trip in the wilds of Ontario, hundreds of miles down a long swift river. You sit in the bow of the canoe, your partner in the stern, watching ahead; and there comes a slide of smooth green water, and you go over it, and into a torrent of foaming white, which seizes you and rushes you along with the speed of a race-horse. With ever sense alert you watch for the rocks, and when you see one, you dip your paddle on one side or the other and with a quick motion draw the canoe clear of the danger. If by any chance you fail to do it, over you go, and your partner with you, and all your belongings go down stream, and maybe you are sucked into a whirlpool, and not seen for several hours afterwards. Precisely like this is the voyage of life, for the whole of society and for every individual. The paddle which would save us from the rocks is experimental science; but in most of our canoes we put a man who has no paddle, but a Holy Book; and he casts up his eyes and murmurs words in ancient Greek and Hebrew, and now and then, when he sees an especially formidable obstruction - a war, or the gonococcus, or the I.W.W. - he casts a holy wafer upon the foaming torrent.

And mind you, it isn't as if I could save myself and you could gave yourself; we are all in the same canoe, and we all go overboard together. You, perhaps, have a son who is drafted into the trenches in winter-time, and drowned in blood and mud, because in Europe the Catholic party supported militarism, and kept aristocratic criminals in control of states. Or you find yourself involved in a marital tragedy, and in order to free yourself from unendurable misery, you are obliged to go to law- courts dominated by the tradition of Paul, the Roman bureaucrat, who despised women, and regarded marriage as a means of gratifying an unclean animal desire. "It is better to marry than to burn," he said, with unmatchable brutality; and so of course those who think him a voice of God can form no conception of the dignity and grace of love, and if you want sound and wholesome sex-conversation, you will be as apt to find them among the Ashantees or the Kamchaldals as among the followers of the Apostle to the Gentiles.

You go to a so-called "divorce-court," which is dominated by this Christian taboo, and exists for the purpose of barring you from a second chance at the gratification of your unclean animal desire. You are not permitted to tell your own story, for that would be "collusion!" you listen while your intimate friends recite the pitiful and shameful details of your domestic misfortune, under the cross-questioning of lawyers who have suppressed for the time whatever decent instincts they may possess, and follow blindly the details of a prescribed procedure, at the cost of all sincerity, humanity and truth. The next morning you find that the privacy guaranteed you by law has been taken from you by corrupt court officials, who have sold copies of the testimony to the newspapers, so that all the intimate details of where you slept and where your wife slept and what you saw your wife doing have been thrown out to journalistic jackals, who scream with glee as they rend the carcass of your dead love. And in the end, perhaps, you find that you have gone through this horror for nothing - the august court with its Roman Catholic judge throws out your petition, its suspicions having been excited by the fact that when you discovered your domestic tragedy, you sought to behave like a civilized person, with pity and self-restraint, instead of like a sultan in Turkey, or a basso in an Italian grand opera.

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