Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion

Book Six - The Church of the Quacks

Tabula Rasa

Nature have given us a virgin continent, a clean slate upon which to write what we will. And what are we writing? What is our intellectual life? I came to the far West, which I had been taught by novelists and poets to think of as a place of freedom. I came, because I like freedom; I am staying because I like the climate. I find that what freedom means in the West is the ability of ignorant and fanatical persons to start some new, fantastical quirk of scriptural interpretation, to build a new cult around it, and earn a living out of it.

My first contact with that sort of thing was when I went to the Battle Creek Sanitarium to investigate hydrotherapy, and found myself in a nest of Seventh-day Adventists. Three generations or so ago some odd character hit upon the discovery that the Christian churches had let the devil snare them into resting on the first day of the week, whereas the Bible states distinctly that the Lord "rested on the seventh day." So here is a million dollar establishment, with a thousand or two patients and employees, and on Friday at sundown the silence of death settles upon the place, and stays settled until sundown of Saturday, when everything comes suddenly to life again, and there is a little celebration, like Easter or New Year's, with what I used to call "sterilized dancing" - the men pairing with men and the women with women.

They are decent and kindly people, and you learn to put up with their eccentricities; it is really convenient in some ways, because, as not all the city shares their delusions, there are some stores open every day of the week. But then you discover that the Sanitarium is training "medical missionaries" to send to Africa, and is teaching these supposed-to-be-scientists that evolution is a doctrine of the devil, and not proven anyhow!

You get the shrewd little doctor who is running this establishment alone in his office, and he will smile and admit that of course it is not necessary to take all Bible phrases literally; but you know how it is - there are different levels of intelligence, and so on. Yes, I know how it is. You have an institution founded upon a certain dogma, and run by means of that dogma, and it is hard to change without smashing things. It is especially convenient when servants and nurses have a religious upbringing, and do not steal the pocket-books of the patients. People will come from all over the country, and pay high prices to stay in such a sanitarium; you can make vegetables of them, which you think more important than teaching abstract notions about their being descended from monkeys. Also you can manufacture vegetarian foods for them, and build up an enormous business - so obtaining that Power which is, the thing desired of men.

This is but one illustration of a sort of thing of which I could cite a hundred. The city in which I live is headquarters of another sect, the "Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene"; primitive Methodists, Bible-worshipers, not content with the King James version, but going back to the Sinaitic MS. They have a "University," located in one of the most beautiful spots that Nature ever made; an institution with 75 students. A couple of years ago I happened to meet the "president," who was a preacher with grease on the ample expanse of his black broadcloth waist- coat, and a speech full of the commonest grammatical errors, such as "you was" and "I seen." The past year witnessed a split, and the founding of a brand new church and "University" - because one of the preachers insisted upon preaching so much that the students got no chance to study; also because he sent home a rich man's daughter whose shirt-waists revealed too much of her fleshly nature.

And there is an even stranger phenomenon in the locality, taking you back to the Libyan desert and the time of Thais. A lady friend of mine, generously blessed with this world's good's, asks me have I seen the hermit. "Hermit?" I say, and she replies, 'Didn't you know there was a hermit? He lives on a mountain, in a cave, and never has anything to do with the world. He has no books; he contemplates spiritually." I picture my friend with her large limousine, a rolling palace full of ladies, drawing up at the door of this hermit's cave. "He received you?" I ask. "Yes, he was quite polite." "And what was your impression of him?" "Oh, how he stank!" I answer that this is the odor of sanctity, and my friend thinks that I am enormously witty; I have to explain to her that I am not jesting, but that there are definite physiological phenomena incidental to the ecstatic life.

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