Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion

Book Six - The Church of the Quacks

Holy Rolling

All over America you will find these weird Bible-cults, some of them pathetic, some of them dangerous, some of them merely grotesque. Thus, for example, there was John Alexander Dowie, who founded the "Christian Catholic Church in Zion" and dressed himself up in scarlet and purple robes with stars on. Through his Zion City Bank and Zion City Realty Company he became enormously wealthy; he finally announced himself as "Elijah the Restorer." I remember as a boy how he brought his gospel to New York, and P.T. Barnum with Tom Thumb and the white elephant never made such a sensation. The ridicule of the metropolis overwhelmed the old prophet, and he died and passed on his robes and his tabernacle and his bank to his son; straightway, according to the rule of all religions, the followers fell to quarrelling and splitting up, and suing one another in the law-courts.

Also there are the "Holy Rollers" and "Holy Jumpers," ghastly sects which cultivate the religious hysterias, and have spread like a plague among the women of our lonely prairie farms and desert ranches. The "Holy Rollers," who call themselves the "Apostolic Church," have a meeting place here in Pasadena, and any Sunday evening at nine o'clock you may see the Saints of the Lord taking possession of the worshipers, causing moans and shrieks and convulsions; you may see a woman holding her hands aloft for 17 minutes by the watch making chattering sounds like an ape. This is called "talking in tongues" and is a sign of the presence of the Holy Spirit. If you come back at 11 in the evening, you will find the entire congregation, men and women, prostrate on the floor, or hanging over the benches; and maybe a child moaning in terror, having a devil cast out.

You may be interested, perhaps, to know how to throw yourself into these convulsions. Here is a paper called "Trust." which is "Published Monthly (D.V.) in the interest of Elim Faith Work and Bible Training School." Elizabeth Sisson writes on "The Pentecostal Baptism." and tells the story of her experiences. She "Camped on the Word of God," she declares.

I went up to Calgary in Canada, and the leader of the mission told me, "You can go down to the mission and stay there all day. There is plenty of wood, and you can stay there all night." I went down, and there was plenty of "let go" in me. I cried, and prayed all I knew, and got wonderfully loosed. ...

Then the Lord said to me, "Now, no more praying!" God told me it was mine. What was there left for me to pray about. He spoiled my praying and I took up praising. I praised God that He who worked in the Upper Room was working the same in me. I praised, and I praised, and I praised. The devil said to me, "That's mechanical." I said, "I'll praise You Lord, and if You want real praise, You'll have to put the wind in the sails."

That's the way I came through. One morning I was just getting out of bed, "this gibberish, this jargon" as the enemy likes to call it, began to come. The Lord said, "Let it babble!" I let. The babble increased, and by night I was up to my neck. I let. I still let. That's all, Someone else does the work and it does not tire you.

And here is another paper. "Meat in Due Season: published monthly, or as often as the Lord leads." The editor quotes the Bible, "Call upon the name of the Lord," and explains that "Call means call." The word appears to have a special meaning to these pentecostal persons - it means working yourself into a frenzy of agitation; as the editor puts it, "You must lay hold of the horns of the altar." He goes on to exhort - the italics being his:

Pray as if your very life depended upon it! The first few minutes seemingly all the powers of hell will contend every word, the next few, relief in a measure will come, more liberty in calling. In a very little while you will be dead to the room. dead to the chair, dead to everyone around you, dead to all and tremendously alive to your desperate need and emptyness; this conviction will grow as you increase palling upon Him. It maybe you'll weep, it maybe you'll perspire, it maybe your clothing will be deranged, it maybe your throat will get sore. Never for a moment let your mind rest on the condition of your person. Open your mouth and God has promised to fill it. Ask persistently until the very floor seems to sink beneath you and the fountains of the deep, of your heart let loose. Like David, "pour out your soul" like one would pour water out of a bucket. I have seen hundreds get through right at this point. When self-thought reticence, decorum, reserve, propriety and dignity had all been thrown to the four winds of heaven. Self was then obliterated and consciousness of person gone, Draw near to God and He will draw near to you saith the scripture, but you must draw near to Him first.

These enthusiasts derive their practices from the Shakers, a sect which originated in England, but was driven by persecution to the New World. The Shakers call themselves the "United Society of True Believers in Christ's Second Coming," and were founded by Ann Lee who variously termed herself the "Female Christ," the "Holy Comforter," and the "God-anointed Woman." They might be termed the suffragettes of religion, for they pray always to "Our Father and Mother, which are in heaven." They were taught the convenient doctrine that their Founder had "spiritual illumination," so that any evidence of the senses used against her might deceive. She governed through terror, holding that by her mental powers she could inflict torment upon any of her followers. Fortunately she taught absolute celibacy, and so there are how only about a thousand of her disciples.

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