Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion

Book Six - The Church of the Quacks

The Graft of Grace

All this is grotesque; but it is what happens to religions in a world of commercial competition. It happens not merely to Christian Science and New Thought religions, Mazdaznan and Zionist, Holy Roller and Mormon religions, but to Catholic and Episcopalian, Presbyterian and Methodist and Baptist religions. For you see, when you are with the wolves you must bowl with them; when you are competing with fakers you must fake. The ordinary Christian will read the claims of the New Thought fakers with contempt; but have I not shown the Catholic Church publishing long lists of money-miracles? Have I not shown the Church of Good Society, our exclusive and aristocratic Protestant Episcopal communion, pretending to call rain and to banish pestilence, to protect crops and win wars and heal those who are "sick in estate" - that is, who are in business trouble?

The reader will say that I am a cynic, despising my fellows; but that is not so. I am an economic scientist, analyzing the forces which operate in human societies. I blame the prophets and priests and healers for their fall from idealism; but I blame still more the competitive wage-system, which presents them with the alternative to swindle or to starve.

For, you see, the prophet has to have food. He has frequently got, along with almost none, and with only a rag for clothing; in Palestine and India, where the climate is warm, a sincere faith has been possible for short periods. But the modern prophet who expects to influence the minds of men has to have books and newspapers; he will find a telephone and a typewriter and postage-stamps hardly to be dispensed with, also in Europe and America some sort of a roof over his meeting place. So the prophet is caught, like all the rest of us, in the net of the speculator and the landlord. He has to get money, and in order to get it he has to impress those who already have It - people whose minds and souls have been deformed by the system of parasitism and exploitation.

So the prophet becomes a charlatan; or, if he refuses, he becomes a martyr, and founds a church which becomes a church of charlatans. I care not how sincere, how passionately proletarian a religious prophet may be, that is the fate which sooner or later befalls him in a competitive society - to be the founder of an organization of fools, conducted by knaves, for the benefit of wolves. That fate befell Buddha and Jesus, it befell Ignatius Loyola and Francis of Assisi, John Fox and John Calvin and John Wesley.

A friend of mine who has made a study of "Spiritualism" describes to me the conditions in that field. The mediums are people, mostly women, with a peculiar gift; whether we believe in the survival of personality, or whether we call it telepathy, does not alter the fact that they have a rare and special sensitiveness, a new faculty which science must investigate. They come, poor people mostly - for the well-to-do will seldom give their time to exacting and wearisome experiments. They come, wearing frayed and thin clothing, shivering with cold, obviously undernourished: and their survival depends upon their producing "phenomena" - which phenomena are capricious, and will not come at call. So, what more natural than that mediums should resort to faking? That the whole field should be reeking with fraud, and science should be held back from understanding an extraordinary power of the subconscious mind?

Ever since we came to Pasadena, various ladies have been telling us about the wondrous powers of a mulatto-woman, a manicurist at the city's most fashionable hotel. The other day, out of curiosity, my wife and I went; the moment the "medium" opened her mouth my wife recognized her as the person who has been trying for several months to get me on the telephone to tell me how the spirit of Jack London is seeking to communicate with me! The seance was a public one, a gathering composed, half of wealthy and cultured society-women, and half of confederates, people with the dialect and manners of a vaudeville troupe. A megaphone was set in the middle of the floor, the room was made dark, a couple of hymns were sung, and then the spirit of Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes spoke through the megaphone with Bowery accent, and gave communications from relatives and friends of the various confederates. "Jesus is with us," said Dr. Holmes. "The spirit of Jesus bids you to study spiritualism." And then came the voice of a child: "Mamma! Mamma!" "It is little Georgie!" cried Dr. Holmes; and one of the society ladies started, and answered, and presently burst into tears. A marvelous piece of evidence - especially when you recall that the story of this mother's bereavement had been published in all the papers a couple of months before!

And this kind of swindling is going on every night in every city of America. It goes on wholesale for months every summer at Lily Dale in New York State, where the spiritualists hold their combination of Chautauqua and Coney Island. And the same thing is going on in the field of mental healing, and of all other "occult" forces and powers, whether real or imaginary. It is going on with new spiritual fervors, new moral idealisms, new poetry, new music, new painting, new sculpture. The faker, the charlatan is everywhere - using the mental and moral and artistic forces of life as a means of delivering himself from economic servitude. Everywhere I turn I see it - credulity being exploited, and men of practical judgment, watching the game and seeing through it, made hard in their attitude of materialism. How many men I know who sit by in sullen protest while their wives drift from one new quackery to another, wasting their income seeking health and happiness in futile emotionalism! How many kind and sensitive spirits I know - both men and women - who pour their treasures of faith and admiration into the laps of hierophants who began by fooling all mankind and indeed by fooling themselves!

In each one of the cults of what I have called the "Church of the Quakes," there are thousands, perhaps millions of entirely sincere, self-sacrificing people. They will read this book - if anyone can persuade them to read it - with pain and anger; thinking that I am mocking at their faith, and have no appreciation of their devotion. All that I can say is that I am trying to show them how they are being trapped, how their fine and generous qualities are being used by exploiters of one sort or another; and how this must continue, world without end, until there is order in the material affairs of the race, until justice has been established as the law of man's dealing with his fellows.

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