Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion

Book Seven - The Church of the Social Revolution

Christ and Caesar

In the most deeply significant of the legends concerning Jesus, we are told how the devil took him up into a high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time; and the devil said unto him: "All this power will I give unto thee, and the glory of them, for that is delivered unto me, and to whomsoever I will, I give it. If thou, therefore, wilt worship me, all shall be thine." Jesus, as we know, answered and said "Get thee behind me, Satan!" And he really meant it; he would have nothing to do with worldly glory, with "temporal power;" he chose the career of a revolutionary agitator, and died the death of a disturber of the peace. And for two or three centuries his church followed in his footsteps, cherishing his proletarian gospel. The early Christians had "all things in common, except women;" they lived as social outcasts, hiding in deserted catacombs, and being thrown to lions and boiled in oil.

But the devil is a subtle worm; he does not give up at one defeat, for he knows human nature, and the strength of the forces which battle for him. He failed to get Jesus, but he came again, to get Jesus' church. He came when, through the power of the new revolutionary idea, the Church had won a position of tremendous power in the decaying Roman Empire; and the subtle worm assumed the guise of no less a person than the Emperor himself, suggesting that he should become a convert to the new faith, so that the Church and he might work together for the greater glory of God. The bishops and fathers of the Church, ambitious for their organization, fell for this scheme, and Satan went off laughing to himself. He had got everything he had asked from Jesus 300 years before; he had got the world's greatest religion. How complete and swift was his success you may judge from the fact that 50 years later we find the Emperor Valentinian compelled to pass an edict limiting the donations of emotional females to the church in Rome!

From that time on Christianity has been what I have shown in this book, the chief of the enemies of social progress. From the days of Constantine to the days of Bismarck and Mark Hanna, Christ and Caesar have been one, and the Church has been the shield and armor of predatory economic might. With only one qualification to be noted: that the Church has never been able to suppress entirely the memory of her proletarian Founder. She has done her best, of course; we have seen how her scholars twist his words out of their sense, and the Catholic Church even goes so far as to keep to the use of a dead language, so that her victims may not hear the words of Jesus in a form they can understand.

'Tis well that such seditious songs are sung
Only by priests, and in the Latin tongue!

But in spite of this, the history of the Church has been one incessant struggle with upstarts and rebels who have filled themselves with the spirit of the Magnificat and the Sermon on the Mount, and of that bitterly class-conscious proletarian, James, the brother of Jesus.

And here is the thing to be noted, that the factor which has given life to Christianity, which enables it to keep its hold on the hearts of men today, is precisely this new wine of faith and fervor which has been poured into it by generation after generation of poor men who live like Jesus as outcasts, and die like Jesus as criminals, and are revered like Jesus as founders and saints. The greatest of the early Church fathers were bitterly fought by the Church authorities of their own time. St. Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople, was turned out of office, exiled and practically martyred; St. Basil, was persecuted by the Emperor Valens; St. Ambrose excommunicated the tyrannical Emperor Theodosius; St. Cyrian gave all his wealth to the poor, and was exiled and finally martyred. In the same way most of the heretics whom the Holy Inquisition tortured and burned were proletarian rebels; the saints whom the Church reveres, the founders of the orders which gave it life for century after century, were men who sought to return to the example of the carpenter's son. Let us hear a Christian scholar on this point, Prof. Rauschenbusch:

The movement of Francis of Assisi, of the Waldenses, of the Humiliati and Bons Hommes, were all inspired by democratic and communistic ideals. Wiclif was by far the greatest doctrinal reformer before the reformation; but his eyes, too, were first opened to the doctrinal errors of the Roman Church by joining in a great national and patriotic movement against the alien domination and extortion of the Church. The Bohemian revolt, made famous by the name of John Huss, was quite as much political and social as religious. Savonarola was a great democrat as well as a religious prophet. In his famous interview with the dying Lorenzo de Medici he made three demands as a condition for granting absolution. Of the man he demanded a living faith in God's mercy. Of the millionaire he demanded restitution of his ill-gotten wealth. Of the political usurper he demanded the restoration of the liberties of the people of Florence. It is significant that the dying sinner found it easy to assent to the first, hard to assent to the second, and impossible to concede the last.

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