Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion

Book Seven - The Church of the Social Revolution

The Soap Box

This book will be denounced from one end of Christendom to the other as the work of a blasphemous infidel. Yet it stands in the direct line of the Christian tradition: written by a man who was brought up in the Church, and loved it with all his heart and soul, and was driven out by the formalists and hypocrites in high places; a man who thinks of Jesus more frequently and with more devotion than he thinks of any other man that lives or has ever lived on earth; and who has but one purpose in all that he says and does, to bring into reality the dream that Jesus dreamed of peace on earth and good will toward men.

I will go farther yet and say that not merely is this book written for the cause of Jesus, but it is written in the manner of Jesus. We read his bitter railings at the Pharisees, and miss the point entirely, because the word Pharisee has become to us a word of reproach. But this is due solely to Jesus; in his time the word was a holy word, it meant the most orthodox and respectable, the ultra high-church devotees of Jerusalem. The way to get the spirit of the tirades of Jesus is to do with him what we did with the early church fathers - translate him into American. This time, since the reader shares the secret, it will not be necessary to disguise the Bible style, and we may follow the text exactly. Let me try the 23rd chapter of Matthew, omitting seven verses which refer to subtleties of Hebrew casuistry, for which we should have to go to Lyman Abbott or St. Alphonus to find a parallel:

Then Jesus mounted upon a soap-box, and began a speech, saying, The doctors of divinity and Episcopalians fill the Fifth Avenue churches; and it would be all right if you were to listen to what they preach, and do that; but don't follow their actions, for they never practice what they preach. They load the backs of the working-classes with crushing burdens, but they themselves never move a finger to carry a burden, and everything they do is for show. They wear frock- coats and silk hats on Sundays, and they sit at the speakers' table at the banquets of the Civic Federation, and they occupy the best pews in the churches, and their doings are reported in all the papers; they are called leading citizens and pillars of the church. But don't you be called leading citizens, for the only useful man is the man who produces. (Applause). And whoever exalts himself shall be abased, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.

Woe unto you, doctors of divinity and Catholics, hypocrites! for you shut up the kingdom of Heaven against men; you don't go in yourself and you don't let others go in. Woe unto you, doctors of divinity and Presbyterians, hypocrites! for you foreclose mortgages on widows' houses, and for a pretense you make long prayers. For this you will receive the greater damnation! Woe unto you, doctors of divinity and Methodists, hypocrites! for you send missionaries to Africa to make one convert, and when you have made him, he is twice as much a child of hell as yourselves. (Applause). Woe unto you, blind guides, with your subtleties of doctrine, your transubstantiation and consubstantiation and all the rest of it; you fools and blind! Woe unto you, doctors of divinity and Episcopalians, hypocrites! for you drop your checks into the collection- plate and you pay no heed to the really important things in the Bible, which are justice and mercy and faith in goodness. You blind guides, who strain at a gnat and swallow a camel! (Laughter). Woe unto you, doctors of divinity and Anglicans, hypocrites! for you bathe yourselves and dress in immaculate clothing but within you are full of extortion and excess. You blind high churchmen, clean first your hearts, so that the clothes you wear may represent you. Woe unto you, doctors of divinity and Baptists, hypocrites! for you are like marble tombs which appear beautiful on the outside, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. Even so you appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. (Applause). Woe unto you, doctors of divinity and Unitarians, hypocrites! because you erect statues to dead reformers, and put wreathes upon the tombs of old-time martyrs. You say, if we had been alive in those days, we would not have helped to kill those good men. That ought to show you how to treat us at present. (Laughter). But you are the children of those who killed the good men; so go ahead and kill us too! You serpents, you generation of vipers, how can you escape the damnation of hell?

At this point, according to the report published in the Jerusalem "Times," a police sergeant stepped up to the orator and notified him that he was under arrest; he submitted quietly, but one of his followers attempted to use a knife, and was severely clubbed. Jesus was taken to the station-house followed by a riotous throng, and held upon a charge of disorderly conduct. Next morning the Rev. Dr. Caiaphas of Old Trinity appeared against him, and Magistrate Pilate sentenced him to six months on Blackwell's Island, remarking that from this time on he proposed to make an example of those soap-box orators who persist in using threatening and abusive language. Just as the prisoner was being led away, a detective appeared with a requisition from the Governor, ordering that Jesus be taken to San Francisco, where he is under indictment for murder in the first degree, it being charged that his teachings helped to incite the Preparedness Day explosion.

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