Upton Sinclair: The Profits of Religion

Book Seven - The Church of the Social Revolution

The Church Redeemed

Do I mean that I expect to see the Church - all churches - perish and pass away? I do not, for I believe that the Church answers one of the fundamental needs of man. The Social Revolution will abolish poverty and parasitism, it will make temptations fewer, and the soul's path through life much easier; but it will not remove the necessity of struggle for individual virtue, it will only clear the way for the discovery of newer and higher types of virtue. Men will gather more than ever in beautiful places to voice their love of life and of one another; but the places in which they gather will be places swept clean of superstition and tyranny. As the Reformation compelled the Catholic Church to cleanse itself and abolish the grossest of its abuses, so the Social Revolution will compel it to repudiate its defense of parasitism and exploitation. I will record the prophecy that by the year 1950 all Catholic authorities will be denying that the Church ever opposed Socialism - true Socialism; just as today they deny that the Church ever tortured Galileo, ever burned men for teaching that the earth moves around the sun, ever sold the right to commit crime, ever gave away the New World to Spain and Portugal, ever buried newly-born infants in the cellars of nunneries.

The Social Revolution will compel all churches, Christian, Hebrew, Buddhist, Confucian, or what you will, to drive out their formalists and traditionalists. If there is any church that refuses so to adapt itself, the swift progress of enlightenment and freedom will leave it without followers. But in the great religions, which have a soul of goodness and sincerity, we may be sure that reformers will arise, prophets and saints who, as of old, will preach the living word of God. In many churches today we can see the beginning of that new Counter-Reformation. Even in the Catholic Church there is a "modernist" rebellion; read the books of the "Sillon," and Fogazzaro's trilogy of novels, "The Saint," and you will see a genuine and vital protest against the economic corruption of the Church. In America, the "Knights of Slavery" have been forced by public pressure to support a "War for Democracy," and even to compete with the Y.M.C.A. in the training camps. They are doing good work, I am told.

This gradual conquest of the old religiosity by the spirit of modern common sense is shown most interestingly in the Salvation Army. William Booth was a man with a great heart, who took his life into his hands and went out with a bass-drum to save the lost souls of the slums. He was stoned and jailed, but he persisted, and brought his captives to Jesus -

Vermin-eaten saints with mouldy breath,
Unwashed legions with the ways of death.

Incidentally the "General" learned to know his slum population. He had not wanted to engage in charity and material activities; he feared hypocrisy and corruption. But in his writings he lets us see how utterly impossible it is for a man of real heart to do anything for the souls of the slum-dwellers without at the same time helping their diseased and hunger-racked bodies. So the Salvation army was forced into useful work - old clothes depots, nights lodgings, Christmas dinners, farm colonies - until today the bare list of the various kinds of enterprises it carries on fills three printed pages. It is all done with the money of the rich, and is tainted by subservience to authority, but no one can deny that it is better than "Gibson's Preservative," and the fox-hunting parsons filling themselves with port.

And in Protestant Churches the advance has been even greeter. Here and there you will find a real rebel, hanging onto his job and preaching the proletarian Jesus; while even the great Fifth Avenue churches are making attempts at "missions" and "settlements" in the slums. The more vital churches are gradually turning themselves into societies for the practical betterment of their members. Their clergy are running boys clubs and sewing- schools for girls, food conservation lectures for mothers, social study clubs for men. You get prayer-meetings and psalm-singing along with this; but here is the fact that hangs always before the clergyman's face - that with prayer-meetings and psalm- singing alone he has a hard time, while with clubs and educational societies and social reforms he thrives.

And now the War has broken upon the world, and caught the churches, like everything else, in its mighty current; the clergy and the congregations are confronted by pressing national needs, they are forced to take notice of a thousand new problems, to engage in a thousand practical activities. No one can see the end of this - any more than he can see the end of the vast upheaval in politics and industry. But we who are trained in revolutionary thought can see the main outlines of the future. We see that in these new church activities the clergy are inspired by things read, not in ancient Hebrew texts, but in the daily newspapers. They are responding to the actual, instant needs of their boys in the trenches and the camps; and this is bound to have an effect upon their psychology. Just as we can say that an English girl who leaves the narrow circle of her old life, and goes into a munition factory and joins a union and takes part in its debates, will never after be a docile home-slave; so we can say that the clergyman who helps in Y.M.C.A. work in France, or in Red Cross organization in America, will be less the bigot and formalist forever after. He will have learned, in spite of himself, to adjust means to ends; he will have learned co-operation and social solidarity by the method which modern educators most favor - by doing. Also he will have absorbed a mass of ideas in news despatches from over the world. He is forced to read these despatches carefully, because the fate of his own boys is involved; and we Socialists will see to it that the despatches are well filled with propaganda!

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