Read an Excerpt
The Profits of Religion
An Essay in Economic Interpretation
By Upton Sinclair
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1917 Upton Sinclair
All rights reserved.
The Church of the Conquerors
I saw the Conquerors riding by
With trampling feet of horse and men:
Empire on empire like the tide
Flooded the world and ebbed again;
A thousand banners caught the sun,
And cities smoked along the plain,
And laden down with silk and gold
And heaped up pillage groaned the wain.
The Priestly Lie
WHEN THE FIRST SAVAGE SAW his hut destroyed by a bolt of lightning, he fell down upon his face in terror. He had no conception of natural forces, of laws of electricity; he saw this event as the act of an individual intelligence. To-day we read about fairies and demons, dryads and fauns and satyrs, Wotan and Thor and Vulcan, Freie and Flora and Ceres, and we think of all these as pretty fancies, play-products of the mind; losing sight of the fact that they were originally meant with entire seriousness — that not merely did ancient man believe in them, but was forced to believe in them, because the mind must have an explanation of things that happen, and an individual intelligence was the only explanation available. The story of the hero who slays the devouring dragon was not merely a symbol of day and night, of summer and winter; it was a literal explanation of the phenomena, it was the science of early times.
Men imagined supernatural powers such as they could comprehend. If the lightning god destroyed a hut, obviously it must be because the owner of the hut had given offense; so the owner must placate the god, using those means which would be effective in the quarrels of men — presents of roast meats and honey and fresh fruits, of wine and gold and jewels and women, accompanied by friendly words and gestures of submission. And when in spite of all things the natural evil did not cease, when the people continued to die of pestilence, then came the opportunity for hysterical or ambitious persons to discover new ways of penetrating the mind of the god. There would be dreamers of dreams and seers of visions and hearers of voices; readers of the entrails of beasts and interpreters of the flight of birds; there would be burning bushes and stone tablets on mountain-tops, and inspired words dictated to aged disciples on lonely islands. There would arise special castes of men and women, learned in these sacred matters; and these priestly castes would naturally emphasize the importance of their calling, would hold themselves aloof from the common herd, endowed with special powers and entitled to special privileges. They would interpret the oracles in ways favorable to themselves and their order; they would proclaim themselves friends and confidants of the god, walking with him in the night-time, receiving his messengers and angels, acting as his deputies in forgiving offenses, in dealing punishments and in receiving gifts. They would become makers of laws and moral codes. They would wear special costumes to distinguish them, they would go through elaborate ceremonies to impress their followers, employing all sensuous effects, architecture and sculpture and painting, music and poetry and dancing, candles and incense and bells and gongs
And storied windows richly dight,
Casting a dim religious light.
There let the pealing organ blow,
To the full-voiced choir below,
In service high and anthem clear,
As may with sweetness through mine ear
Dissolve me into ecstasies,
And bring all heaven before mine eyes.
So builds itself up, in a thousand complex and complicated forms, the Priestly Lie. There are a score of great religions in the world, each with scores or hundreds of sects, each with its priestly orders, its complicated creed and ritual, its heavens and hells. Each has its thousands or millions or hundreds of millions of "true believers"; each damns all the others, with more or less heartiness — and each is a mighty fortress of Graft.
There will be few readers of this book who have not been brought up under the spell of some one of these systems of Supernaturalism; who have not been taught to speak with respect of some particular priestly order, to thrill with awe at some particular sacred rite, to seek respite from earthly woes in some particular ceremonial spell. These things are woven into our very fibre in childhood; they are sanctified by memories of joys and griefs, they are confused with spiritual struggles, they become part of all that is most vital in our lives. The reader who wishes to emancipate himself from their thrall will do well to begin with a study of the beliefs and practices of other sects than his own — a field where he is free to observe and examine without fear of sacrilege. Let him look into Madame Blavatsky's "Secret Doctrine," or her "Isis Unveiled" — encyclopedias of the fantastic inventions which terror and longing have wrung out of the tortured soul of man. Here are mysteries and solemnities, charms and spells, illuminations and transmigrations, angels and demons, guides, controls and masters — all of which it is permissible to refuse to support with gifts. Let the reader then go to James Freeman Clarke's "Ten Great Religions," and realize how many billions of humans have lived and died in the solemn certainty that their welfare on earth and in heaven depended upon their accepting certain ideas and practicing certain rites, all mutually exclusive and incompatible, each damning the others and the followers of the others. So gradually the realization will come to him that the test of a doctrine about life and its welfare must be something else than the fact that one was born to it.
The Great Fear
IT WAS NOT THE FAULT of primitive man that he was ignorant, nor that his ignorance made him a prey to dread. The traces of his mental suffering will inspire in us only pity and sympathy; for Nature is a grim school-mistress, and not all her lessons have yet been learned. We have a right to scorn and anger only when we see this dread being diverted from its true function, a stimulus to a search for knowledge, and made into a means of clamping down ignorance upon the mind of the race. That this has been the deliberate policy of institutionalized Religion no candid student can deny.
The first thing brought forth by the study of any religion, ancient or modern, is that it is based upon Fear, born of it, fed by it — and that it cultivates the source from which its nourishment is derived. "The fear of divine anger," says Prof. Jastrow, "runs as an undercurrent through the entire religious literature of Babylonia and Assyria." In the words of Tabi-utul-Enlil, King of ancient Nippur:
Who is there that can grasp the will of the gods in heaven?
The plan of a god is full of mystery — who can understand it?
He who is still alive at evening is dead the next morning.
In an instant he is cast into grief, in a moment he is crushed.
And that cry might be duplicated from almost any page of the Hebrew scriptures: the only difference being that the Hebrews combined all their fears into one Great Fear. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," we are told by Solomon of the thousand wives; and the Psalmist repeats it. "Dominion and fear are with Him," cries Job. "How then can any man be just before God? Or how can he be clean that is born of a woman? Behold, even the moon hath no brightness, and the stars are not pure in His sight: How much less man, that is a worm? And the son of man, which is a worm?" He goes on, in his lyrical rapture, "Sheol is naked before Him, and Destruction hath no covering. ... The pillars of heaven tremble and are astonished at His rebuke. ... The thunder of His power who can understand?" That all this is some of the world's great poetry does not in the least alter the fact that it is an abasement of the soul, an hysterical perversion of the facts of life, and a preparation of the mind for the seeds of Priestcraft.
The Book of Job has been called a "Wisdom-drama": and what is the denouement of this drama, what is ancient Hebrew wisdom's last word about life? "Wherefore I abhor myself," says Job, "and repent in dust and ashes." The poor fellow has done nothing; we have been told at the beginning that he "was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil." But the Sabeans and the Chaldeans rob him, and "the fire of God" falls from heaven and burns up his sheep and his servants, and "a great wind from the wilderness" kills his sons and daughters; and then his body becomes covered with boils — a phenomenon caused in part by worry, and the consequent nervous indigestion, but mainly by excess of starch and deficiency of mineral salts in the diet. Job, however, has never heard of the fasting cure for disease, and so he takes him a potsherd to scrape himself withal, and he sits among the ashes — a highly unsanitary procedure enforced by his religious ritual. So naturally he feels like a worm, and abhors himself, and cries out: "I know that Thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of Thine can be restrained." By which utter, unreasoning humility he succeeds in appeasing the Great Fear, and his friends make a sacrifice of seven bullocks and seven rams — a feast for a whole templeful of priests — and then "the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before. ... And after this Job lived an hundred and forty years, and saw his sons and his sons' sons, even four generations."
You do not have to look very deeply into this "Wisdom-drama" to find out whose wisdom it is. Confess your own ignorance and your own impotence, abandon yourself utterly, and then we, the sacred Caste, the Keepers of the Holy Secrets, will secure you pardon and respite — in exchange for fresh meat. Here are verses from a psalm of the ancient Babylonians, which "heathen" chant is identical in spirit and purpose with the utterances of Job:
The Sin that I have wrought, I know not;
The unclean that I have eaten, I know not;
The offense into which I have walked, I know not....
The lord, in the wrath of his heart, hath regarded me;
The god, in the anger of his heart, hath surrounded me;
A goddess, known or unknown, hath wrought me sorrow....
I sought for help, but no one took my hand;
I wept, but no one harkened to me....
The feet of my goddess I kiss, I touch them;
To the god, known or unknown, I utter my prayer;
O god, known or unknown, turn thy countenance, accept my sacrifice;
O goddess, known or unknown, look mercifully on me, accept my sacrifice!
AND NOW LET THE READER leap three thousand years of human history, of toil and triumph of the intellect of man; and instead of a Hebrew manuscript or a Babylonian brick there confronts him a little publication, printed on a modern rotary press in the capital of the United States of America, bearing the date of October, 1914, and the title "Salve Regina." In it we find "a beautiful prayer," composed by the late cardinal Rampolla; we are told that "Pius X. attached to it an indulgence of 100 days, each time it is piously recited, applicable to the souls in purgatory."
O Blessed Virgin, Mother of God, cast a glance from Heaven, where thou sittest as Queen, upon this poor sinner, your servant. Though conscious of his unworthiness. ... he blesses and exalts thee from his whole heart as the purest, the most beautiful and the most holy of creatures. He blesses thy holy name. He blesses thy sublime prerogatives as real Mother of God, ever Virgin, conceived without stain of sin, as co-Redemptress of the human race. He blesses the Eternal Father who chose you, etc. He blesses the Incarnate Word, etc. He blesses the Divine Spirit, etc. He blesses, exalts and thanks the most august Trinity, etc. O Virgin, holy and merciful. ... be pleased to accept this little homage of your servant, and obtain for him also from your divine Son pardon for his sins, Amen.
And then, looking more closely, we discover the purpose of this "beautiful prayer," and of the neat little paper which prints it. "Salve Regina" is raising funds for the "National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception," a home for more priests, and Catholic ladies who desire to collect for it may receive little books which they are requested to return within three months. Pius X writes a letter of warm endorsement, and sets an example by giving four hundred dollars "out of his poverty"— or, to be more precise, out of the poverty of the pitiful peasantry of Italy. There is included in the paper a form of bequest for "devoted clients of Our Blessed Mother," and at the top of the editorial page the most alluring of all baits for the loving hearts of the flock — that the names of deceased relatives and friends may be written in the collection books, and will be transferred to the records of the Shrine, and these persons "will share in all its spiritual benefits." In the days of Job it was with threats of boils and poverty that the Priestly Lie maintained itself; but in the case of this blackest of all Terrors, transplanted to our free Republic from the heart of the Dark Ages, the wretched victims see before their eyes the glare of flames, and hear the shrieks of their loved ones writhing in torment through uncounted ages and eternities.
IN THE DAYS WHEN I was experimenting with vegetarianism, I sought earnestly for evidence of a non-meat-eating race; but candor compelled me to admit that man was like the monkey and the pig and the bear — he was vegetarian when he could not help it. The advocates of the reform insist that meat as a diet causes muddy brains and dulled nerves; but you would certainly never suspect this from a study of history. What you find in history is that all men crave meat, all struggle for it, and the strongest and cleverest get it. Everywhere you find the subject classes living in the midst of animals which they tend, but whose flesh they rarely taste. Even in modern America, sweet land of liberty, our millions of tenant farmers raise chickens and geese and turkeys, and hardly venture to consume as much as an egg, but save everything for the summer-boarder or the buyer from the city. It would not be too much to say of the cultural records of early man that they all have to do, directly or indirectly, with the reserving of fresh meat to the masters. In J. T. Trowbridge's cheerful tale of the adventures of Captain Seaborn, we are told by the cannibal priest how idolworship has ameliorated the morals of the tribe —
For though some warriors of renown
'Tis rare that human flesh goes down
The low-caste man's aesophagus!
I suspect that we should have to go back to the days of the cave-man to find the first lover of the flesh-pots who put a taboo upon meat, and promised supernatural favors to all who would exercise self-control, and instead of consuming their meat themselves, would bring it and lay it upon the sacred griddle, or altar, where the god might come in the night-time and partake of it. Certainly, at any rate, there are few religions of record in which such devices do not appear. The early laws of the Hebrews are more concerned with delicatessen for the priests than with any other subject whatever. Here, for example, is the way to make a Nazarite:
He shall offer his offering up to the Lord, one he lamb of the first year without blemish for a burnt offering, and one ewe lamb of the first year without blemish for a sin offering, and one ram without blemish for peace offerings, and a basket of unleavened bread, cakes of fine flour mingled with oil, and wafers of unleavened bread anointed with oil, and their meat offerings.
And the law goes on to instruct the priests to take certain choice parts and "wave them for a wave offering before the Lord: this is holy for the priest." What was done with the other portions we are not told; but earlier in this same "Book of Numbers" we find the general law that
Every offering of all the holy things of the children of Israel, which they bring unto the priest, shall be his. And every man's hallowed things shall be his: whatsoever any man giveth to the priest, it shall be his.
Excerpted from The Profits of Religion by Upton Sinclair. Copyright © 1917 Upton Sinclair. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.