The Profits of Religion: An Essay in Economic Interpretation - Upton Sinclair - ebook

An eye-opening condemnation of the economic sins of organized religion.Throughout his adult life Upton Sinclair was an unapologetic idealist and a tireless crusader for the rights of the common man. In this powerful and scrupulously researched critique, he argues that organized religion is a gargantuan moneymaking operation in collusion with industry in their shared quest to strike down dissent while bleeding profits from the millions in their thrall.

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Upton Sinclair

The Profits of Religion: An Essay in Economic Interpretation

© David De Angelis 2017 - All rights reserved

Table of Contents



Bootstrap-lifting? says the reader.


BOOK ONE — The Church of the Conquerors

The Priestly Lie

The Great Fear

Salve Regina!

Fresh Meat

Priestly Empires


The Butcher-Gods

The Holy Inquisition


BOOK TWO — The Church of Good Society

The Babylonian Fire-god

The Medicine-men

The Canonization of Incompetence

Gibson's Preservative

The Elders

Church History

Land and Livings

Graft in Tail

Bishops and Beer

Anglicanism and Alcohol

Dead Cats

Suffer Little Children

The Court Circular


Trinity Corporation

Spiritual Interpretation

BOOK THREE — The Church of the Servant-girls


God's Armor


The Holy Roman Empire

Temporal Power

Knights of Slavery

Priests and Police

The Church Militant

The Church Triumphant

God in the Schools

The Menace

King Coal

The Unholy Alliance

Secret Service

Tax Exemption

"Holy History"

Das Centrum

BOOK FOUR — The Church of the Slavers

Face of Caesar

Deutschland ueber Alles

Der Tag.

King Cotton

Witches and Women

Moth and Rust

The Octopus

The Industrial Shelley

The Outlook for Graft

Clerical Camouflage

The Jungle

BOOK FIVE — The Church of the Merchants

The Head Merchant

"Herr Beeble"

Holy Oil

Rhetorical Black-hanging

The Great American Fraud

Riches in Glory

Captivating Ideals

Spook Hunting

Running the Rapids

Birth Control


BOOK SIX — The Church of the Quacks

Tabula Rasa

The Book of Mormon

Holy Rolling

Bible Prophecy



Black Magic

Mental Malpractice

Science and Wealth

New Nonsense

"Dollars Want Me"

Spiritual Financiering

The Graft of Grace

BOOK SEVEN — The Church of the Social Revolution

Christ and Caesar

Locusts and Wild Honey

Mother Earth

The Soap Box

The Church Machine

The Church Redeemed

The Desire of Nations

The Knowable

Nature's Insurgent Son

The New Morality




This book is a study of Supernaturalism from a new point of view—as a Source of Income and a Shield to Privilege. I have searched the libraries through, and no one has done it before.If you read it, you will see that it needed to be done. It has meant twenty-five years of thought and a year of investigation. It contains the facts.

I publish the book myself, so that it may be available at the lowest possible price. I am giving my timeand energy, in return for one thing which you may give me—the joy of speaking a true word and getting it heard.

The present volume is the first of a series, which will do for Education, Journalism and Literature what has here been done for the Church: thefour volumes making a work of revolutionary criticism, an Economic Interpretation of Culture under the general title of "The Dead Hand."


Bootstrap-lifting? says the reader.

It is a vision I have seen: upon a vast plain, men and women are gathered in dense throngs, crouched in uncomfortable and distressing positions, their fingers hooked in the straps of their boots. They are engaged in lifting themselves; tugging and straining until they grow red in the face, exhausted. The perspiration streams from their foreheads, they show every symptom of distress; the eyes of all are fixed, not upon each other, nor upon their boot-straps, but upon the sky above. There is a look of rapture upon their faces, and now and then, amid grunts and groans, they cry out with excitement and triumph.

I approach one and say to him, "Friend, what is this you are doing?"

He answers, without pausing to glance at me, "I am performing spiritual exercises. See how I rise?"

"But," I say, "you are not rising at all!"

Whereat he becomes instantly angry. "You are one of the scoffers!"

"But, friend," I protest, "don't you feel the earth under your feet?"

"You are a materialist!"

"But, friend, I can see—"

"You are without spiritual vision!"

And so I move on among the sweating and groaning hordes. Being of a sympathetic turn of mind, I cannot help being distressed by the prevalence of this singular practice among so large a portionof the human race. How is it possible that none of them should suspect the futility of their procedure? Or can it really be that I am uncomprehending? That in some way they are actually getting off the ground, or about to get off the ground?

Then I observea new phenomenon: a man gliding here and there among the bootstrap-lifters, approaching from the rear and slipping his hands into their pockets. The position of the spiritual exercisers greatly facilitates his work; their eyes being cast up to heaven, they do not see him, their thoughts being occupied, they do not heed him; he goes through their pockets at leisure, and transfers the contents to a bag he carries, and then moves on to the next victim. I watch him for a while, and finally approach and ask, "What are you doing, sir?"

He answers, "I am picking pockets."

"Oh," I say, puzzled by his matter-of-course tone. "But—I beg pardon—are you a thief?"

"Oh, no," hie answers, smilingly, "I am the agent of the Wholesale Pickpockets' Association. This isProsperity."

"I see," I reply. "And these people let you—"

"It is the law," he says. "It is also the gospel."

I turn, following his glance, and observe another person approaching—a stately figure, clad in scarlet and purple robes, moving with slow dignity.He gazes about at the sweating and grunting hordes; now and then he stops and lifts his hands in a gesture of benediction, and proclaims in rolling tones, "Blessed are the Bootstrap-lifters, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven." He moves on, and after a bit stops and announces again, "Man doth not live by bread alone, but by every word that cometh out of the mouth of the prophets and priests of Bootstrap-lifting."

Watching a while longer, I see this majestic one approach the agent of the Wholesale Pickpockets' Association. The agent greets him as a friend, and proceeds to transfer to the pockets of his capacious robes a generous share of the loot which he has collected. The majestic one does not cringe, nor does he make any effort to hide what is going on.On the contrary he cries aloud, "It is more blessed to give than to receive!" And again he cries, "The laborer is worthy of his hire!" And a third time he cries, yet more sternly, "Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's!" And the Bootstrap-lifters pause long enough to answer: "Lord have mercy upon us, and incline our hearts to keep this law!" Then they renew their straining and tugging.

I step up, and in timid tones begin, "Reverend sir, will you tell me by what right you take this wealth?"

Instantly a frown comes upon his face, and he cries in a voice of thunder, "Blasphemer!" And all the Bootstrap-lifters desist from their lifting, and menace me with furious looks. There is a general call for a policeman of the Wholesale Pickpockets' Association;and so I fall silent, and slink away in the throng, and thereafter keep my thoughts to myself.

Over the vast plain I wander, observing a thousand strange and incredible and terrifying manifestations of the Bootstrap-lifting impulse. There is, I discover,a regular propaganda on foot; a long time ago—no man can recall how far back—the Wholesale Pickpockets made the discovery of the ease with which a man's pockets could be rifled while he was preoccupied with spiritual exercises, and they began offering prizes for the best essays in support of the practice. Now their propaganda is everywhere triumphant, and year by year we see an increase in the rewards and emoluments of the prophets and priests of the cult. The ground is covered with stately temples of various designs, all of which I am told are consecrated to Bootstrap-lifting. I come to where a group of people are occupied in laying the corner-stone of a new white marble structure; I inquire and am informed it is the First Church of Bootstrap-lifters, Scientist. As I stand watching, a card is handed to me, informing me that a lady will do my Bootstrap-lifting at five dollars per lift.

I go on to another building, which I am told is a library containing volumes in defense of the Bootstrap-lifters, published under the auspices of the Wholesale Pickpockets. I enter, and find endless vistas of shelves, also several thousand current magazines and papers. I consult these—for my legs have given out in the effort to visit and inspect all phases of the Bootstrap-lifting practice. I discover that hardly a week passes that some one does not start a new cult, or revive an old one; if I had a hundred life-times I could not know all the creeds and ceremonies, the services and rituals, the litanies and liturgies, the hymns,anthems and offertories of Bootstrap-lifting. There are the Holy Roman Bootstrap-lifters, whose priests are fed by Transubstantiation; the established Anglican Bootstrap-lifters, whose priests liveby "livings"; the Baptist Bootstrap-lifters, whose preachers practice total immersion in Standard Oil. There are Yogi Bootstrap-lifters with flowing robes of yellow silk; Theosophist Bootstrap-lifters with green and purple auras; Mormon Bootstrap-lifters, Mazdaznan Bootstrap-lifters, Spiritualist and Spirit-Fruit, Millerite and Dowieite, Holy Roller and Holy Jumper, Come-to-glory negro, Billy Sunday base-ball and Salvation Army bass-drum Bootstrap-lifters. There are the thousand varieties of "New Thought" Bootstrap-lifters; the mystic and transcendentalist, Swedenborgian and Jacob Boehme Bootstrap-lifters; the Elbert Hubbard high-art Bootstrap-lifters with half a million magazinelets at two bits apiece; the "uplift" and "optimist," the Ralph Waldo Trine and Orison Swett Marden Bootstrap-lifters with a hundred thousand volumes at one dollar per volume. There are the Platonist and Hegelian and Kantian professors of collegiate metaphysical Bootstrap-lifting at several thousand dollars per year each. There are the Nietzschean Bootstrap-lifters, who lift themselves to the Superman, and the art-for-art's-sake, neo-Pagan Bootstrap-lifters, who lift themselves down to the Ape.

Excepting possibly the last-mentioned group, the priests of all these cults, the singers, shouters, prayers and exhorters of Bootstrap-lifting have astheir distinguishing characteristic that they do very little lifting at their own bootstraps, and less at any other man's. Now and then you may see one bend and give a delicate tug, of a purely symbolical character: as when the Supreme Pontiff of the Roman Bootstrap-lifters comes once a year to wash the feet of the poor; or when the Sunday-school Superintendent of the Baptist Bootstrap-lifters shakes the hand of one of his Colorado mine-slaves. But for the most part the priests and preachers of Bootstrap-lifting walk haughtily erect, many of them being so swollen with prosperity that they could not reach their bootstraps if they wanted to. Their role in life is to exhort other men to more vigorous efforts at self-elevation, that the agents of the WholesalePickpockets' Association may ply their immemorial role with less chance of interference.


The reader, offended by this raillery, asks if I mean to impugn the sincerity of all who preach the supremacy of the soul. No; I admit the honesty ofthe heroes and madmen of history. All I ask of the preacher is that he shall make an effort to practice his doctrine. Let him be tormented like Don Quixote; let him go mad like Nietzsche; let him stand upon a pillar and be devoured by worms like Simeon Stylites—on these terms I grant to any dreamer the right to hold himself above economic science.

Man is an evasive beast, given to cultivating strange notions about himself. He is humiliated by his simian ancestry, and tries to deny his animal nature, to persuade himself that he is not limited by its weaknesses nor concerned in its fate. And this impulse may be harmless, when it is genuine. But what are we to say when we see the formulas of heroic self-deception made use of by unheroic self-indulgence? What are we to say when we see asceticism preached to the poor by fat and comfortable retainers of the rich? What are we to say when we see idealism become hypocrisy, and the moral and spiritual heritage of mankind twisted to the knavish purposes of class-cruelty and greed? What I say is—Bootstrap-lifting!

It is the fate of many abstract words to be used in two senses, one good and the other bad. Morality means the will to righteousness, or it means Anthony Comstock; democracy means the rule of the people, or itmeans Tammany Hall. And so it is with the word "Religion". In its true sense Religion is the most fundamental of the soul's impulses, the impassioned love of life, the feeling of its preciousness, the desire to foster and further it. In that sense every thinking man must be religious; in that sense Religion is a perpetually self-renewing force, the very nature of our being. In that sense I have no thought of assailing it, I would make clear that I hold it beyond assailment.

But we are denied the pleasure ofusing the word in that honest sense, because of another which has been given to it. To the ordinary man "Religion" means, not the soul's longing for growth, the "hunger and thirst after righteousness", but certain forms in which this hunger has manifesteditself in history, and prevails to-day throughout the world; that is to say, institutions having fixed dogmas and "revelations", creeds and rituals, with an administering caste claiming supernatural sanction. By such institutions the moral strivings of the race, the affections of childhood and the aspirations of youth are made the prerogatives and stock in trade of ecclesiastical hierarchies. It is the thesis of this book that "Religion" in this sense is a source of income to parasites, and the natural ally of every form of oppression and exploitation.

If by my jesting at "Bootstrap-lifting" I have wounded some dear prejudice of the reader, let me endeavor to speak in a more persuasive voice. I am a man who has suffered, and has seen the suffering of others; I have devoted my life to analyzing the causes of the suffering, to find out if it be necessary and fore-ordained, or if by any chance there be a way of escape for future generations. I have found that the latter is the case; the suffering is needless, it can with ease and certainty be banished from the earth. I know this with the knowledge of science—in the same way that the navigator of a ship knows his latitude and longitude, and the point of the compass to which he must steer in order to reach the port.

Come, reader, let us put aside prejudice, and the terrors of the cults of the unknown. The power which made us has given us a mind, and the impulse to its use; let us see what can be done with it to rid the earth of its ancient evils. And do not be troubled if at the outset this book seems to be entirely "destructive". I assure you that I am no crude materialist, I am not so shallow as to imagine that our race will be satisfied with a barren rationalism. I know that the old symbols came out of the heartof man because they corresponded to certain needs of the heart of man. I know that new symbols will be found, corresponding more exactly to the needs of our time. If here I set to work to tear down an old and ramshackle building, it is not from blind destructfulness, but as an architect who means toput a new and sounder structure in its place. Before we part company, I shall submit the blue print of that new home of the spirit.

BOOK ONE — The Church of the Conquerors

I saw the Conquerorsridingby Withtrampling feet of horse and men: Empire onempire like thetide Flooded theworld and ebbed again; A thousand banners caughtthe sun, And citiessmoked along the plain, And laden down withsilk and gold Andheaped up pillage groaned thewain. Kemp.

The Priestly Lie

When the first savage saw his hut destroyed by a bolt oflightning, he fell down upon his face in terror. He had noconception of natural forces, of laws of electricity; he saw thisevent as the act of an individual intelligence. To-day we readabout fairies and demons, dryads and fauns and satyrs, Wotan andThor and Vulcan, Freie and Flora and Ceres, and we think of allthese as pretty fancies, play-products of the mind; losing sight ofthe fact that they were originally meant with entireseriousness—that not merely did ancient man believe in them,but was forced to believe in them, because the mind must have anexplanation of things that happen, and an individual intelligencewas the only explanation available. The story of the hero who slaysthe devouring dragon was not merely a symbol of day and night, ofsummer and winter; it was a literal explanation of the phenomena,it was the science of early times.

Men imaginedsupernatural powers such as they could comprehend.If the lightning god destroyed a hut, obviously it must be becausethe owner of the hut had given offense; so the owner must placatethe god, using those means which would be effective in the quarrelsof men—presents of roast meats and honey and fresh fruits, ofwine and gold and jewels and women, accompanied by friendly wordsand gestures of submission. And when in spite of all things thenatural evil did not cease, when the people continued to die ofpestilence, then came the opportunity for hysterical or ambitiouspersons to discover new ways of penetrating the mind of the god.There would be dreamers of dreams and seers of visions and hearersof voices; readers of the entrails of beasts and interpretersof theflight of birds; there would be burning bushes and stone tablets onmountain-tops, and inspired words dictated to aged disciples onlonely islands. There would arise special castes of men and women,learned in these sacred matters; and these priestly castes wouldnaturally emphasize the importance of their calling, would holdthemselves aloof from the common herd, endowed with special powersand entitled to special privileges. They would interpret theoracles in ways favorable to themselves and theirorder; they wouldproclaim themselves friends and confidants of the god, walking withhim in the night-time, receiving his messengers and angels, actingas his deputies in forgiving offenses, in dealing punishments andin receiving gifts. They would become makers of laws and moralcodes. They would wear special costumes to distinguish them, theywould go through elaborate ceremonies to impress their followers,employing all sensuous effects, architecture and sculpture andpainting, music and poetry and dancing, candles and incense andbells and gongs

And storied winnows richly dight, Casting a dim religiouslight. There let the pealing organ blow, To thefull-voiced choir below, In service high and anthemclear, As may with sweetness through mineear Dissolveme into ecstacies, And bring all heaven before mine eyes.

So builds itself up, in a thousand complex and complicatedforms, the Priestly Lie. There are a score of great religions inthe world, each with scores or hundreds of sects, eachwith itspriestly orders, its complicated creed and ritual, its heavens andhells. Each has its thousands or millions or hundreds of millionsof "true believers"; each damns all the others, with more or lessheartiness—and each is a mighty fortress of Graft.

There will be few readers of this book who have not been broughtup under the spell of some one of these systems of Supernaturalism;who have not been taught to speak with respect of some particularpriestly order, to thrill with awe at some particularsacred rite,to seek respite from earthly woes in some particular ceremonialspell. These things are woven into our very fibre in childhood;they are sanctified by memories of joys and griefs, they areconfused with spiritual struggles, they become part ofall that ismost vital in our lives. The reader who wishes to emancipatehimself from their thrall will do well to begin with a study of thebeliefs and practices of other sects than his own—a fieldwhere he is free to observe and examine without fear ofsacrilege.Let him look into Madame Blavatsky's "Secret Doctrine", or her"Isis Unveiled"!—encyclopedias of the fantastic inventionswhich terror and longing have wrung out of the tortured soul ofman. Here are mysteries and solemnities, charms andspells,illuminations and transmigrations, angels and demons,guides, controls and masters—all of which it is permissibleto refuse to support with gifts. Let the reader then go to JamesFreeman Clarke's "Ten Great Religions", and realize how manybillions of humans have lived and died in the solemn certainty thattheir welfare on earth and in heaven depended upon their acceptingcertain ideas and practicing certain rites, all mutually exclusiveand incompatible, each damning the others and the followers of theothers. So gradually the realization will come to him that the testof a doctrine about life and its welfare must be something elsethan the fact that one was born to it.

The Great Fear

It was not the fault of primitive man that he was ignorant,northat his ignorance made him a prey to dread. The traces of hismental suffering will inspire in us only pity and sympathy; forNature is a grim school-mistress, and not all her lessons have yetbeen learned. We have a right to scorn and anger only when weseethis dread being diverted from its true function, a stimulus to asearch for knowledge, and made into a means of clamping downignorance upon the mind of the race. That this has been thedeliberate policy of institutionalized Religion no candidstudentcan 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, fedby it—and that it cultivates the source from which itsnourishment is derived. "The fear of divine anger", says Prof.Jastrow, "runs as an undercurrent through the entire religiousliterature of Babylonia and Assyria." In the words ofTabi-utul-Enlil, King of ancient Nippur:

Who is there that can grasp the will of the gods inheaven? The plan of a god is full ofmystery—who can understand it? He whois still alive at evening is dead the next morning. In aninstant he is cast into grief, in a moment he is crushed.

And that cry might be duplicated from almost any page of theHebrew scriptures: the only differencebeing that the Hebrewscombined all their fears into one Great Fear. "The fear of the Lordis the beginning of wisdom," we are told by Solomon of the thousandwives; and the Psalmist repeats it. "Dominion and fear are withHim," cries Job. "How then can any man be just before God? Or howcan he be clean that is born of a woman? Behold, even the moon hathno brightness, and the stars are not pure in His sight: How muchless man, that is a worm? And the son of man, which is a worm?" Hegoes on, in his lyrical rapture, "Sheol is naked before Him, andDestruction hath no covering.... The pillars of heaven tremble andare astonished at His rebuke.... The thunder of His power who canunderstand?" That all this is some of the world's great poetry doesnot in the least alter the fact that it is an abasement of thesoul, an hysterical perversion of the facts of life, and apreparation of the mind for the seeds of Priestcraft.

The Book of Job has been called a "Wisdom-drama": and what isthe denouement of this drama,what is ancient Hebrew wisdom's lastword about life? "Wherefore I abhor myself," says Job, "and repentin dust and ashes." The poor fellow has done nothing; we have beentold at the beginning that he "was perfect and upright, and onethat feared God, andeschewed evil." But the Sabeans and theChaldeans rob him, and "the fire of God" falls from heaven andburns up his sheep and his servants, and "a great wind from thewilderness" kills his sons and daughters; and then his body becomescovered with boils—aphenomenon caused in part by worry, andthe consequent nervous indigestion, but mainly by excess of starchand deficiency of mineral salts in the diet. Job, however, hasnever heard of the fasting cure for disease, and so he takes him apotsherd to scrapehimself withal, and he sits among theashes—a highly unsanitary procedure enforced by his religiousritual. So naturally he feels like a worm, and abhors himself, andcries out: "I know that Thou canstdo all things, and that nopurpose of Thine can be restrained." By which utter, unreasoninghumility he succeeds in appeasing the Great Fear, and his friendsmake a sacrifice of seven bullocks and seven rams—a feast fora whole templeful of priests—and then "the Lord gave Jobtwice as much as he had before.... And after this Job lived anhundred and forty years, and saw his sons and his sons' sons, evenfour generations."

You do not have to look very deeply into this "Wisdom-drama" tofind out whose wisdom it is. Confess your own ignorance and yourown impotence, abandon yourself utterly, and then we, the sacredCaste, the Keepers of the Holy Secrets, will secure you pardon andrespite—in exchange for fresh meat. Here are verses from apsalm of the ancient Babylonians, which "heathen" chant isidentical in spirit and purpose with the utterances of Job:

The Sin that I have wrought, I know not; The unclean thatI have eaten, I know not; The offense into which I havewalked, I know not.... The lord, in the wrath of his heart,hath regarded me; The god, in the anger of his heart, hathsurrounded me; A goddess, known or unknown, hath wrought mesorrow.... I sought for help, but no one took my hand; I wept, but no one harkened to me.... The feet of my goddessI kiss, I touch them; To the god, known orunknown, I utter myprayer; O god, known or unknown, turn thy countenance, acceptmy sacrifice; O goddess,known or unknown, look mercifully on me!accept my sacrifice!

Salve Regina!

And now let the reader leap three thousand years of humanhistory, of toil and triumph of the intellect of man; and insteadof a Hebrew manuscript or a Babylonian brick there confronts him alittle publication, printed on a modern rotary press in the capitalof 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 Xattached to it an indulgence of 100 days, each time it is piouslyrecited, 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 theefrom his whole heart as the purest, the mostbeautiful and the mostholy of creatures. He blesses thy holy name. He blesses thy sublimeprerogatives as real Mother of God, ever Virgin, conceived withoutstain of sin, as co-Redemptress of the human race. He blesses theEternal Father who chose you, etc. He blesses the Incarnate Word,etc. He blesses the Divine Spirit, etc. He blesses, exalts andthanks the most august Trinity, etc. O Virgin, holy and pleased to accept this little homage of your servant, and obtainfor him also from yourdivine 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 theImmaculate Conception",a home for more priests, and Catholic ladieswho desire to collect for it may receive little books which theyare requested to return within three months. Pius X writes a letterof warm endorsement, and sets an example by giving four hundreddollars "out of his poverty"—or, to be more precise, out ofthe poverty of the pitiful peasantry of Italy. There is included inthe paper a form of bequest for "devoted clients of Our BlessedMother", and at the top of the editorial page the most alluring ofall baits for the loving hearts of the flock—that the namesof deceased relatives and friends may be written in the collectionbooks, and will be transferred to the records of the Shrine, andthese persons "will share in all its spiritual benefits". In thedays of Job it was with threats of boils and poverty that thePriestly Lie maintained itself; but in the case of this blackest ofall Terrors, transplanted to our free Republic from the heart ofthe Dark Ages, the wretched victims see before their eyes the glareofflames, and hear the shrieks of their loved ones writhing intorment through uncounted ages and eternities.

Fresh Meat

In the days when I was experimenting with vegetarianism, Isought earnestly for evidence of a non-meat-eating race; but candorcompelled me to admit that man was like the monkey and the pig andthe bear—he was vegetarian when he could not help it. Theadvocates of the reform insist that meat as a diet causes muddybrains and dulled nerves; but you would certainly never suspectthisfrom a study of history. What you find in history is that allmen crave meat, all struggle for it, and the strongest andcleverest get it. Everywhere you find the subject classes living inthe midst of animals which they tend, but whose flesh they rarelytaste. Even in modern America, sweet land of liberty, our millionsof tenant farmers raise chickens and geese and turkeys, and hardlyventure to consume as much as an egg, but save everything for thesummer-boarder or the buyer from the city. It would not be too muchto say of the cultural records of early man that they all have todo, directly or indirectly, with the reserving of fresh meat to themasters. In J. T. Trowbridge's cheerful tale of the adventures ofCaptain Seaborn, we are told by the cannibalpriest how idol-worshiphas ameliorated the morals of the tribe—

For though some warriors of renown Continue anthropophagous, 'Tis rare that human flesh goesdown The low-caste man'saesophagus!

I suspect that we should have to go back to thedays of thecave-man to find the first lover of the flesh-pots who put a tabooupon meat, and promised supernatural favors to all who wouldexercise self-control, and instead of consuming their meatthemselves, would bring it and lay it upon the sacred griddle, oraltar, where the god might come in the night-time and partake ofit. Certainly, at any rate, there are few religions of record inwhich such devices do not appear. The early laws of the Hebrews aremore concerned with delicatessen for the prieststhan with any othersubject whatever. Here, for example, is the way to make aNazarite:

He shall offer his offering up to the Lord, one he lamb of thefirst year without blemish for a burnt offering, and one ewe lambof the first year without blemish fora sin offering, and one ramwithout blemish for peace offerings, and a basket of unleavenedbread, cakes of fine flour mingled with oil, and wafers ofunleavened bread anointed with oil, and their meat offerings.

And the law goes on to instruct the prieststo take certainchoice, parts and "wave them for a wave offering before the Lord:this is holy for the priest." What was done with the other portionswe are not told; but earlier in this same "Book of Numbers" we findthe 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'shallowed things shall be his: whatsoever any man giveth to thepriest, it shall be his.

In the same way we are told by Viscount Amberley that thepriests of Ceylon first present the gifts to the god, and then eatthem. Among the Parsees, when a man dies, the relatives must bringfour new robes to the priests; if they do this, the priests wearthe robes; if they fail to do it, the dead man appearsnaked beforethe judgment-throne. The devotees are instructed that "he whoperforms this rite succeeds in both worlds, and obtains a firmfooting in both worlds." Among the Buddhists, the followers givealms to the monks, and are told specifically what advantages willthereby accrue to them. In the Aitareyo Brahmairiarn of theRig-Veda we read

He who, knowing this, sacrifices according to this rite, is bornfrom the womb of Agni and the offerings, participates in the natureof the Rik, Yajus, and Saman, the Veda (sacred knowledge), theBrahma (sacred element) and immortality, and is absorbed into thedeity.

Among the Parsees the priest eats the bread and drinks thehaoma, or juice of a plant, considered to be both a plant and agod. Among the Episcopalians,a contemporary Christian sect, thesacred juice is that of the grape, and the priest is not allowed tothrow away what is left of it, but is ordered "reverently toconsume it." In as much as the priest is the sole judge of how muchgood sherry wine he shall consecrate previous to the ceremony, itis to be expected that the priests of this cult should be lukewarmtowards the prohibition movement, and should piously refuse toadminister their sacrament with unfermented and uninterestinggrape-juice.

Priestly Empires

In every human society of which we have record there has beenone class which has done the hard and exhausting work, the "hewersof wood and drawers of water"; and there has been another, muchsmaller class which has done the directing. Tobelong to this latterclass is to work also, but with the head instead of the hands; itis also to enjoy the good things of life, to live in the besthouses, to eat the best food, to have choice of the most desirablewomen; it is to have leisure to cultivate the mind and appreciatethe arts, to acquire graces and distinctions, to give laws andmoral codes, to shape fashions and tastes, to be revered andregarded—in short, to have Power. How to get this Power andto hold it has been the first object of thethoughts of men from thebeginning of time.

The most obvious method is by the sword; but this method isuncertain, for any man may take up a sword, and some may succeedwith it. It will be found that empires based upon military forcealone, however cruel they may be, are not permanent, and thereforenot so dangerous to progress; it is only when resistance isparalyzed by the agency of Superstition, that the race can besubjected to systems of exploitation for hundreds and eventhousands of years. The ancient empires were all priestly empires;the kings ruled because they obeyed the will of the priests, taughtto them from childhood as the word of the gods.

Thus, for instance, Prescott tells us:

Terror, not love, was the spring of education with theAztecs.... Such was the crafty policy of the priests, who, byreserving to themselves the business of instruction, were enabledto mould the young and plastic mind according to their own wills,and to train it early to implicit reverence for religion and itsministers.

The historian goes on to indicate the economic harvest of thisteaching:

To each of the principal temples, lands were annexed for themaintenance of the priests. The estates were augmented by thepolicy or devotion of successive princes, until, underthe lastMontezuma, they had swollen to an enormous extent, and coveredevery district of the empire.

And this concerning the frightful system of human sacrifices,whereby the priestly caste maintained the prestige of itsdivinities:

At the dedication of the temple of Huitzilopochtli, in 1486, theprisoners, who for some years had been reserved for the purpose,were ranged in files, forming a procession nearly two miles long.The ceremony consumed several days, and seventy thousand captivesare said to haveperished at the shrine of this terrible deity.

The same system appears in Professor Jastrow's account of thepriesthood of Babylonia and Assyria:

The ultimate source of all law being the deity himself, theoriginal legal tribunal was the place where the image or symbol ofthe god stood. A legal decision was an oracle or omen, indicativeof the will of the god. The power thus lodged in the priests ofBabylonia and Assyria was enormous. They virtually held in theirhands the life and death of the people.

Andof the business side of this vast religious system:

The temples were the natural depositories of the legal archives,which in the course of centuries grew to veritably enormousproportions. Records were made of all decisions; the facts were setforth, andduly attested by witnesses. Business and marriagecontracts, loans and deeds of sale were in like manner drawn up inthe presence of official scribes, who were also priests. In thisway all commercial transactions received the written sanction ofthe religious organization. The temples themselves—at leastin the large centres—entered into business relations with thepopulace. In order to maintain the large household represented bysuch an organization as that of the temple of Enlil of Nippur, thatof Ningirsu at Lagash, that of Marduk at Babylon, or that ofShamash at Sippar, large holdings of land were required which,cultivated by agents for the priests, or farmed out withstipulations for a goodly share of the produce, secured an incomefor the maintenance of the temple officials. The enterprise of thetemples was expanded to the furnishing of loans atinterest—in later periods, at 20%—to barter in slaves,to dealings in lands, besides engaging labor for work of all kindsdirectly needed for the temples.A large quantity of the businessdocuments found in the temple archives are concerned with thebusiness affairs of the temple, and we are justified in includingthe temples in the large centres as among the most importantbusiness institutions of the country. In financial or monetarytransactions the position of the temples was not unlike that ofnational banks....

And so on. We may venture the guess that the learned professorsaid more in that last sentence than he himself intended, for hislectures were delivered in that temple of plutocracy, theUniversity of Pennsylvania, and paid out of an endowment whichspecifies that "all polemical subjects shall be positivelyexcluded!"


These priestly empires exist in the world today. If we wish tofind them we have only to ask ourselves: What countries are makingno contribution to the progress of the race? What countries havenothing to give us, whether in art, science, or industry?

For example, Gervaise tells us of the Talapoins, or priests ofSiam, that "they are exempted from all public charges, they salutenobody, while everybody prostrates himself before them. They aremaintained at the public expense." In the same way we read of thenegroes of the Caribbean islands that "their priests andpriestessesexercise an almost unlimited power." Miss Kingsley, in her "WestAfrican Studies", tells us that if we desire to understand theinstitutions of this district, we must study the native'sreligion.

For his religion has so firm a grasp upon his mind that itinfluences everything he does. It is not a thing apart, as thereligion of the Europeans is at times. The African cannot say, "Oh,that is all right from a religious point of view, but one must bepractical." To be practical, to get on in the world, to live theday and night through, he must be right in the religious point ofview, namely, must be on working terms with the great world ofspirits around him. The knowledge of this spirit world constitutesthe religion of the African, and his customs and ceremonies arisefrom his idea of the best way to influence it.

Or consider Henry Savage Landor's account of Thibet:

In Lhassa and many other sacred places fanatical pilgrims makecircumambulations, sometimes for miles and miles, and for daystogether, covering the entire distance lying flat upon theirbodies.... From the ceiling of the temple hang hundreds of longstrips, katas, offered by pilgrims to the temple, and becoming somany flying prayers when hung up—for mechanical praying inevery way isprominent in Thibet.... Thus instead of having to learnby heart long and varied prayers, all you have to do is to stuffthe entire prayer-book into a prayer-wheel, and revolve it whilerepeating as fast as you can four words meaning, "O God, the gememerging from the lotus-flower.".... The attention of the pilgrimsis directed to a large box, or often a big bowl, where they maydeposit whatever offerings they can spare, and it must be said thattheir religious ideas are so strongly developed that they willdispose of a considerable portion of their money in thisfashion.... The Lamas are very clever in many ways, and have agreat hold over the entire country. They are ninety per cent ofthem unscrupulous scamps, depraved in every way and given to everysort of vice. So are the women Lamas. They live and sponge on thecredulity and ignorance of the crowds; it is to maintain thisignorance, upon which their luxurious life depends, that foreigninfluence of every kind is strictly kept out of the country.

The Butcher-Gods

In this last sentence we have summed up the fundamental factabout institutionalized religion. Wherever belief and ritual havebecome the means of livelihood of a class, all innovation will ofnecessity be taken as an attack upon that class; it will beliterally a crime—robbing the priests of their age-longprivileges. And of course they will oppose the robber—usingevery weapon of terrorism, both of this world and the next. Theywill require the submission, not merely of their own people, but oftheir neighbors, and their jealousy of rival priestly castes willbe a cause of wars. The story of the early days of mankind is asickening record of torture and slaughter in the name of tenthousand butcher-gods.

Thus, for example, we read in the Hebrew religious records howthe priests were engaged in establishing the prestige of a fetishcalled "the ark"; and how the people of one tribe violated thisfetish and wakened the wrath of Jehovah, the god.

And he smote the men of Beth-shemesh, becausethey had lookedinto the ark of the Lord, even he smote of the people fiftythousand and three score and ten men; and the people lamented,because the Lord had smitten many of the people with a greatslaughter. And the men of Beth-shemesh said, Who is able to standbefore this holy Lord God?

This terrible old Hebrew divinity said of himself that he was "ajealous god". Throughout the time of his sway he issued through hisministers precise instructions for the most revolting cruelties,the extermination ofwhole nations of men, women and children, whosesole offense was that they did not pay tribute to Jehovah'spriests. Thus, for example, the chief of his prophets, Moses,called the people together, and with all solemnity, and with manywarnings, handed down ten commandments graven upon stone tablets;he went on to set forth how the people were to set upon and robtheir neighbors, and gave them these blood-thirstyinstructions:

When the Lord thy God shall bring thee into the land whitherthou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations beforethee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and theCanaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites,seven nations greater and mightier than thou; And when the Lord thyGod shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, andutterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, norshew mercy unto them:... But thus shall ye deal with them; ye shalldestroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut downtheir groves, and burn their graven images with fire. For thou arta holy people unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath chosenthee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that areupon the face of the earth.

The records of this Jehovah arefull of similar horrors. He senthis chosen people out to destroy the Midianites, and they slew allthe males, but this was not sufficient, and Moses was wroth, andcommanded them to kill all the married women, and to take thesingle women "for themselves". We are told that sixteen thousandsingle women were spared, of whom "the Lord's tribute was thirtyand two!" In the Book of Joshua we read that he had an interviewwith a supernatural personage called "the captain of the Lord'shost", and howthis captain had given to him a magic spell whichwould destroy the city of Jericho. The city should be accursed,"even it and all that are therein, to the Lord"; every living thingexcept one traitor-harlot was to be slaughtered, and all the wealthof the city reserved to the priestly caste. This was carried out tothe letter, except that "Achan, the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi,the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursedthing"—that is, he hid some gold and silver in his tent;whereupon the army met with a defeat, and everybody knew thatsomething was wrong, and Joshua rent his clothes and fell to theearth upon his face before the ark of the Lord, and got anothermessage from Jehovah, to the effect that the guilty man should beburned with fire, "he and all that he hath."

And Joshua, and all Israel with him, took Achan the son ofZerah, and the silver, and the garment, and the wedge of gold, andhis sons, and his daughters, and his oxen, and his asses, and hissheep, and his tent, and all that he had: and they brought themunto the Valley of Achor. And Joshua said, Why hast thou troubledus? the Lord shall trouble thee this day. And all Israel stoned himwith stones, and burned them with fire, after they had stoned himwith stones.

We have no means of knowing what was the character of theunfortunate inhabitants of the city of Jericho, nor of the Hittitesand the Girgashites and the Amorites and all the rest of thevictims of Jehovah. To be sure, we are told by the Hebrew prieststhat they sacrificed their children to their gods; but then,consider what we should believe about the Hebrew religion, if wetook the word of rival priestly castes! Consider, for example, thatin this twentieth century we saw an orthodox Jew tried in a Russiancourt of law for having made a sacrifice of Christian babies;nevertheless we know that the Jews represent a considerable part ofthe intelligence and idealism of Russia. We know in the same waythat the Moors had most of the culture and all of the scientificknowledge of Spain; that the Huguenots had most of the conscienceand industry of France; and we know that they were massacred ordriven out to death by the priestly castes of the Middle Ages.

The Holy Inquisition

Let us have one glimpse of the conditionsin those mediaevaltimes, so that we may know what we ourselves have escaped. In thefifteenth century there was established in Europe the cult of athree-headed god, whose priests had won lordship over a continent.They were enormously wealthy, and unthinkably corrupt; they sold tothe rich the license to commit every possible crime, and they heldthe poor in ignorance and degradation. Among the comparativelyintelligent and freedom-loving people of Bohemia there arose agreat reformer, John Huss, himselfa priest, protesting against thecorruptions of his order. They trapped him into their power bymeans of a "safe-conduct"—which they repudiated because nopromise to a heretic could have validity. They found him guilty ofhaving taught the hateful doctrine that a priest who committedcrimes could not give absolution for the crimes of others; and theyheld an auto de fe—which means a "sentence of faith." As weread in Lea's "History of the Inquisition":