The Necessity of Atheism (Brooks)/Chapter XVI

The mortgage which the peasant has on heavenly property guarantees the mortgage of the bourgeois on the farms. Marx.

The same Christ, the same Buddha, the same Isaiah, can stand at once for capitalism and communism, for liberty and slavery, for peace and war, for whatever opposed or clashing ideals you will. For the life and the power of a church is in the persistent identity of its symbols and properties. Meanings change anyhow, but things endure. The rock upon which a church is founded is not the word of God; the rock upon which a church is founded is the wealth of men. Horace M. Kallen, "Why Religion?"

Durring the Middle Ages the heads of the Church exercised all the rights of a feudal lord, and were even more tenacious of their privileges. The serfs were prohibited from migrating from one part of the country to another. The daughter of a serf could not marry without the consent of the lord, who frequently demanded payment for permission; or, worse still, the infamous "Right of the First Night." The serf was bonded in a hundred different ways, and it is significant of the esteem in which the Church was held that in every peasant revolt which occurred, there was always a direct attack on the Church.

Professor Thorold Rogers, writing of the twelfth century gives the following picture of the poorer classes:

"The houses of these villagers were mean and dirty. Brickmaking was a lost art, stone was found only in a few places. The wood fire was on a hob of clay. Chimneys were unknown, except in castles and manor houses, and the smoke escaped through the door or whatever other aperture it could, reach. The floor of the homestead was filthy enough, but the surroundings were filthier still. Close by the door stood the mixen, a collection of every abomination streams from which, in rainy weather, fertilized the lower meadows, generally the lord's pasture, and polluted the stream. The house of the peasant cottager was poorer still. Most of them were probably built of posts wattled and plastered with clay or mud, with an upper storey of poles reached by a ladder."

"What the lord took he held by right of force; what the Church had it held by force of cunning. And as, in the long run, the cunning of the Church was more powerful than the force of the robber-lord, the priesthood grew in riches until its wealth became a threat to the whole of .the community. In England, in the thirteenth century, the clergy numbered one in fifty-two of the population, and the possessions of the Church included a third of the land of England. No opportunity was lost by the Church to drain money from the people whether they were rich or poor. The trade done in candles, and sales of indulgences brought in large sums of money, and there were continuous disputes between the clergy and the king and the Pope as to the divisions of the spoil. The picture of the Church watching over the poor, sheltering them from wrong, tending them in sickness, and relieving them in their poverty will not do. It is totally without historic foundation. When the poor revolted, and apart from the great revolts, there were many small and local outbreaks, the anger of the poor was directed as much against the Church as it was against the nobles." (C. Cohen: "Christianity, Slavery, and Labor.")

When the downtrodden masses of Spain, Mexico, and Russia revolted against the tyranny which had held them in the slough of medieval degradation, they likewise, in recent times, proved that they realized that their submission was as much caused by the Church, allied as it is with the state, as by the government itself.

The Church did attend the sick, but its trade was in the miracle cures and prayers, and so they very much resembled men hawking their own goods, and attending to their own business. And there is the plain, historic fact, that in defense of its miracle cures it did what it could to obstruct the growth of both medical and sanitary science. It did give alms but these constituted but a small part of what it had previously taken.

Through all the changes of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, it is impossible to detect anxiety on the part of the Churches, Roman Catholic or Protestant, to better the status of, or improve the condition of, the working classes. Whatever improvements may have come about, and they were few enough, came independently of Christianity, organized or unorganized. Controversies about religious matters might, and did, grow more acute; controversies about bettering the position of the working classes only began with the breaking down of Christianity. And when, as in Germany, there occurred a peasants' revolt, and the peasants appealed to Luther for assistance, he wrote, after exhorting the peasants to resignation, to the nobles:

"A rebel is outlawed of God and Kaiser, therefore who can and will first slaughter such a man does right well, since upon such a common rebel every man is alike the judge and executioner. Therefore, who can shall openly or secretly smite, slaughter and stab, and hold that there is nothing more poisonous, more harmful, more devilish than a rebellious man."

And in pre-revolutionary France, the Church saw unmoved a state of affairs almost unimaginable, so far as the masses of the people were concerned, in their misery and demoralization. And this at a time when half the land of France, in addition to palaces, chateaux, and other forms of wealth were possessed by the nobility and clergy, and were practically free from taxation.

A contemporary observer writes, "Certain savage-looking beings, male and female, are seen in the country, black, livid, and sunburnt, and belonging to the soil which they dig and grub with invincible stubbornness. They stand erect, they display human lineaments, and seem capable of articulation. They are, in fact, men. They retire at night into their dens, where they live on black bread, water and roots. They spare other human beings the trouble of sowing."

In pre-revolutionary France, the clergy, counting monks and nuns, numbered, in 1762, over 400,000, with total possessions estimated at two thousand million pounds, producing an annual revenue of about one hundred and forty millions. The clergy were free from taxation and the higher members of the order possessed all the rights and privileges of the feudal nobility. To the end the Church in France, as in our day, in pre-revolutionary Russia, remained the champion of privilege and misgovernment.

In England, during the latter half of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth century, developed the English manufacturing system. Woman- and child-labor were common in both mines and factories. The regular working hours were from 5 A.M to 8 P.M., with six full days' labor per week. One investigator remarks: "It is a very common practice with the great populous parishes in London to bind children in large numbers to the proprietors of cotton-mills in Lancashire and Yorkshire, at a distance of 200 miles. The children are sent off by waggon loads at a time, and are as much lost for ever to their parents as if they were shipped off for the West Indies. The parishes that bind them, by procuring a settlement for the children at the end of forty days, get rid of them for ever; and the poor children have not a human being in the world to whom they can look up for redress against the wrongs they may be exposed to from these wholesale dealers in them, whose object it is to get everything they can possibly wring from their excessive labor and fatigue."

In the mines conditions were still worse, and a report in 1842 states: "Children are taken at the earliest ages, if only to be used as living and waving candlesticks, or to keep rats from a dinner, and it is in pits of the worst character, too, in which most female children are employed. It would appear from the practical returns obtained by the commissioner, that about one-third of the persons employed in coal mines are under eighteen years of age, and that much more than one-third of this proportion are under thirteen years of age." In certain mines there was no distinction of sex so far as underground labor was concerned. The men worked entirely naked and were assisted by females of all ages, from girls of six years to women of twenty-one, who were quite naked down to the waist.

But if oppression was rife, education at a low ebb, and misery prevalent, the religion of the people was receiving attention. The period was, in fact, one of revival in religion. The Wesleyan revival was in full swing, and Evangelical Christianity was making great advances. Between 1799 and 1804 there were founded, "The British and Foreign Bible Society," "The London Missionary Society," and "The Mission To The Jews."

When the Education Bill of 1819 came before the House of Lords, out of eighteen Bishops who voted on the measure, fifteen voted against it! Thus the religionists were most active during the period when a condition approximating white slavery existed. And why should this not have been so, when the Church is not interested in the social and economic status of its adherents during their existence on this planet, but is avowedly concerned with deluding its devotees into a mythical belief in a life hereafter? The greatest number of slaves and the greatest degradation of workers is to be found in those times and places where religious superstition is most powerful.

In our own country, as well as in England, the labor movement has developed not merely outside the range of organized Christianity, but in the teeth of the bitterest opposition to it. Christianity, since it came into power, has always preached to the poor in defense of the privileges and possessions of the rich.

In a recent publication by Jerome Davis, which is entitled "Labor Speaks for Itself on Religion" the author has compiled the opinions of labor leaders in the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Russia, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Mexico, China, Austria, Australia, Belgium, and Japan. It is a terrific indictment by labor against organized religion. The author tells us, "Here is labor speaking for itself, and in the by and large it feels that the Church has not understood or helped it to secure justice. The majority believe that the Church has a capitalistic bias. It is a class institution for the upper and middle classes." This is putting the matter rather mildly when one considers their grievances expressed in their own words. Again Jerome Davis asks, "Is it possible that our Church leaders are to some extent blinded by current conventional standards? Are they so busy sharing the wealth of the prosperous with others in spiritual quests that they fail to see some areas of desperate social need? Do they to some degree unconsciously exchange the gift of prophecy for yearly budgets and business boards?"

James H. Maurer, the president of the Pennsylvania Federation of Labor, speaks for labor and the title of his subject is, "Has the Church Betrayed Labor?" Mr. Maurer's opinion follows: "A worker living from hand to mouth, and lucky if he is not hopelessly in debt besides, working at trip-hammer speed when he has work, with no security against enforced idleness, sickness, and old age, can hardly be expected to become deeply interested in, or a very enthusiastic listener to*sermons about Lot's disobedient wife, who because she looked back was turned into a pillar of salt. He is far more concerned about his own overworked and perhaps underfed wife who, due to the strain of trying to raise his family on a meager income that permits of no rest or proper medical care, is slowly but surely turning into a corpse. To go to a church and listen to a sermon about the sublimeness of being humble and meek, that no matter how desperate the struggle to live may be one should be contented and not envy the more fortunate, because God in His infinite wisdom has ordained that there shall be rich and poor and that no matter how heavy one's burdens on this earth, one should bear them meekly and look for reward in the world to come and remember that God loves the poor — such sermons naturally sound pleasing to the ears of the wealthy listeners, and the usual reward is a shower of gold and hearty congratulations by the sleek and well-fed members of the congregation. But to an intelligent worker such sermons sound like capitalistic propaganda, upon which he is constantly being fed by every labor-exploiting concern in the country, and quite naturally he tries to avoid getting an extra dose of the same kind of buncombe on Sunday….

"In Churches, men have listened for nearly two thousand years to lessons and sermons about 'the brotherhood of man,' 'the forging of swords of war into plowsnares of peace,' 'man is his brother's helper,' 'peace on earth, good will toward men,' 'thou shalt not kill’ We are taught to say the Lord's Prayer, and ask for heaven on earth, and yet, at every war opportunity, with a very few noble exceptions, the Church, at the command of the war lords, has scrapped its peace sentiments and turned its back to the Prince of Peace and Heaven on Earth and has shouted itself hoarse for hell on earth. And then the spokesmen of the churches of each nation at war have had the impudence to pray to a just God and ask Him to play favorites, to use His infinite power on their side and join in the mad slaughter of His own beloved children. And those slaughtered are the workers, and their folks at home naturally wonder why the one big international peace organization on earth, the Church, at the crack of the war demon's whip, deserts its principles of 'Thou shalt not kill,' and 'Peace on earth,' and helps to stampede its followers in the very opposite direction."

Mr. Maurer points out that labor's struggle to have a Federal Child Labor amendment to the Constitution ratified by the various state legislatures, and to have such legislation enacted as the Workmen's Compensation Laws, Mothers' Pensions, and Old Age Pensions, received no support from the clergy. He concludes by citing this occurrence:

"For a good illustration of what the Church is sometimes guilty of let us take a glimpse at what happened in Detroit, during the month of October, 1926, when the American Federation of Labor was holding its annual convention there. Nearly every church in Detroit sent invitations to prominent labor officials to speak in their churches before Bible classes, Sunday schools, and Young Men's Christian Associations. Most of the invitations were accepted by the labor officials, including President Green of the A. F. of L. As soon as the big employers learned about the program they not only frowned upon the idea of allowing their sacred temples to be contaminated with representatives of the working class, but put both feet down as hard as they could on the proposition. Did the clergymen stand firm when men with dollars talked? To their everlasting shame they did not. Ninety-five percent of them bowed to the will of Mammon and the representatives of labor were barred from the sacred temples erected in the name of God and the lowly Nazarene, proving conclusively to the minds of the average citizen who controls the churches and whom they serve. Small wonder that many workers have a poor opinion of the Church, and that so many pews are empty."

J. B. S. Hardman, the editor of The Advance, the official journal of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, gives us his opinion regarding the religion of labor. "It lulls the social underdog with a sham consolation for the oppression and exploitation which are his lot, and furnishes the exploiter and oppressor with graceful distraction and absolution from his daily practice and meanness. This is the actual basis of Church activity to-day. The religion of labor is godless, for it seeks to restore the divinity of man."

James P. Thompson, the national organizer of the Industrial Workers of the World, heads his article for Jerome Davis, "Religion is the Negation of the Truth," and in his militant manner proclaims "This organization designed to praise God and help him run the universe is known as the Church. The established Church has always been on the side of the rich and powerful: Its robed representatives, pretending to be Godlike and favorites of God, having special influence with Him, have ever functioned as the moral police agents of the ruling classes. At one time or another, they have asked God to bless nearly everything, from the slave driver's lash to murderous wars. Thus they strive to extend the blessings of God to the infamies of men.

"To-day, under Capitalism, they teach the working class the doctrine of humility: tell them that if they get a slap on one cheek to turn the other, and, 'blessed are the poor.' They tell us to bear the' cross and wear the crown, that we will get back in the next world what is stolen from us in this. In other words, they try to chloroform us with stories of heaven while the robbers plunder the world. For this support the ruling classes donate liberally to the Church. The organized robbers and organized beggars support each other."

James P. Noonan, vice-president of the American Federation of Labor, asks a pertinent question, "Labor observes an increasing tendency on the part of the Church to regulate what man may eat, drink, or smoke, where and how he shall spend his Sundays, the character and kind of amusements he may participate in, and various other activities, many of which seem more or less trivial; all of which leads the average worker to ponder rather seriously just why it is that the Church can vigorously advocate and promote legislation seeking to curtail his liberty to enjoy, in his own way, the limited number of leisure hours at his disposal, and yet turn a deaf ear to the cry of tortured men, women, and children for relief from the curse of low wages, long hours, and scores of other industrial conditions and abuses which inevitably pave the way for numberless cases of moral turpitude."

James S. Woodsworth, a former minister, speaking for the Canadian 'Labor Party, exclaims: "The Church a class institution what does the Church do to help me and those like me? The Church supported by the wealthy, yes, 'He who pays the piper calls the tune.' The well-groomed parson, with his soft tones prophesying smooth things, well, I'm glad I'm not in his shoes!"

James Simpson, secretary of the Canadian Labor Party, makes this statement: "I found that the conditions which called for radical change if the social and economic security of the people was going to be established did not concern the Church. As an institution it was concerned in establishing an outlook upon life that would induce men to do the right, but, if the right was not done, there was very little distinction drawn between the wrong-doer and the right-doer. This lack of distinction did not apply so much to what were re-regarded as moral indiscretions as it did to the larger failures to recognize man's relationship to man in the industrial and commercial activities of life. Labor thinks the Church is insincere. It Is an exceptional case for a minister to take a stand on the side of the workers, even when the issue between the employers and employees is a clear case of the former trying to enforce conditions upon the latter which are unfair and inhuman."

A. Fenner Brockway, the political secretary of the Independent Labor Party in England, writes in this manner: "The hymns of the Church are obsolete; the sermons are very rarely worth listening to; the forms of worship are unrelated to life; and such inspiration as comes from the devotion and beauty of some church services and buildings can be found ever more intimately and fully in the silences and beauty of nature."

George Lansbury is another Englishman speaking for British Labor, and he tells us that, "Ordinary working people in Britain think very little about Churches, or about religion. Years ago I was asked, 'Why don't people accept religion? Why don't the masses go to Church?' I said then, as I say now, 'They, the masses, believe we Christians do not believe what we say we believe."

Lenin, Trotzky, Lunacharsky, and Yaroslavsky, are the speakers for Russian Labor in Soviet Russia. Their attitude toward Church and Religion is well known….

Arthur Crispien, president of the German Social Democratic Party, gives us his opinion. "Men should not look upon this earth as a vale of tears and fly from rude realities to a world of phantasms; they should embrace the beauties of the world, and realize and fulfill their social rights and duties. Our work lies in this world. As to the other, each is at. liberty to decide according to his needs."

Karl Mennicke, another former minister, points out the attitude of German Labor. "For modern labor the feeling that human life is first of all a matter of eternal life, and only secondarily a matter of this world, has been entirely lost. The high-strung eschatologic mood, or expectation of Jesus, has no sounding board in the masses of the proletariat of to-day. The Christian epoch in history is obviously on its way to extinction. The eschatological mood of Christianity has been a handicap, and still is, for the Christian community has difficulty finding an organic relationship to the creative problems of social life."

Emanuel Radl speaks of labor and the Church in Czechoslovakia. "In general the churches play a far lesser part in our public life than in the United States. People are accustomed to speak of the churches as exploded institutions that are factors only among the uneducated classes. The churches are not measuring up in understanding and helping the poor."

Robert Haberman, representing the Mexican Labor Party, gives a clear-cut summation of the tyranny that the clergy of that country yoked upon the masses and the retardation that it has produced. It furnishes striking and conclusive evidence of the harm that is done when the Church and State are still integrally intertwined. There is no better example of the efforts of a reactionary clergy to keep the masses in poverty and ignorance than is this study of the church in modern Mexico. Mr. Haberman gives an account of the church activities in old Mexico and coming tb the present, "By the year 1854, the Church had gained possession of about two-thirds of all the lands of Mexico, almost every bank, and every large business. The rest of the country was mortgaged to the Church. Then came the revolution of 1854, led by Benito Juarez. It culminated in the Constitution of 1857, which secularized the schools and confiscated Church property. All the churches were nationalized, many of them were turned into schools, hospitals, and orphan asylums. Civil marriages were made obligatory. Pope Pius IX immediately issued a mandate against the Constitution and called upon all Catholics of Mexico to disobey it. Ever since then, the clergy has been fighting to regain its lost temporal power and wealth. It has been responsible for civil wars and for foreign intervention." Under the rule of Diaz, the constitution was disregarded and the Church was permitted to regain most of its lost privileges. "The Church bells rang out at sunrise to call the peons out, with nothing more to eat than some tortillas and chili, to work all day long in the burning fields, until sunset when the Church bells rang again to send them home to their mud huts. During their work they were beaten. On Sundays they were lashed and sent bleeding to Mass. After Church they had to do Faenas (free work) for the Church, in the name of some saint or other either to build a new church or do some special work for the priests. It is no wonder then, that after the revolution against Diaz, in many places, as soon as the peons were told they were free, their first act was to climb up the church steeples and smash the bells. After that, they rushed inside the churches and destroyed the statues and paintings of the saints. During the whole period of havoc and exploitation, not once was the voice of the Church heard in behalf of the downtrodden. Illiteracy amounted to eighty-six percent. But the Church helped the further enslavement of the workers. There was not a church ceremony, birth, marriage, or death, that did not cost money. The worker had to borrow for each; and the more he borrowed, the more closely he riveted upon himself the chains of peonage…. The present conflict started in February, 1926, when Archbishop Jose Mora del Rio, head of the Church in Mexico, issued a statement in the press declaring war against the Constitution."

Gideon Chen, speaking for Chinese Labor asserts: "The Christian Church in China, brought up in a Western greenhouse, with all its achievements and shortcomings, does not speak a language intelligible to the labor world."

Karl Kautsky, the Austrian representative of labor, takes the attitude that, "The less Labor as a whole has to do with Church questions and the less it is interested in the churches, the more successful will be its strife for emancipation."

Otto Bauer, another representative of Austrian labor, makes the assertion: "Capitalism forces the worker into the class struggle. In this class struggle he comes across the clergy and finds it the champion of his class adversary. The worker transfers his hate from the "clergyman to religion itself , in whose name this clergyman is defending the social order of the middle classes. In Austria the bourgeois parties take advantage of the belief of hundreds of thousands of proletarians in a Lord in Heaven to keep them in subjection to their earthly masters."

Ernest H. Barker, the general secretary of the Australian Labor Party, holds forth in an article entitled, "The Church is Weighed and Found Wanting." He is quite emphatic in his statements. "The attitude of the Labor Movement in Australia to the Church is one of supreme indifference. There is little or no point of contact between the two and apparently neither considers the other in its activities and plan of campaign. … The Church preaches the brotherhood of man. What brotherhood can exist between the wealthy receiver of interest, profit, and rent and the struggling worker who sees his wife dragged down by poverty and overwork, and his children stunted and dwarfed physically and intellectually between the underworked and overfed commercial or industrial magnate and the underfed, overworked denizen of the slums? … The Church is put on trial in the minds of men. They ask, 'What did the Church do when we sought a living wage, shorter hours of work, safer working conditions, abolition of Sunday work, abolition of child labor?' The answer is an almost entirely negative one. The few instances when church officials have helped are so conspicuous as to emphasize the general aloofness…. In how many of the advance.d ideas of our time has the Church taken the lead? Is it not renowned for being a long way in the rear rather than in the vanguard of progressive thought and action? It resents any challenge to its ideas, doctrines, or authority."

Emile Vandervelde, the leader of the Belgian Labor Party, discusses the personal religious convictions of the Labor leaders in France and Belgium. "Today as yesterday the immense majority are atheists, old-fashioned materialists, or at least agnostics, to whom it would never occur to profess any creed, no matter how liberal it. might be."

Toyohiko Kogawa, the secretary of the Japan Labor Federation, says: "Labor considers the Church too otherworldly. It thinks it has no concern with the interests of labor; and that the Church has lost her aim in this world and is looking up only into heaven. And labor forgets where to go, loses its sense of direction. So labor; stops thinking about religion, and religion stops thinking about industry. The Church has no principle of economics, and labor has no religious aspiration."

The opinions of these men who are daily in contact with the problem of social justice the world over surely furnish a tremendous amount of information regarding both the unconcern of religion upon the furtherance of social justice and its actual negative and harmful influence. The devout Sherwood Eddy, a sincere and noble exponent of social justice, is forced to exclaim: "But I saw that there would be much more opposition from professing Christians if I preached a gospel of social justice, than ever there had been from so called 'heathen' nations in calling them to turn from their idols. Indeed, Mammon is a much more potent idol, it is more cruel, smeared with more human blood, than Kali of Siva. They sacrifice goats to Kali and we shudder; we sacrifice men to Mammon and justify our 'rights.' In simple fact, though they are not worthy of mention, I have met with more opposition and misrepresentation, ten times over, in 'Christian' America, than I ever met in fifteen years in India, or in repeated visits to China, Turkey, or Russia." (Sherwood Eddy: "Religion and Social Justice")

Religious philosophy is slave philosophy; it teaches of a God who is personally interested in the individual and who will reward present misery with future bliss. The demoralizing effect of this infamous fraud is apparent everywhere. If a worker is constantly assailed with this nonsense from the pulpit, the result is the production in him of a mental as well as a physical slavery; it aggravates his mental inertia, and the force of repetition achieving its effects, he soon resigns himself to his present miserable state drugged with the delusion of a better life in the hereafter. He believes that his destiny is predetermined by God and that he will be rewarded in heaven for his sufferings on earth.

What a marvelous opiate the ecclesiastics have been injecting into the minds of the masses! It is not to be wondered at, therefore, that capital has aided throughout the ages and has stood by religion. The irony of the situation lies in the fact that the slave will fight so valiantly for his tyrannical master, that the unscrupulous few who derive all the benefits, can, like a malignant parasite, suck the life-blood of its victims while their still living prey submits without a struggle! The worker, inebriated with his religious delusion, calmly allows his very substance to be the means through which his parasitic employer grows fat.

"That was the net result of Christianity, and of the activity of the Christian Church in spreading abroad a spirit of kindliness, humanity and brotherhood! The coquetry of Christianity with Labor within the last generation or two is only what one would expect. But it is clear that the one constant function of Christianity has been to encourage loyalty to existing institutions, no matter what their character so long as they were not unfriendly to the Church. Slavery and the oppression of labor continued while Christianity was at its strongest and wealthiest; its own wealth derived from the oppression it encouraged. Slavery died out when social and economic conditions rendered its continuance more and more difficult. And the conditions of labor improved when men ceased to talk of a 'Providential Order,' of 'God's Decree,' and dismissed the evangelical narcotic served out by the Church, and began to realize that social conditions were the products of understandable and modifiable natural forces." (C. Cohen: "Christianity, Slavery and Labor")