An Essay in
For twenty years I have been haunted by the dream that I might
some day be my own publisher. I was waiting till I could afford
the luxury; but many a man has put off a bold action till he
died, so I am publishing this book without being able to afford
The reason is that I do not want to be a writer for the rich. I
want to be read by working-boys and girls, and by poor students.
I offer the book at a low price. In the hope of tempting you to
go out and get your friends to read it, I have made a price in
quantities which will allow no profit at all. A margin has been
figured to cover postage, stationery, circulars, and the cost of
a clerical assistant; but nothing for interest on capital, which
is a gift, nor for the rent of an office, which is my home, nor
for the services of manager and press agent, which is myself.
You have read the book, and its fate is yours to decide. If it
seems worth while, pass it on to someone else. If you can afford
it, order a number of copies and give them away. If you can't
afford it, give your time and be a book-agent.
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 time and 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: the four volumes making a work of revolutionary criticism, an Economic Interpretation of Culture under the general title of The Dead Hand.
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Reprinted 2004 by Kessinger Publishing in paperback
The Profits of Religion: An Essay in Economic Interpretation is a nonfiction book, first published in 1917, by the American novelist and muck-raking journalist Upton Sinclair. It is a snapshot of the religious movements in the U.S. before its entry into World War I.
The book is the first of the “Dead Hand” series: six books Sinclair wrote on American institutions. The series also includes The Brass Check (journalism), The Goose-step (higher education), The Goslings (elementary and high school education), Mammonart (art) and Money Writes! (literature). The term “Dead Hand” ironically refers to Adam Smith’s concept that allowing an "invisible hand" of individual self-interest to shape economic relations provides the best result for society as a whole.
In this book, Sinclair attacks institutionalized religion as a “source of income to parasites, and the natural ally of every form of oppression and exploitation.”
Most clergymen are hypocrites, but they are not entirely to blame. Like other men, they are victimized by “the competitive wage-system, which presents them with the alternative to swindle or to starve.”
Sinclair savages the Episcopal establishment for transforming the proletarianJesus into a defender of wealth and privilege, and for a long history of alliance with political power in England and the United States.
Turning to the “nonconforming” Protestant sects, adherents of "The Church of the Merchants" are focused on achieving prosperity within the existing economic system. So are the devotees of the mostly California-based ‘new religions’ or ‘cults’, including New Thought.
Sinclair wants to rescue the true message of Jesus, the friend of the poor and brother of all men.
The writing is fluent, vivid and personal. At the same time, almost every paragraph is built upon evidence that includes historic and contemporary quotations, articles, events, and anecdotes. It is not meant to be objective, but to present a compelling case. It reads like the exhaustive oral argument of a very able prosecuting attorney.
Divisions of the book
Note: The chapters of Book Six are listed to give a flavor of Sinclair's writing style.
- Book One: The Church of the Conquerors (Priesthoods living off the wealth produced by workers)
- Book Two: The Church of Good Society (Protestant Episcopal)
- Book Three: The Church of the Servant Girls (Catholic)
- Book Four: The Church of the Slavers (how institutionalized religion, particularly in Germany, oppresses the people)
- Book Five: The Church of the Merchants (nonconformist Protestant)
- Book Six: The Church of the Quacks
- Book Seven: The Church of the Social Revolution (based on Jesus the proletarian and brother of all humankind)
Reviewing several of the Dead Hand series, a contemporary critic wrote, "These great pamphlets…are storehouses of laborious research. They are indispensable to any student of present American life. I have heard Upton Sinclair charged with reckless, inaccurate and indiscreet use of his material. I am glad to say here that in my own experience I have found him scrupulously anxious, at whatever trouble to himself, to report the exact facts and to weigh carefully his judgments upon them. Why, then, have not these books the authority which they should have?…His explanation is oversimplified; he tends to see his facts in the light of a single motive." 
In The Brass Check (1919), Sinclair wrote, "The Profits of Religion was practically boycotted by the capitalist press of America. Just one newspaper, the Chicago Daily News, reviewed it—or rather allowed me space in which to review it myself. Just one religious publication, the Churchman, took the trouble to ridicule it at length. Half a dozen others sneered at it in brief paragraphs, and half a dozen newspapers did the same, and that was all the publicity the book got, except in the radical press."