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The Religion Of Business

Joe Smith was, to speak plainly, nothing but an adventurer. Having
tried more than twenty avocations, ending up with that of a
gold-digger, he found himself at last at the end of his resources, and
decided, in truly American fashion, that he would now make his fortune.
He thereupon announced that he was in close communication with Moses,
and that he had in his possession the two mosaic talismans, Urim and
Thummim, and the manuscript of the Biblical prophet, Mormon--the latter
having as a matter of fact been obtained from Solomon Spaulding, pastor
of New Salem, Ohio, in 1812.

It was different with John Alexander Dowie, who with remarkable wisdom
seized the psychological moment to appear in the United States as a
Barnum and a Pierpont Morgan of religion combined. By what was an
indisputable stroke of genius, he incorporated into his religion the
most outstanding features of American life--commerce, industry, and
finance, the tripod upon which the Union rests. What could be more
up-to-date than a commercial and industrial prophet, business man,
stock-jobber, and organiser of enterprises paying fabulous dividends?
And--surely the crowning point of the "new spirit!"--the man who now
declared himself to be the most direct representative of God upon earth
was accepted as such because people saw in him, not only the Messianic
power that he claimed, but an extraordinary knowledge of the value of
stocks and shares side by side with his knowledge of the value of souls!

He was of Scottish origin, and had reached his thirtieth year before
his name became known. As a child he was disinclined to take religion
seriously, and had a habit of whistling the hymns in church instead of
singing them. Later he was distinguished by a timidity and reserve
which seemed to suggest that he would never rise above the environment
into which he had been born. His studies and his beliefs--which for
long showed no sign of deviating from the hereditary Scottish
faith--were under the direction of a rigidly severe father. At the age
of thirteen his parents, attracted by the Australian mirage of those
days, took him with them to Adelaide, and he became under-clerk in a
business house there, serving an apprenticeship which was to prove
useful later on. At twenty he returned to Edinburgh, desiring to enter
the ministry, as he believed he had a religious vocation, and plunged
into the study of theology with a deep hostility to everything that was
outside a strictly literal interpretation of the Scriptures. Full of
devotion and self-abnegation in his desperate struggle with the powers
of evil, he read the Holy Book with avidity, and was constant in his
attendance at theological conferences. Thus, nourished on the marrow
of the Scotch theologians, he returned to Australia and was ordained to
the priesthood at Alma. Soon afterwards he was appointed minister to
the Congregational Church in Sydney, where his profound learning was
highly appreciated.

He who desires to attract and instruct the masses must have two gifts,
without which success is impossible--eloquence and charm. Dowie had
both. As an orator he was always master of himself, yet full of
emotion, passionate in his gestures, and easily moved to tears.

We must admit that he did not, like so many others, owe his influence
to his environment. In New South Wales, where he made his _dÚbut_ as a
preacher at Sydney, his eloquence and his learning made so great an
impression--especially after he had emerged victorious from a
controversy with the Anglican bishop, Vaughan, brother to the
Cardinal--that the governor of the province, Sir Henry Parkes, offered
him an important Government position. He refused to accept it,
desiring, as he said, to consecrate his life to the work of God.
Persuaded--or wishing to persuade others--that he had been personally
chosen by God to fulfil the prophecy of St. Mark xvi. 17, 18, he took
up the practice of the laying-on of hands, claiming that in this way,
with the help of prayer, the sick could be cured. On these words of
the evangelist his whole doctrine was based. Through assiduous reading
he familiarised himself with medical science, as well as with
hypnotism, telepathy and suggestion, his aim being to organise and
direct a crusade against medicine as practised by the faculty. He
gathered together materials for a declaration of war against the
medicos, attacking them in their, apparently, most impregnable
positions, and showing up, often through their own observations, the
fatal inanity--in his eyes--of their therapeutics. At the same time he
managed to acquire experience of commerce, finance and administration,
and, thus equipped, he opened his campaign. Thaumaturgy, science,
occultism, eloquence, knowledge of men and of the world--all these he
brought into play. The prestige he gained was remarkable, and of
course the unimpeachable truth of Bible prophecy was sufficient to
establish the fact of his identity with the expected Elias!

"Logic itself commands you to believe in me," he said in his official
manifesto. "John the Baptist was the messenger of the Alliance (which
is the Scotch Covenant), and Elias was its prophet. But Malachi and
Jesus promised the return of the messenger of the Alliance, and of
Elias the Restorer. . . . If we are deceived, it is God who has
deceived us, and that is impossible. For the office with which we are
charged is held directly from God, and those who have helped us in
founding our Church, and who have given us their devotion, testify that
they have been instructed to do so by personal revelations."

All the believers in Dowieism affirmed that John Alexander Dowie was
Elias the Second, or Elias the Third (if John the Baptist were
considered to be the Second), but Dowie himself went further still. He
was too modern to base his influence on religion alone, and he actually
had the cleverness to become not only a banker, manufacturer,
hotel-keeper, newspaper proprietor, editor and multi-millionaire, but
also the principal of a college and the "boss" of a political party
which acknowledged him as spiritual and temporal pope and numbered over
sixty thousand adherents. He had ten tabernacles in Chicago, and ruled
despotically the municipal affairs of one of the suburbs of the city.


It is interesting to study closely the way in which Dowie gradually
attained to such a powerful position. Up to his arrival in Chicago,
and even for some years after it, his career differed little from that
of the ordinary open-air evangelist with long hair and vague theories,
such as may be seen at the street-corners of so many English and
American towns. In New South Wales his excessive ardour at temperance
meetings in the public squares caused such disorder that he was twice
imprisoned, and he came to the conclusion that Melbourne would offer
better scope for his mission. He went there to establish a "Free
Christian Tabernacle," but almost immediately an epidemic of fever
broke out, and he became popular through his intrepidity in visiting
the sick, whom he claimed to be able to cure by a secret remedy, the
use of which, as a matter of fact, only resulted in augmenting the
lists of dead. But to his religious propaganda the Australians turned
a deaf ear, and after persevering for ten years he gave up, partly
because the authorities had intimated that he had best pitch his camp
elsewhere, partly, perhaps, because he was glad to leave what he later
referred to as "that nest of antipodean vipers."

We find him in San Francisco in 1888, preaching his new religion at
street-corners, and once more causing almost daily disturbances by the
vigour of his eloquence. Here again his hopes miscarried, and from
thenceforward he fixed his eyes on Chicago, where he should "meet the
devil on his own ground."

This final resolution bore good fruit, for Chicago is pre-eminently
"the city of Satan," and those who desire to wage war against him can
always be sure of plentiful hauls, whatever nets they use. It is that
type of American town where all is noise and animation, where the
population is cosmopolitan, and confusion of tongues is coupled with an
even greater confusion of beliefs; where it is possible to pursue the
avocations of theologian and pork-butcher side by side, and no one is
surprised. Called "Queen of the West" by some, Porkopolis (from its
chief industry) by others, it is a giant unique in its own kind. While
its inhabitants, in feverish activity, climb or are rushed in lifts to
the nineteenth and twentieth storeys of its immense buildings, there is
heard from time to time a call from regions beyond this life of
incessant bustle; the voice of a preacher dominates the tumult, and
this million and a half of slaughterers of sheep and oxen, jam-makers
and meat-exporters, factory-hands, distillers, brewers, tanners,
seekers of fortune by every possible means, suddenly remembers that it
has a soul to be saved, and throws it in passing, as it were, to
whoever is most dexterous in catching it. In such a _milieu_ Dowie
might indeed hope to pursue his aims with advantage.

His personality had a certain hypnotic fascination. His eloquence, his
patriarchal appearance, his supposed power of curing even the most
intractable diseases, his use of modern catch-words, his talent for
decorating the walls of his little temple with symbols such as
crutches, bandages and other trophies of "divine healing," all combined
to bring him before the public eye. He had a dispute with the doctors,
who accused him of practising their profession illegally, and another
with the clergy, who attacked him in their sermons; the populace was
stirred up against him, and laid siege to his tabernacle, and he
himself threw oil upon these various fires, and became a prominent
personage in the daily Press.

It is true that the arrest of some Dowieists whose zeal had carried
them beyond the limits of the law of Illinois was commented upon; that
long reports were published of the death of a member of the Church of
Sion who had succumbed through being refused any medical attention save
that of the high-priest of the sect; that much amusement was caused by
the dispersal of a meeting of Dowieists by firemen, who turned the hose
upon them; and much interest aroused by the legal actions brought
against Dowie for having refused to give information concerning the
Bank of Sion. All these affairs provided so many new "sensations."
But what is of importance is to attract the public, to hold their
attention, to keep them in suspense. The time came when it was
necessary to produce some more original idea, to strike a really
decisive blow, and so Dowie revealed to a stupefied Chicago that he was
the latest incarnation of the prophet Elijah. Then while the serious
Press denounced him for blasphemy, and the comic Press launched its
most highly poisoned shafts of wit against him, the whole of Sion
exulted in clamorous rejoicings. For the prophet knew his Chicago.
Credulity gained the upper hand, and the whole city flocked to the
tabernacle of Sion, desirous of beholding the new Elias at close


The definite organisation of Dowieism--or Sionism, as it is more
usually called--dates from 1894. From this time forward Dowie ceased
to be merely a shepherd offering the shelter of his fold to those
desiring salvation, and, allowing evangelisation as such to take a
secondary place, became the director, inspector and general overseer of
a religious society founded upon community of both material and moral
interests, and upon fair administration of the benefits of a commercial
and industrial enterprise having many sources of revenue. In this
society, political, sociological and religious views were combined, so
that it offered an attractive investment for financial as well as
spiritual capital. Dowie was not only the religious and temporal
leader of the movement, but also the contractor for and principal
beneficiary from this gigantic co-operative scheme, which combined
selling and purchasing, manufacture and distribution, therapeutics,
social questions and religion.

Like most founders of sects, the prophet of the "New Sion" was at first
surrounded by those despairing invalids and cripples who try all kinds
of remedies, until at last they find one to which they attribute the
relief of their sufferings, whether real or fancied. Such as these
will do all that is required of them; they will give all their worldly
goods to be saved; and they paid gladly the tenth part which Dowie
immediately demanded from all who came to him, some of them even
pouring their entire fortunes into the coffers of the new Elias. The
ranks of his recruits were further swelled by crowds of hypochondriacs,
and by the superstitious, the idle, and the curious, who filled his
temple to such an extent that soon he was obliged to hire a large hall
for his Sunday meetings, at which he was wont to appear in great
magnificence with the cortŔge of a religious showman.

These displays attracted widespread attention, and indeed Dowie
neglected nothing in his efforts to make a deep and lasting impression
on the public mind. Here is the account of an eye-witness:--

The prophet speaks. The audience preserves a religious silence. His
voice has a quality so strange as to be startling. To see that broad
chest, that robust and muscular frame, one would expect to hear rolling
waves of sound, roarings as of thunder. But not so. The voice is
shrill and sibilant, yet with a sonority so powerful that it vibrates
on the eardrums and penetrates to the farthest corners of the hall.

Presently the real object of the sermon is revealed. The enemies of
Sion are denounced with a virulence that borders upon fury, and the
preacher attacks violently those whom he accuses of persecuting his
church. He poses as a martyr, and cries out that "the blood of the
martyr is the seed of faith"; he pours out imprecations upon other
religious sects; calls down maledictions upon the qualified doctors,
who are to him merely "sorcerers and poisoners"; consigns "the vipers
of the press" to destruction; and, carried away by the violence of his
anathemas, launches this peroration upon the ears of his admiring

"If you wish to drink your reeking pots of beer, whisky, wine, or other
disgusting alcoholic liquors; if you wish to go to the theatre and
listen to Mephistopheles, to the devil, to Marguerite, the dissolute
hussy, and Doctor Faust, her foul accomplice; if you wish to gorge
yourselves upon the oyster, scavenger of the sea, and the pig,
scavenger of the earth--a scavenger that there is some question of
making use of in the streets of Chicago (_laughter_); it you wish, I
say, to do the work of the devil, and eat the meats of the devil, you
need only to remain with the Methodists, Baptists, or such-like. Sion
is no place for you. We want only clean people, and, thanks to God, we
can make them clean. There are many among you who need cleansing. You
know that I have scoured you as was necessary, and I shall continue to
do it, for you are far from clean yet."

Then, entering into a dialogue with his hearers upon the vital point of
Sionism, he asks:

"Does America pay her tithe to God?"

The audience replies "No."

"Do the churches pay their tithes to God?"


"Do you yourselves pay your tithes to God? Stand up, those of you who

The listeners stand up in thousands.

"There are a number of robbers here who remain seated, and do not pay
their tithes to God. Now I know who are the robbers. Do you know what
should be done with you? I will tell you. There is nothing for you
but the fire--the fire! Is it not villainy to rob one's brother?"


"Is it not villainy to rob one's mother?"


"Is it not the vilest villainy to rob God?"


"Well, there are some among you who are not ashamed of committing it.
You are robbing God all the time. You are like Ahaz, the Judean king
famed for his impiety, and if you remain as you are, you will be doomed
to eternal death. To whom does the tithe belong? What is done with
it? I am going to answer that. If anyone here says that what I
possess is taken out of the tithes, he lies--and I will make his lie
stick in his throat. The tithes and all other offerings go straight to
the general fund, and do not even pass through my hands. But I have a
right to my share of the tithes. Have I--or not?"


"Yes, and I shall take it when I have need of it. It is you whom I
address--you vile robbers, hypocrites, liars, who pretend to belong to
Sion and do not pay the tithe. Do you know what is reserved for you?
You will burn in eternal fire. Rise--depart from Sion!"

But no one departs. All the defaulters hasten to pay, for the prophet
inspires them with a terror very different from their dread of the
tax-collector, and there is no single example of one sufficiently
obstinate to brave his threats of damnation.

In other ways also Elias was all-powerful. He made a mock of political
or ecclesiastical elections, holding that a leader's power should not
be subject to suffrages or renewals of confidence. Thanks to these
sermons, dialogues, and the general _mise en scŔne_, the autocracy of
Dowie was beyond question.


The new Elias called himself "the divine healer," and, like Schlatter,
he attracted all who believed in the direct intervention of God, acting
personally upon the sufferer. In their eyes he was simply the
representative of God, source of health and healing. It was not he who
brought about the cures, but God, and therefore the payments that were
made to him were in reality payments to God. This teaching was largely
the source of Dowie's power.

There were two large hotels in Chicago which were continually filled to
overflowing with pilgrims from all parts who came to seek "divine
healing." These left behind them sums of money--often considerable--in
token of their gratitude to God; not to the prophet, who would accept

It is obvious that if none of his cures had been effectual, Dowie, in
spite of his power over credulous minds, could not have succeeded.
Thaumaturgy must perform its miracles. If it fails to do so, it is a
fraud, and its incapacity proves its ruin. But if it accomplishes
them, its fame becomes widespread. These miraculous cures generally
take place, not singly, but in numbers, because there are always people
who respond to suggestion, and invalids who become cured when the
obligation to be cured, in the name of God, is placed upon them. Thus
Chicago saw and wondered at the miracles, and had no doubts of their

There was the case of Mr. Barnard, one of the heads of the National
Bank of Chicago, whose twelve-year-old daughter was suffering from
spinal curvature. She grew worse, in spite of all the efforts of the
most eminent doctors and surgeons, and it seemed that nothing could be
done. The child must either die, or remained deformed for the rest of
her life. The father and mother were overcome with grief, and after
having gone the round of all the big-wigs of the medical profession,
they tried first bone-setters, then Christian Scientists, without
avail. Finally they went to Dowie, who had already cured one of their
friends. Up till then they had not had confidence in him, and they
only went to him as a counsel of despair, so to speak, and because a
careful re-reading of the Bible had persuaded them that God could and
would cure all who had faith in His supreme power. Dowie, perceiving
that they and their daughter had true faith, laid his hands on the
child and prayed. In that same moment the curvature disappeared, and
the cure was complete, for there was never any return of the trouble.

In recognition of this divine favour Mr. Barnard, who had hitherto
belonged to the Presbyterian Church, voluntarily joined the Sionists,
and became their chief auxiliary financier. Dowie made him manager of
the Bank of Sion, under his own supervision, and confided to him the
financial administration of the church.

Similarly a Mr. Peckman, whose wife he cured, and who was leader of the
Baptist Church of Indiana, gave thanks to God and to Dowie, His
prophet, by founding a colony affiliated to Sionism which paid its
tithes regularly.

There are many other examples of successful cures, but also many
failures. These, however, did not lower the prestige of the modern
Elias, who said to his detractors: "God has the power to cure, and all
cures are due to Him alone. He desires to cure all who suffer, for His
pity is infinite; but it may very well happen that the consumptives and
paralytics who come to me after being given up by the doctors, are not
always cured by God, however much I pray for them. Why is this? The
reason is simple. Disease and death must be looked upon as ills due to
the devil, who, since the fall of the rebellious angels, is always in a
state of insurrection against God. And it is certain that whoever has
not faith--absolute and unquestionable faith--is in the power of Satan.
The Scripture tells us precisely, 'he that believeth and is baptised
shall be saved; he that believeth not is condemned.' When a sufferer
is not healed through my intercession, it means that in the struggle
for that particular soul, the devil has been victorious."

So, supported by this thesis, Dowie triumphed over the objections of
his critics, not only in the eyes of Sion, but of all Chicago. Even
when he lost his only daughter, Esther, his authority was in no way

Esther Dowie was twenty-one, and the pride of her father's heart. She
had finished her studies at the University of Chicago, and a happy
future seemed to be opening out before her. One day in the month of
May she was preparing for a large reception which was being held in
honour of young Booth-Clibborn, grandson of General Booth of the
Salvation Army. The event was an important one, for it was hoped that
this meeting would bring about an understanding between the
Salvationists and the Sionists, and Miss Dowie wished to give the
visitor the most gracious welcome possible. She was lighting a
spirit-lamp, for the purpose of waving her hair, when a draught of air
blew her peignoir into the flame. It caught fire, and the poor girl
was so terribly burned that she succumbed soon afterwards, although her
father and all the elders of the Church prayed at her bedside, and
although Dowie permitted a doctor to attend her and to make copious use
of vaseline. After her death, the jury decided that she must have been
burnt internally, the flames having penetrated to her throat and lungs.
Before she died she begged her father to forgive her for having
disobeyed him--for Dowie strictly forbade the use of alcohol, even in a
spirit-lamp--and implored the adherents of Sionism not to expose
themselves to death through disobedience, as she had done.

The attitude adopted by the prophet under this blow was almost sublime.
Letters of condolence and of admiration rained upon him. He wept over
his daughter's dead body, and was broken-hearted, while, instead of
drawing attention to the extenuating circumstances for his own
inability to save her--as he would have done in all other cases--he
fervently prayed to God to forgive her for having sinned against the
laws of Sion. His grief was so sincere that not only the Sionists but
the whole of Chicago joined in it.

Lack of faith was not the only thing that prevented cures. Omitting to
pay the tithes could also render them impossible; for the tithes were
due to God, and those who failed to pay them committed a voluntary
offence against the divine power. When we remember that there were at
least sixty thousand Sionists, it is obvious that these tithes must
have amounted to an enormous sum--and of this sum Dowie never gave any
account. His spiritual power was founded upon his moral power. It is
certain that he tried to influence his followers for good in forbidding
them alcoholic drinks and gambling, and in advising exercise and
recreation in the open air, and the avoidance of medicaments and drugs
which he believed did more harm than good. He said to them--"Your
health is a natural thing, for health is the state of grace in man, and
the result of being in accord with God, and disease has no other cause
than the violation of law, religious or moral." He ordained that all
should live in a state of cleanliness, industry and order, so that
communal prosperity might be assured. And of this prosperity which
they owed to God and to His representative, what more just than that a
part of it should be given to God and to Dowie, His prophet? What more
legitimate than that there should be no separation between the material
life and the spiritual life?

He had a special machine constructed which registered, by a kind of
clockwork, the intercessions made on behalf of the various applicants
for healing. Each one would receive a printed bulletin, stating, for
example--"Prayed on the 10th of March, at four o'clock in the
afternoon, John A. Dowie." If the patient was not in Chicago, Dowie
would pray by telephone, so that the immediate effect of the divine
power might be felt. He also made use of a phonograph for recording
his homilies, sermons and prayers, and these records were sent, at a
fixed price, to his adherents in all parts of the world.


The city of Sion lies between Chicago and Milwaukee, about forty-two
miles to the north of the former. It comprises an estate of 6400 acres
on the shores of Lake Michigan. This land--some of the best in
Illinois--was let out in lots, on long lease, by Dowie to his
followers, and brought in thousands of dollars yearly. At the same
time that he created this principle of speculation in land, he was also
engaged in founding a special industry, whose products were sold as
"products of Sion." His choice fell upon the lace industry, and thanks
to very clever management he was able to establish large factories
modelled on those of Nottingham, employing many hundreds of workers
whose goods commanded a considerable sale.

Before he undertook its organisation the possessions of the Church were
few. Fifteen years afterwards, it had a fortune of more than a million

In order to carry out his plan of building a town in which neither
spirits nor tobacco should be sold, and which should be inhabited only
by Sionists, it was necessary that all the land should belong to him,
and he had to reckon with the probably exorbitant demands of the
sellers. To circumvent these his real intentions had to be hidden, and
with the help of his faithful auxiliaries this was successfully

I do not know what has become of Sionism during recent years. Will the
dynasty be continued after the reign of John Dowie by that of his son
William Gladstone Dowie; or will the death of the prophet, as stated by
those who have seen the eclipse of other stars of first magnitude, be
the signal for the dissolution of the sect?

What matters, however, is the genesis and not the duration of an
enchantment which has united around one central figure, so many
thousands who thirsted for the simultaneous salvation of their souls
and of their purses.

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