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 _début_ 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 cortège 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 scène_, 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.