Upon this theology he rarely pondered. The kernel of his practical religion was that it was respectable, and beneficial to one’s business, to be seen going to services; that the church kept the Worst Elements from being still worse; and that the pastor’s sermons, however dull they might seem at the time of taking, yet had a voodooistic power which “did a fellow good—kept him in touch with Higher Things.”
His first investigations for the Sunday School Advisory Committee did not inspire him.
He liked the Busy Folks’ Bible Class, composed of mature men and women and addressed by the old-school physician, Dr. T. Atkins Jordan, in a sparkling style comparable to that of the more refined humorous after-dinner speakers, but when he went down to the junior classes he was disconcerted. He heard Sheldon Smeeth, educational director of the Y.M.C.A. and leader of the church-choir, a pale but strenuous young man with curly hair and a smile, teaching a class of sixteen-year-old boys. Smeeth lovingly admonished them, “Now, fellows, I’m going to have a Heart to Heart Talk Evening at my house next Thursday. We’ll get off by ourselves and be frank about our Secret Worries. You can just tell old Sheldy anything, like all the fellows do at the Y. I’m going to explain frankly about the horrible practises a kiddy falls into unless he’s guided by a Big Brother, and about the perils and glory of Sex.” Old Sheldy beamed damply; the boys looked ashamed; and Babbitt didn’t know which way to turn his embarrassed eyes.
Less annoying but also much duller were the minor classes which were being instructed in philosophy and Oriental ethnology by earnest spinsters. Most of them met in the highly varnished Sunday School room, but there was an overflow to the basement, which was decorated with varicose water-pipes and lighted by small windows high up in the oozing wall. What Babbitt saw, however, was the First Congregational Church of Catawba. He was back in the Sunday School of his boyhood. He smelled again that polite stuffiness to be found only in church parlors; he recalled the case of drab Sunday School books: “Hetty, a Humble Heroine” and “Josephus, a Lad of Palestine;” he thumbed once more the high-colored text-cards which no boy wanted but no boy liked to throw away, because they were somehow sacred; he was tortured by the stumbling rote of thirty-five years ago, as in the vast Zenith church he listened to:
“Now, Edgar, you read the next verse. What does it mean when it says it’s easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye? What does this teach us? Clarence! Please don’t wiggle so! If you had studied your lesson you wouldn’t be so fidgety. Now, Earl, what is the lesson Jesus was trying to teach his disciples? The one thing I want you to especially remember, boys, is the words, ’With God all things are possible.’ Just think of that always—Clarence, please pay attention—just say ‘With God all things are possible’ whenever you feel discouraged, and, Alec, will you read the next verse; if you’d pay attention you wouldn’t lose your place!”