Nor should you imagine that this saintly stupidity was in any way unique in the Anglican establishment. We read in the letters of Shelley how his father tormented him with Archdeacon Paley’s “Evidences” as a cure for atheism. This eminent churchman wrote a book, which he himself ranked first among his writings, called “Reasons for Contentment, addressed to the Labouring Classes of the British Public.” In this book he not merely proved that religion “smooths all inequalities, because it unfolds a prospect which makes all earthly distinctions nothing”; he went so far as to prove that, quite apart from religion, the British exploiters were less fortunate than those to whom they paid a shilling a day.
Some of the conditions which poverty (if the condition of the labouring part of mankind must be so called) imposes, are not hardships, but pleasures. Frugality itself is a pleasure. It is an exercise of attention and contrivance, which, whenever it is successful, produces satisfaction.... This is lost among abundance.
And there was William Wilberforce, as sincere a philanthropist as Anglicanism ever produced, an ardent supporter of Bible societies and foreign missions, a champion of the anti-slavery movement, and also of the ruthless “Combination Laws,” which denied to British wage-slaves all chance of bettering their lot. Wilberforce published a “Practical View of the System of Christianity”, in which he told unblushingly what the Anglican establishment is for. In a chapter which he described as “the basis of all politics,” he explained that the purpose of religion is to remind the poor
That their more lowly path has been allotted to them by the hand of God; that it is their part faithfully to discharge its duties, and contentedly to bear its inconveniences; that the objects about which worldly men conflict so eagerly are not worth the contest; that the peace of mind, which Religion offers indiscriminately to all ranks, affords more true satisfaction than all the expensive pleasures which are beyond the poor man’s reach; that in this view the poor have the advantage; that if their superiors enjoy more abundant comforts, they are also exposed to many temptations from which the inferior classes are happily exempted; that, “having food and raiment, they should be therewith content,” since their situation in life, with all its evils, is better than they have deserved at the hand of God; and finally, that all human distinctions will soon be done away, and the true followers of Christ will all, as children of the same Father, be alike admitted to the possession of the same heavenly inheritance. Such are the blessed effects of Christianity on the temporal well-being of political communities.