Freethought Archives > G.W. Foote > Arrows of Freethought (1882)


(May, 1882.)

Last Sunday the myriads of Paris turned out to the Chantilly races. The sun shone brilliantly, and all went merry as a marriage bell. Yet there was no drunkenness or disorder; on the contrary, the multitude behaved with such decorum, that one English correspondent said it would not have appeared strange if a bishop had stepped forward in full canonicals to give them his benediction.

Why cannot Englishmen enjoy their Sunday's leisure like the French? Because we are still under the bondage of Puritanism; because our religious dress is nothing but Hebrew Old Clothes; because we follow Moses instead of Jesus; because we believe that man was made for the Sabbath, instead of the Sabbath for man; because, in short, there are in England a lot of sour Christians who play the dog in the manger, and will neither enjoy themselves on Sunday nor let anyone else. They often prate about liberty, but they understand it as the Yankee did, who defined it as the right to do as he pleased and the right to make everybody else do so too.

Let us all be unhappy on Sunday, is the burden of their song. Now, we have no objection to their being miserable, if they desire it, on that or any other day. This is supposed to be a free country; you decide to be wretched and you select your own time for the treat. But you have no right to interfere with your neighbors. This, however, is what the Christians, with their customary "cheek," will insist on doing. They like going to the church and the public-house on Sunday, and those establishments are permitted to open; they have no wish to go elsewhere, and so they keep all other establishments closed. This is mere impudence. Let them go where they choose, and allow the same freedom to other people. Those who advocate a free Sunday ask for no favor; they demand justice. They do not propose to compel any Christian to enter a museum, a library, or an art gallery; they simply claim the right to go in themselves.

The denial of that right is a violation of liberty, which every free man is bound to resent.

This country is said to be civilised. To a certain extent it is, but all our civilisation has been won against Christianity and its brutal laws. Our toiling masses, in factory, mine, shop, and counting-house, have one day of leisure in the week. Rightly considered it is of infinite value. It is a splendid breathing-time. We cast off the storm and stress of life, fling aside the fierce passion of gain, and let the spirit of humanity throb in our pulses and stream from our eyes. Our fellow man is no longer a rival, but a brother. His gain is not our loss. We enrich each other by the noble give-and-take of fellowship, and feel what it really is to live. Yet our Christian legislature tries its utmost to spoil the boon. It cannot prevent us from visiting each other, or walking as far as our legs will carry us; but almost everything else is tabooed. Go to church, it says. Millions answer, We are sick of going; we have heard the same old story until it is unspeakably stale, and many of the sermons have been so frequently repeated that we suspect they were bought by the dozen. Then it says, Go to the public-house. But a huge multitude answer, We don't want to go there either, except for a minute to quench our thirst; we have no wish for spirituous any more than spiritual intoxication; we desire some other alternative than gospel or gin. Then our Christian legislature answers, You are discontented fools. It crushes down their better aspirations, and condemns them to a wearisome inactivity.

Go through London, the metropolis of the world, as we call it, on a Sunday. How utterly dreary it is! The shutters are all up before the gay shop-windows. You pace mile after mile of streets, with sombre houses on either hand as though tenanted by the dead. You stand in front of the British Museum, and it looks as if it had been closed since the date of the mummies inside. You yearn to walk through its galleries, to gaze on the relics of antiquity, to inspect the memorials of the dead, to feel the subtle links that bind together the past and the present and make one great family of countless generations of men. But you must wander away disappointed and dejected. You repair to the National Gallery. You long to behold the masterpieces of art, to have your imagination quickened and thrilled by the glories of form and color, to look once more on some favorite picture which touches your nature to its finest issues. But again you are foiled. You desire to visit a library, full of books you cannot buy, and there commune with the great minds who have left their thoughts to posterity. But you are frustrated again. You are cheated out of your natural right, and treated less like a man than a dog.

This Christian legislature has much to answer for. Drunkenness is our great national vice. And how is it to be overcome? Preaching will not do it. Give Englishmen a chance, furnish them with counter attractions, and they will abjure intoxication like their continental neighbors. Elevate their tastes, and they will feel superior to the vulgar temptation of drink. Every other method has been tried and has failed; this is the only method that promises success.

Fortunately the Sunday question is growing. Christian tyranny is evidently doomed. Mr. Howard's motion for the opening of public museums and art galleries, although defeated, received the support of eighty-five members of Parliament. That minority will increase again next year, and in time it will become a majority. Mr. Broadhurst, for some peculiar reason, voted against it, but we imagine he will some day repent of his action. The working-classes are fools if they listen to the idle talk about Sunday labor, with which the Tories and bigots try to bamboozle them. The opening of public institutions on Sunday would not necessitate a hundredth part of the labor already employed in keeping open places of worship, and driving rich people to and fro. All the nonsense about the thin end of the wedge is simply dust thrown into their eyes. The very people who vote against Sunday freedom under a pretence of opposing Sunday labor, keep their own servants at work and visit the "Zoo" in the afternoon, where they doubtless chuckle over the credulity of the lower orders. Christian tyranny unites with Tory oppression to debase and enslave the people. It is time that both were imperiously stopped. The upper classes wish to keep us ignorant, and parsons naturally want everybody else's shutters up when they open shop. We ought to see through the swindle. Let us check their impudence, laugh at their hypocrisy, and rescue our Sunday from their hands.

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