Freethought Archives > G W Foote > Flowers of Freethought


"FOR religions," says Michelet, "woman is mother, tender guardian, and faithful nurse. The gods are like men; they are reared, and they die, upon her bosom." Truer words were never uttered. Michelet showed in La Sorcière, from which this extract is taken, as well as in many other writings, that he fully understood the fulcrum of priestcraft and the secret of superstition. Women are everywhere the chief, and in some places the only, supporters of religion. Even in Paris, where Freethinkers abound, the women go to church and favor the priest. Naturally, they impress their own views on the children, for while the father's influence is fitful through his absence from home, the mother's is constant and therefore permanent. Again and again the clergy have restored their broken power by the hold upon that sex which men pretend to think the weaker, although they are obviously the sovereigns of every generation. Men may resolve to go where they please, but if they cannot take the women with them they will never make the journey. Women do not resist progress, they simply stand still, and by their real, though disguised, rule over the family, they keep the world with them. Freethinkers should look this fact in the face. Blinking it is futile. Whoever does that imitates the hunted ostrich, who does not escape his doom by hiding his head. The whole question lies in a nutshell. Where one sex is, the other will be; and there is a terrible, yet withal a beautiful, truth in the upshot of Mill's argument, that if men do not lift women up, women will drag men down. In the education and elevation of women, then, lies the great hope of the future. Leading Freethinkers have always seen this. Shelley's great cry, "Can man be free if woman be a slave?" is one witness, and Mill's great essay on The Subjection of Women is another.

Go where you will, you find the priests courting the women. They act thus, not because they despise men, or fear them, but because they (often unconsciously) feel that when they have captured the "weaker" sex, the other becomes a speedy prey. Perhaps a dim perception of this truth hovered in the minds of those who composed the story of the Fall. The serpent does not bother about Adam. He just makes sure of Eve, and she settles her "stronger" half. Milton makes Adam reluct and wrangle, but it is easy to see he will succumb to his wife's persuasions. He swears he won't eat, but Eve draws him all the time with a silken string, mightier than the biggest cable.

When the Christian monks were proselytizing at Rome, they were hated, says Jortin, "as beggarly impostors and hungry Greeks who seduced ladies of fortune and quality." Hated, yes; but what did the hatred avail? The women were won, and the game was over. Men growled, but they had to yield. The same holds good to-day. Watch the congregations streaming out of church, count ten bonnets to one hat, and you might fancy Christianity played out because the men stay at home and neglect its ministrations. Nothing of the sort. Men may desert the churches as they like, but while the women go the clergy are safe. Examine the church and chapel organisations closely, and you will see how nine-tenths of everything is designed for women and children. Yes, the bonnet is the priest's talisman. Like Constantine's legendary cross, it bears the sign By this conquer.

On the other hand, the clergy never fail to remind women that religion is their best friend. Without our doctrines and our holy Church, they say, there would be social chaos; the wild passions of men would spurn control, marriage would be despised, wives would become mistresses, homes would disappear, and children would be treated as encumbrances. There is not a grain of truth in this, for religion has fomented, countenanced, or cloaked, more sensuality and selfishness than it has ever repressed. But it is a powerful appeal to woman's healthy domestic sentiment. She feels, if she does not know, that marriage is her sheet-anchor, and the home an ark on a weltering flood. When the priest tells her that religion is the surety of both, he plucks at her heart, which vibrates to its depths, and she regards him as her savior.

Historically, the Christian religion, at least, has never been woman's real friend. It claims credit for everything; but what has it achieved? Monogamy was practised by the rude Teutons before Christianity "converted" them by fraud and force, and it was the law in pagan Greece and Rome before the Christian era. Yet in the Bible there is not a word against polygamy. God's favorites had as many wives as they could manage, and Solomon had enough to manage him. In the New Testament there is only one man who is told to be "the husband of one wife," and that is a bishop. Even in his case, a facetious sceptic hints, and the Mormons argue, that the command only means that he must have one wife at least.

There are two supreme figures in the New Testament, Paul and Jesus. What Paul says about women I will deal with presently. For the moment I confine myself to Jesus. Let the reader remember that Christianity cannot transcend the Bible, any more than a stream can rise above its source.

Like most revivalists and popular preachers, Jesus had a number of women dangling at his heels, but his teaching on the subject in hand is barren, or worse. As a child, he gave his mother the slip at Jerusalem, and caused her much anxiety. During his ministry, when his mother and his brethren wished to speak with him, he forgot the natural ties of blood, and coolly remarked that his family were those who believed his gospel. On another occasion he roughly said to Mary, "Woman, what have I to do with thee?" These examples are not very edifying. If Christ is our great exemplar, the fashion he set of treating his nearest relatives is "more honored in the breach than in the observance."

Jesus appears to have despised the union of the sexes, therefore marriage, and therefore the home. He taught that in heaven, where all are perfect, there is neither marrying nor giving in marriage; the saints being like angels, probably of the neuter gender. In Matthew xix. 12 he appears to recommend emasculation, praising those who make themselves "eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake." This doctrine is too high for flesh and blood, but Origen and other early Christians practised it literally. We may be sure that those who trample on manhood have no real respect for womanhood. Hence the Romish Church has always praised up virginity, which is simply an abnegation of sex. Cruden shrinks from the literal sense of Christ's words, and says that the "eunuchs" he refers to are those who "upon some religious motive do abstain from marriage and the use of all carnal pleasures; that they may be less encumbered with the cares of the world, and may devote themselves more closely to the service of God." Moonshine! Origen was a better judge than Cruden. If Jesus did not mean what he said, why did he take the trouble to speak? His doctrine is that of the anchorite. It led naturally to the filthy wretches, called monks, who dreaded the sight of a woman, and hoped to please God by stultifying nature. It also led to the Church law forbidding women to touch the sacrament with their naked hands, lest they should pollute it. Only women who relish that infamous law can feel any respect for the teaching of Jesus.

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