Freethought Archives > G W Foote > Flowers of Freethought

PAUL ON WOMEN.

CHRISTIANITY, as the centuries have revealed its practical character, owes more to Paul than to Jesus. Its dogmas are mostly derived from the epistles of the great apostle. Many a true believer thinks he is obeying the carpenter's son, when all the time he is obeying the Tarsus tent-maker. The Christian road to heaven was laid out and paved, not by Jesus himself, but by the gentleman he (or a sunstroke) converted outside Damascus.

Paul was in some respects a better teacher than Jesus. He was more practical, and with all his misty metaphysics he had a firmer hold on the realities of life. But with respect to women, he follows dutifully in his Savior's wake, and elaborates, rather than supplements, the sexual injunctions we have already dealt with. Like his Master, he looks down upon marriage, and is evidently of opinion that if men should not make themselves eunuchs they should live as such. The American Shakers are only carrying out his policy in this respect. If all the world imitated them the human race would soon expire. It would then be impossible to adopt the children of outsiders, families would be gradually extinguished, and the second coming of Christ would be prematurely hastened.

Paul was a bachelor, and a crusty one. According to tradition or calumny, he was jilted by a Jewish woman, and this may account for his peevish attitude towards the sex. In the seventh chapter of the first of Corinthians he gives vent to a great deal of nasty nonsense. "It is good," he says, "for a man not to touch a woman." If he had meant by this that men were not to thrash their wives we should have thoroughly agreed with him. But what he means is that there should be no sexual intercourse. He was especially severe on young widows who contemplated a second marriage. No doubt if he had seen a young widow whose weeds, as is generally the case, were arranged coquettishly, he would have muttered "Anathema Maranatha." As his own constitution was liable to occasional weaknesses, he might have added, "Get thee behind me, Satan."

A few verses later he expresses himself with greater clearness than Jesus Christ ever attained to: "I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn." Paul wished the same end as Jesus. He desired to see every person celibate, but having a little more common sense than Jesus, he saw that such preaching would never be extensively practised (especially by young widows) and he was obliged to make a concession to human frailty. The very fact, however, shows that his view of the question was radically wrong. Marriage is not an excusable weakness, but the normal condition of mankind. Physiologically, mentally, and morally this truth holds good. Even the highest virtues have never sprung from monasteries and convents, but from the rude rough world of toiling and suffering men and women outside.

According to Paul, although marriage was lawful, virginity was a higher state; that is, to be perfect, a woman must stultify her nature and trample upon her maternal instincts. It also implies that she is essentially impure, and that she can only please God by abnegating her sex. This is the deepest disrespect of womanhood, as every healthy wife and mother would admit if such stuff were taught by another than Paul.

The great apostle troubled his poor head about the heads of women. If he lived now when the ladies affect short hair he would go raving mad. It was a subject on which he felt profoundly. To his mind a woman losing her long hair, was like an angel falling from glory. He warns the whole sex against meddling with their tresses. Men, however, are recommended to crop close, long hair being "shameful." We have a shrewd suspicion that Paul was bald. Perhaps if hair restorer had been then invented a successful trial might have considerably changed his views upon this subject.

Man was not created for woman, says Paul, but woman for man. He is of course alluding to the old Rib Story. But a similar observation would have been as sensible about the two halves of a pair of scissors. When they meet what does it matter which was made for the other? Consistently with this view he says, "Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands as unto the Lord . . . as the Church is subject unto Christ so let the wives be to their husbands in everything." Some men have tried this with no great success, and many a man thinks he is having his own way "in everything" when he is when he is sweetly and beautifully led by the nose. Obedience is a hateful word in marriage. Its introduction makes the wife a legalised concubine. Besides, if there must be obedience, Paul's rule is ridiculously sweeping, for some women have more sense and judgment than their husbands. Every afflicted woman who applies to the magistrate for relief from the sot who curses her home is flying in the face of Paul. "My dear woman," the magistrate should say, "your request is very reasonable, but it is very unorthodox. Go home and read the fifth chapter of Ephesians, where you will see that wives must obey their husbands in everything."

Paul (1 Cor. xiv. 34, 35; Tim. ii. 11, 12) warns women to keep silence in church, for "it is not permitted unto them to speak." Having written this line, Paul must have got up and strutted round the room like a ruffled cock. "Let the woman," he says, "learn in silence with all subjection. I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence." Hear, hear! from the males in the body of the synagogue. Evidently Paul could bray on occasion as lustily as Balaam's ass. If the women "will learn anything," which he clearly thought problematical, "let them ask their husbands at home." Fancy some women with no other sources of information!

The reason Paul gives for woman's inferiority is that Mrs. Eve was first tempted by the serpent. And a capital thing too! If Mrs. Eve had not eaten that apple the human race would still number two, or else, if none of them died, they would be thicker than barrelled herrings.

Our Church of England marriage service follows the teaching of Paul. While the husband promises to love the wife, the wife promises to love, honor and obey the husband. Many ladies say these words at the altar with a mental reservation. When they are obliged to do this they tacitly admit that Paul and the Church are wrong. But if so the Bible is wrong. The fact is that the "blessed book," instead of being woman's best friend, is her worst enemy. The Tenth Commandment makes her domestic property, and Paul winds up by telling her that her sole duty is to play second fiddle in a minor key.
 


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