Myriads of honest, industrious women in England are laboring excessively for a bare pittance; day after day they go through the same monotonous and exhausting round of toil; and the end of it all is a bit of bread for some who are dear to them, and a squalid, cheerless existence for themselves. Sometimes, when work is scarce, and sheer starvation confronts them, they are driven to the last resource of selling their bodies, and enter the unspeakable inferno of prostitution.
England has thousands of other women who are lapped in an enervating and degrading luxury—without occupation, with none but frivolous cares—who fancy themselves infinitely superior to their poor, slaving, ill-dressed, and toilworn sisters.
These disparities are as great as any that existed in the "infamous" days of pagan Rome. The world has had eighteen hundred years of Christianity, and its "salvation" is still in the dim and distant future.
While the clergy have preached a hell after death, the people have been left simmering in a real hell in this life—the hell of ignorance, poverty, oppression, and misery.
Christianity is now boasting of what it is going to do. It says it begins to understand Jesus Christ; it means to follows in its Master's footsteps; it will strain every nerve to raise the downtrodden, to better the condition of the poor, and to give true comfort to the afflicted. There are some individual Christians who mean this and try to practise it. But for the most part these fine new promises of Christianity are nothing but sermon decorations, words for deeds, sawdust for bread, flash notes for good coin of the realm.
We have but to look around us at this moment to see the true fruits of Christianity. It is the same fruit that all religion bears. Under the pretence of being the best friend of the people, Christianity (like other religions) has been the real friend of the privileged classes. It has also fostered a public sentiment in this direction. To prove this let us take a case in point.
Some time ago an English princess lost her lover by death. She was said to be inconsolable. But before long it was whispered that she was to marry her lover's brother. At length it was announced in the papers, only to be contradicted as a false rumor which very much hurt the feelings of all the parties it concerned. Those who understood the nature of such contradictions smiled. By and bye the contradicted rumor was announced authoritatively. Princess May was to marry the gentleman in question. "Now is the winter of our discontent made glorious summer by this sun of York."
All England was soon astir with loyal enthusiasm, and people were everywhere set subscribing for presents to the dear Princess. Soldiers and sailors are sweated. Pressure is put upon theatrical people. "You must give something," is the cry. The City of London is to spend £2,500 on a necklace. One lady gives the royal couple a splendid country house with magnificent grounds. Committees are formed right and left, and tens of thousands of pounds will be raised, on the ground that "unto him that hath shall be given"—in some cases, also, without neglecting the rest of the text, that "from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath."
Who is the Princess May? Very likely a pleasant young lady. Happily there are myriads of them in England. What has she ever done? She took the trouble to be born. Her husband that is to be has an income from "the service." His father has £36,000 a year, voted by Parliament, for the express purpose of providing for his children—in addition to his big income from other sources. All things considered, it does not seem that Princess May and the Duke of York are in want of anything. But how many other women—to say nothing of men—are in want! Is not this lavish generosity to a pair of royal and well-provided lovers an insult to the working people of England? Is it not a special insult to the multitude of poor, struggling women, whose earnings are taxed to support the classes who lord it over them? It may, of course, be replied that poor women like the idea of all these presents to the Princess. Perhaps they do. But that only makes it worse. It shows their training has corrupted them. The last vice of a slave is to admire his oppressor.
Christianity is satisfied with this state of things. Christian ministers will wink at it, when they do not bless it and approve it with a text. The Archbishop of Canterbury will officiate at the royal wedding, and deliver one of those courtier-like homilies which may be expected from one who takes £15,000 a year to preach the blessings of poverty and the damnable nature of wealth. This is what comes of eighteen hundred years of the "poor Carpenter's" religion. His texts of renunciation are idle verbiage. His name is used to bamboozle the people, to despoil them, and to make them patient asses under their burdens.
Religion and privilege go together. What does the New Testament say? "Fear God and honor the king." Fearing God means supporting the clergy. Honoring the king means keeping one family in foolish luxury, as a symbol of the whole system of privilege which is maintained by the systematic exploitation of the people. We are crucified between two thieves who mock us, but do not share our cross; the spiritual thief, who robs us of our birthright of mental freedom, and the temporal thief, who robs us of the fruit of our labor. Arcades ambo.
Some people will think we have written too plainly. We beg to tell them that we have had to practise self-restraint. The fat would be in the fire with a vengeance if we gave free expression to our disgust. The only hope for the future of society lies in the absolute extermination of Christianity. That is the superstition which fools and degrades Europe, and we must fight it to the death.