The Necessity of Atheism (Brooks)/Chapter XVII


She was the first in the transgression therefore keep her in subjection.

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Fierce is the dragon and cunning the asp; but woman has the malice of both. St. Gregory of Nazianzum.

Thou art the devil's gate, the betrayer of the tree, the first deserter of the Divine Law. Tertullin.

What does it matter whether it be in the person of mother or sister; we have to beware Eve in every woman.

How much better two men could live and converse together than a man and a woman. St Augustine

No gown worse becomes a woman than the desire to be wise. Luther

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The Bible and the Church have been the greatest stumbling blocks in the way of women's emancipation. Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

It is noticed in most calculations of churchgoers that women have remained attached to the churches in a far higher proportion than men. The proportion of women in the churches is vastly greater than their proportion in the general population. Most of the men who still passively attend their churches do so under the pressure of professional interest or social or domestic influence.

The degree of religiosity has always been associated with the free play of the emotions and woman being more imaginative and emotional than man, it seems clear that this strong emotional factor in woman accounts, at least partly, for the greater proportion of women as churchgoers. And this, be it noted, lies not in any inherent inferiority in the mental make-up of woman, but rather in the environmental influences that until very recently shaped woman's education in such a manner that it was little adapted to strengthening her reason, but rather calculated to enhance her emotionalism.

Ecclesiastic historians have a notorious habit of viewing pre-Christian times for the single biased purpose of only stating the aspects of that civilization which they deemed inferior to that exerted by Christianity. Researches have established fairly well the position of women in the Egyptian community of 4000 years ago. It is no exaggeration to state that she was free and more honored in Egypt 4000 years ago, than she was in any country of the earth until only recently. Scholars assure us that, at a period which the Bible claims the Earth was just coming into being, the Egyptian matron was mistress of her home, she inherited equally with her brothers, and had full control of her property. She could go where she liked and speak to whom she pleased. She could bring actions in the courts and even plead in the courts. The traditional advice to the husband was, "Make glad her heart during the time that thou hast."

Contrast this position of woman in the community and society in general with the statement given in Mrs. E. Cady Stanton's "History of Woman's Suffrage," in which she speaks of the status of the female of the species in Boston about the year 1850. "Women could not hold any property, either earned or inherited. If unmarried, she was obliged to place it in the hands of a trustee, to whose will she was subject. If she contemplated marriage, and desired to call her property her own, she was forced by law to make a contract with her intended husband by which she gave up all title or claim to it. A woman, either married or unmarried, could hold no office or trust or power. She was not a person. She was not recognized as a citizen. She was not a factor in the human family. She was not a unit, but a zero in the sum of civilization.... The status of a married woman was little better than- that of a domestic servant. By the English Common Law her husband was her lord and master. He had the sole custody of her person and of her minor children. He could punish her 'with a stick no bigger than his thumb' and she could not complain against him.... The common law of the State [Massachusetts] held man and wife to be one person, but that person was the husband. He could by will deprive her of every part of his property, and also of what had been her own before marriage. He was the owner of all her real estate and earnings. The wife could make no contract and no will, nor, without her husband's consent, dispose of the legal interest of her real estate.... She did not own a rag of her clothing. She had no personal rights and could hardly call her soul her own. Her husband could steal her children, rob her of her clothing, neglect to Support the family: she had no legal redress. If a wife earned money by her own labor, the husband could claim the pay as his share of the proceeds." With such a contrast in mind, it is indeed difficult to see where the truth of the assertion lies when it is stated that the status of woman was indeed pitiful until Christianity exerted its influence for her betterment. And it is again curious to note that after a period of nearly 2000 years of Christian influence it was left for a sceptic such as Mrs. Stanton and her sceptical co-workers to bring about an amelioration of the degrading position of woman in Christian society.

The degrading picture of womankind as depicted in the Old Testament is well known to anyone who has glanced through this storehouse of mythology. It would be well for the multitude of devout female adherents of all creeds to take the time, just a little of the time they give to the plight of the poor, benighted heathen and read. some of the passages in the Old Testament dealing with their lot. The entire history of woman under the administration of these "heaven-made" laws is a record of her serviture and humility.

In the 24th chapter of Deuteronomy we find the right of divorce given to the husband. "Let him write her a bill of divorcement and give it in her hand and send her out of his house." The discarded wife must acquiesce to "divine justice." But if the wife is displeased, is there any justice? Under no clause of the Divorce Law could the wife have a divorce on her part. None but the husband could put her asunder from him.

In the 22d chapter of Deuteronomy is enacted the law for "Test of Virginity," which states that, "If any man take a wife, and is disappointed in her, and reports, 'I found her not a maid,’ then, her father and mother shall bring forth the tokens of the damsel's virginity unto the elders of the city in the gate." The gynecological elders then go into a "peeping Tom's" conference and "If virginity be not found for the damsel: Then they shall bring out the damsel to the door of her father's house, and the men of the city shall stone her with stones that she die." Most probably the male partner in her "crime" was the first to cast the largest stone.

The law laid down in the 12th chapter of Leviticus may have been intended for hygienic purposes but it is cruel and degrading to women because it assumes that the parturient woman who has borne a female child is twice as impure as one who has borne a male child.

The "law of jealousies" as described in the 5th chapter of Numbers is a good example of the mentality of the writers of this "divine revelation." God in His infinite wisdom had caused to be written for Him, that to test whether a woman has laid carnally with another man, the priest shall, "take holy water in an earthen vessel, and of the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle the priest shall take and put it in the water ... the bitter water that causeth the curse, and shall cause the woman to drink the water." The divine revelation then continues with, "if she be defiled, her belly shall swell and her thigh shall rot."

But after all, God did not know that in the dust of the Tabernacle sprawled the germs of Dysentery, Cholera, and Tuberculosis, and a few other such mild infections. Or did the Divine Father know that even a self-respecting germ could not inhabit the filthy floor of the Tabernacle?

Consequently, it is not to be wondered at that in the "good old days of the old-fashioned woman," the acme of hospitality was the giving of wife or daughter to a visitor for the night. It was not religion that put an end to this barbarous custom; it was the advance of civilization; not the religious force, but the place rational thinking assumed in the life of people.

The following is a description of a religious riot which took place in Alexandria during the early days of the Church: "Among the many victims of these unhappy tumults was Hypatia, a maiden not more distinguished for her beauty than for her learning and her virtues. Her father was Theon, the illustrious mathematician who had early initiated his daughter in the mysteries of philosophy. The classic groves of Athens and the schools of Alexandria equally applauded her attainments and listened to the pure music of her lips. She respectfully declined the tender attentions of lovers, but, raised to the chair of Gamaliel, suffered youth and age, without preference or favor, to sit indiscriminately at her feet. Her fame and increasing popularity ultimately excited the jealousy of St. Cyril, at that time the Bishop of Alexandria, and her friendship. for his antagonist, Orestes, the prefect of the city, entailed on her devoted head the crushing weight of his enmity. In her way through the city, her chariot was surrounded by his creatures, headed by a crafty and savage fanatic named Peter the Reader, and the, young and innocent woman was dragged to the ground, stripped of her garments, paraded naked through the streets, and then torn limb from limb on the steps of the Cathedral. The still warm flesh was scraped from her bones with oyster-shells, and the bleeding fragments thrown into a furnace, so that not an atom of the beautiful virgin should escape destruction." The cruelty of man when spurred on by the mania of religious zeal!

In more historic times there are numerous instances of the tyranny exercised over women by the feudal system. Feudalism, composed as it was of military ideas and ecclesiastical traditions, exercised the well known "rights of seigniory." These "rights" comprised a jurisdiction which is now unprintable, and had even the power to deprive woman of life itself.

A history of the licentiousness of the monks and the early popes would fill a great number of volumes; and indeed, many are the volumes which have been devoted to this subject. It will suffice to point out only a few representative incidents. In 1259, Alexander IV tried to disrupt the shameful union between concubines and the clergy. Henry III, Bishop of Liege, was such a fatherly sort of individual that he had sixty-five "natural children!" William, Bishop of Padreborn, in 1410, although successful in reducing such powerful enemies as the Archbishop of Cologne, and the Count of Cloves by fire and sword, was powerless against the dissolute morals of his own monks, who were chiefly engaged in the corruption of women. Indeed, the Swiss clergy in 1230, frankly stated that they "were flesh and blood, unequal to the task of living like angels." The Council of Cologne, in 1307, tried in vain to give the nuns a chance to live virtuous lives; to protect them from priestly seduction. Conrad, Bishop of Wurzburg, in 1521, accused his priests of habitual "gluttony, drunkenness, gambling, quarrelling, and lust." Erasmus warned his clergy against concubinage. The Abbot of St. Pilazo de Antealtarin was proved by competent witnesses to have no less than seventy concubines. The old and wealthy Abbey of St. Albans was little more than a den of prostitutes, with whom the monks lived openly and avowedly. The Duke of Nuremburg, in 1522, was concerned with the clerical immunity of monks who night and day preyed upon the virtue of the wives and daughters of the laity.

The Church openly carried on a sale of indulgences in lust to ecclesiastics which finally took the form of a tax. The Bishop of Utrecht in 1347 issued an order prohibiting the admittance of men to nunneries. In Spain, conditions became so intolerable that the communities forced their priests to select concubines so that the wives and daughters would be safe from the ravages of the clergy.

"The torture, the maiming, and the murder of Elgira by Dunstan illustrates further, amongst thousands and thousands of similar bloody deeds, the diabolical brutality of superstition perpetuated in the name of Christianity upon women in the earlier centuries of our epoch. Indeed, religious superstition always has contrived to rob, to pester, to deceive, and to degrade women." (Author:Ralcy Husted Bell|Bell]]: "Women from Bondage to Freedom")

During the Middle Ages, the ages in which the Church was in complete domination of all forms of endeavor, the status of woman was no better than the general conditions of the time. This Age of Faith is characterized by "the violence and knavery that covered the whole country, the plagues and famines that decimated towns and villages every few years, the flood of spurious and indecent relics, the degradation of the clergy and monks, the slavery of the serfs, the daily brutalities of the ordeal and the torture, the course and bloody pastimes, the insecurity of life, the triumphant ravages of disease, the check of scientific inquiry and a hundred other features of medieval life." (Joseph McCabe: "Religion of Woman")

The Church was chiefly responsible for the terrible persecutions inflicted on women on the ground of witchcraft and this must be taken into calculation when one considers what woman owes to religion. The Reformation reduced woman to the position of a mere breeder of children. During the sway of Puritanism woman was a poor, benighted being, a human toad under the harrow of a pious imbecility.

The pioneers in the Modern Woman Movement in this country were, of course, Mrs. Stanton, Mrs. Gage, and Miss Susan B. Anthony. In their "History of Woman Suffrage" they comment on the vicious opposition which the early workers encountered in New York. "Throughout this protracted and disgraceful assault on American womanhood the clergy baptised every new insult and act of injustice in the name of the Christian religion, and uniformly asked God's blessing on proceedings that would have put to shame an assembly of Hottentots."

And while the clergy either remained silent or heaped abuse on this early movement, such freethinkers as Robert Owen, Jeremy Bentham, George Jacob Holyoake, and John Stuart Mill in England entered the fray wholeheartedly in behalf of the emancipation of woman. In France it was Michelet and George Sand that came to their aid. In , Germany it was Max Sterner, Büchner, Marx, Engels, and Liebknecht. In Scandinavia it was Ibsen and Björnson.

The battle was begun by freethinkers in defiance of the clergy and it was only when the inevitable conquest of this movement was manifest that any considerable number of clergy came to the aid of this progressive movement. The righting of the wrongs imposed on womankind therefore had been started not only without the aid of the churches but in face of their determined opposition. It was not the clergy that discovered the injustice that had been done to women throughout the centuries, and when it was finally pointed out to them by sceptics, it was the rare ecclesiastic that could see it so and attempt to right the wrong.

R. H. Bell, in tracing this struggle of woman in her publication, "Woman from Bondage to Freedom," has this pertinent remark to make. "If there are any personal rights in this world over which Church and State should have no control, it is the sexual right of a woman to say, 'Yes' or 'No.' These and similar rights are so deeply imbedded in natural morality that no clear-headed, clean-hearted person would wish to controvert them.... Enforced motherhood, through marriage or otherwise, is a mixed form of slavery, voluntary motherhood is the glory of a free soul."

In the age-long struggle for freedom, woman's most rigorous antagonist has always been the Church.