Robert Green Ingersoll
PREFACE TO HELEN H. GARDENER’S
NOTHING gives me more pleasure, nothing gives greater promise for the future, than the fact that woman is achieving intellectual and physical liberty.
It is refreshing to know that here, in our country, there are thousands of women who think, and express their thoughts — who are thoroughly free and thoroughly conscientious — who have neither been narrowed nor corrupted by a heartless creed — who do not worship a being in heaven whom they would shudderingly loathe on earth — women who do not stand before the altar of a cruel faith, with downcast eyes of timid acquiescence, and pay to impudent authority the tribute of a thoughtless yes. They are no longer satisfied with being told. They examine for themselves. They have ceased to be the prisoners of society — the satisfied serfs of husbands, or the echoer of priests. They demand the rights that naturally belong to intelligent human beings. If wives, they wish to be the equals of husbands. If mothers, they wish to rear their children in the atmosphere of love, liberty and philosophy. They believe that woman can discharge all her duties without the aid of superstition, and preserve all that is true, pure, and tender, without sacrificing in the temple of absurdity the convictions of the soul.
Woman is not the intellectual inferior of man. She has lacked not mind, but opportunity. In the long night of barbarism, physical strength and the cruelty to use it, were the badges of superiority. Muscle was more than mind. In the ignorant age of Faith, the loving nature of woman was abused. Her conscience was rendered morbid and diseased. It might almost be said that she was betrayed by her own virtues. At best she secured, not opportunity, but flattery — the preface to degradation. She was deprived of liberty, and without that, nothing is worth the having. She was taught to obey without question, and to believe without thought. There were universities for men before the alphabet had been taught to women. At the intellectual feast, there we’re no places for wives and mothers. Even now they sit at the second table and eat the crusts and crumbs. The schools for women, at the present time, are just far enough behind those for men, to fall heirs to the discarded; on the same principle that when a doctrine becomes too absurd for the pulpit, it is given to the Sunday-school.
The ages of muscle and miracle — of fists and faith — are passing away. Minerva occupies at last a higher niche than Hercules. Now a word is stronger than a blow. At last we see women who depend upon themselves — who stand, self poised, the shocks of this sad world, without leaning for support against a church — who do not go to the literature of barbarism for consolation, or use the falsehoods and mistakes of the past for the foundation of their hope — women brave enough and tender enough to meet and bear the facts and fortunes of this world.
The men who declare that woman is the intellectual inferior of man, do not, and cannot, by offering themselves in evidence, substantiate their declaration.
Yet, I must admit that there are thousands of wives who still have faith in the saving power of superstition — who still insist on attending church while husbands prefer the shores, the woods, or the fields. In this way, families are divided. Parents grow apart, and unconsciously the pearl of greatest price is thrown away. The wife ceases to be the intellectual companion of the husband. She reads The Christian Register, sermons in the Monday papers, and a little gossip about folks and fashions, while he studies the works of Darwin, Haeckel, and Humboldt. Their sympathies become estranged. They are no longer mental friends. The husband smiles at the follies of the wife, and she weeps for the supposed sins of the husband. Such wives should read this book. They should not be satisfied to remain forever in the cradle of thought, amused with the toys of superstition.
The parasite of woman is the priest.
It must also be admitted that there are thousands of men who believe that superstition is good for women and children — who regard falsehood as the fortress of virtue, and feel indebted to ignorance for the purity of daughters and the fidelity of wives. These men think of priests as detectives in disguise, and regard God as a policeman who prevents elopements. Their opinions about religion are as correct as their estimate of woman.
The church furnishes but little food for the mind. People of intelligence are growing tired of the platitudes of the pulpit — the iterations of the itinerants. The average sermon is “as tedious as a twice told tale vexing the ears of a drowsy man.”
One Sunday a gentleman, who is a great inventor, called at my house. Only a few words had passed between us, when he arose, saying that he must go as it was time for church. Wondering that a man of his mental wealth could enjoy the intellectual poverty of the pulpit, I asked for an explanation, and he gave me the following: “You know that I am an inventor. Well, the moment my mind becomes absorbed in some difficult problem, I am afraid that something may happen to distract my attention. Now, I know that I can sit in church for an hour without the slightest danger of having the current of my thought disturbed.”
Most women cling to the Bible because they have been taught that to give up that book is to give up all hope of another life of ever meeting again the loved and lost. They have also been taught that the Bible is their friend, their defender, and the real civilizer of man.
Now, if they will only read this book — these three lectures, without fear, and then read the Bible, they will see that the truth or falsity of the dogma of inspiration has nothing to do with the question of immortality. Certainly the Old Testament does not teach us that there is another life, and upon that question even the New is obscure and vague. The hunger of the heart finds only a few small and scattered crumbs. There is nothing definite, solid, and satisfying. United with the idea of immortality we find the absurdity of the resurrection. A prophecy that depends for its fulfillment upon an impossibility, cannot satisfy the brain or heart.
There are but few who do not long for a dawn beyond the night. And this longing is born of and nourished by the heart. Love wrapped in shadow — bending with tear-filled eyes above its dead, convulsively clasps the outstretched hand of hope.
I had the pleasure of introducing Miss Gardener to her first audience, and in that introduction said a few words that I will repeat.
“We do not know, we cannot say, whether death is a wall or a door; the beginning or end of a day; the spreading of pinions to soar, or the folding forever of wings; the rise or the set of a sun, or an endless life that brings the rapture of love to every one.
“Under the seven-hued arch of hope let the dead sleep.”
They will also discover, as they read the “Sacred Volume,” that it is not the friend of woman. They will find that the writers of that book, for the most part, speak of woman as a poor beast of burden, a serf, a drudge, a kind of necessary evil — as mere property. Surely, a book that upholds polygamy is not the friend of wife and mother.
Even Christ did not place woman on an equality with man. He said not one word about the sacredness of home, the duties of the husband to the wife — nothing calculated to lighten the hearts of those who bear the saddest burdens of this life.
They will also find that the Bible has not civilized mankind. A book that establishes and defends slavery and wanton war is not calculated to soften the hearts of those who believe implicitly that it is the work of God. A book that not only permits, but commands, religious persecution, has not, in my judgment, developed the affectionate nature of man. Its influence has been bad and bad only. It has filled the world with bitterness, revenge and crime, and retarded in countless ways the progress of our race.
The writer of this volume has read the Bible with open eyes. The mist of sentimentality has not clouded her vision. She has had the courage to tell the result of her investigations. She has been quick to discover contradictions. She appreciates the humorous side of the stupidly solemn. Her heart protests against the cruel, and her brain rejects the childish, the unnatural and absurd. There is no misunderstanding between her head and heart. She says what she thinks, and feels what she says.
No human being can answer her arguments. There is no answer. All the priests in the world cannot explain away her objections. There is no explanation. They should remain dumb, unless they can show that the impossible is the probable — that slavery is better than freedom — that polygamy is the friend of woman — that the innocent can justly suffer for the guilty, and that to persecute for opinion’s sake is an act of love and worship.
Wives who cease to learn — who simply forget and believe — will fill the evening of their lives with barren sighs and bitter tears.
The mind should outlast youth. If when beauty fades, Thought, the deft and unseen sculptor, hath not left his subtle lines upon the face, then all is lost. No charm is left. The light is out. There is no flame within to glorify the wrinkled clay.
Hoffman House, New York, July, 22, 1885.