Lady Florence Dixie‘s Towards Freedom (1904) was first printed in the Agnostic Annual, and subsequently as a pamphlet by Watts & Co. The pamphlet is a scathing indictment of the effect of Christianity on the rights of women, and calls on its readers to reject superstition of all kinds.
‘‘Woman! the future holds a power for thee.
Thy will shall rule the feeble hands of kings;
Thy love shall drive men mad or make them great,
According as ’tis used. Within thy pow’r
A mighty wisdom lies to be diffused
For good or evil over all the world,
And men, whose pow’r a hundred lands obey,
Shall be as children in a woman’s hand.
For she shall ever bear that influence strange,
A sacred pow’r, the heirloom of her race,
Which fills a kingdom or exalts a throne.’”
At the age of fourteen I wrote those words, and I feel that when I did so it was not so much a child’s hand that penned the conception as the intuitive fingers of the seer.
It has been said that ‘the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world,’ and to a certain extent I subscribe to that dictum. Man has left the early years of the child in woman’s care, and it is from her: that it receives its first lessons and its earliest impressions. These lessons and impressions are seeds sown on fruitful soil. They take root, blossom, bear the usual results, and multiply upon the face: of the earth. At the tender age the majority of children leave their mother’s care and are committed to that of “barrack” schools, wherein the early curriculum of the mother is extended and enlarged; but the main point is never lost sight of: I mean the inequality of the sexes, which is proclaimed to be God-ordained. The “rib” doctrine is, in fact, sternly enforced.
Now, what is the root of this doctrine? The answer is, Inequality. The whole is greater than its part. The man, therefore, by divine dispensation, is greater than woman because she is but a part of him. She is the rib. Religion says this is the law of God; I say it is that of man. Superstition declares it to be a divine ordinance; I maintain it is a barbaric one. Superstition and barbaric law go hand-in-hand. It is the former which creates the latter ; and the acceptance of superstition by woman has been, and is, the cause of her subserviency and her degradation, for she is governed by barbaric law, which places the entire ruling power in the hands of the male. The male, true and faithful to the lessons he received after leaving the cradle, firstly at his mother’s knee, secondly in his barrack school, upholds the superstition he was taught to reverence, and proclaims as just and right the barbaric law it enforces. Has not his own mother assured him, at an age when all he learns from her lips is almost indelibly imprinted on his mind, that the rib doctrine is a sacred and divine one? If he supports a religion enforcing it, and makes laws in accordance with its teaching, can he be blamed? The whole is assuredly a more important personage than its part, and, as & consequence, is entitled to premier consideration. Upon this assumption are based the sacred laws assigning government, property, marital supremacy: – the possession of children, the premier rights of succession to crowns and estates, Church supremacy, and, in fact, sex privilege and masculine monopoly of power to the male sex. If woman is disinherited, which she assuredly is, she is such in consequence of barbaric law, the child of superstition, which she nurses.
As the boy goes to his barrack school, to there complete in unnatural surroundings his early education, so goes the girl to hers. In these male and female barracks the rib doctrine is all paramount. It heads the long list of precepts culled from the divine Bible, wherein is writ the Holy Word of God. In girls’ barracks it is the Alpha and Omega of the teaching therein. It impresses upon the girl that her ancestress was her rib, and moreover a male one; and, as the boy early assumes his divine- ordained supremacy, so assumes the girl her divine-ordained subserviency. The Bible is the charter of woman’s serfdom, and, as a consequence, of man’s degradation. It, like all superstitious God-books, is the outcome of ignorance ruled by selfishness. In the far past unscientific man, having evolved thought and speech, put into words the crude conceptions of his undeveloped brain, and, being unable to account for phenomena, created God and became a ventriloquist. The role of the ventriloquist is to make believe that what he is saying himself is being spoken by another. In the God-books of superstition the gods belonging to each voice the voice of man: but man the ventriloquist assures his audience that it is God’s voice reproduced in writing in the Bible and other god-books, and phenomena are proclaimed to be divine creation, and all things visible and invisible, the handiwork of an almighty male Deity, who lives in a Heaven, the Lord knows where, surrounded by angels whose composition is not female.
Now, such a teaching can only be accepted by either ignorant brains or brains from whom the right of thought has been taken away. The brain which accepts as true such irrational gibberish is the brain of a slave. Laws conceived and framed by persons swayed and influenced by what is false must of necessity be either selfish, one-sided, unfair, cruel, or degrading. Women, reared to believe as divinely true that which is false, hug their chains and teach their sons to rivet these upon them. The law permits them to do this; but the law will not allow a woman who, like myself, scorns to accept the dictates of un-reason, to have any control over the education of youth. Unbelievers such as I must acquiesce in the curriculum of superstition being taught to children they have born, if, peradventure, the father of those children so wills it. To that will woman is subservient, and her children can only be taught by her if she is willing to be the catspaw of orthodox belief—a belief she regards as untrue. In other words, the woman who bows to the “rib” doctrine or its equivalent, “the doctrine of inequality,” may for a short period of her life herself engraft it on her children’s minds, in the same way as a nurse may wash a baby or give it the feeding bottle—as a sort of nursery governess, in fact; but otherwise she is quickly made aware that she has no parental rights, is a nonentity, the descendant of a rib.
The point I wish to bring home to men and women is this: Slavery begets slavery. By enforcing the rib doctrine on women and its attendant subserviency, men bring upon themselves many of the ills from which they suffer. If they would carefully and dispassionately examine the question from that point of view, they would quickly perceive the correctness of my statement. At any rate, let them rest assured that structures erected on false foundations are dangerous and certain to bring about disaster. Society ruled and governed by laws and customs the outcome of superstition must be built on rotten supports, and the result is injustice and suffering. Science has absolutely disproved the teaching of superstition’s inventions. It has broken the legs of the Bible and all other God-books conceived and edited by bygone man. The story of creation as science tells it and the story of creation as it is told by superstition are absolutely opposed to each other.
Which is true—the first or the last? The first is supported by fact and proof; the last has only fable and imagined revelation for its buttress. We believe in the law of gravitation because there is proof of its reality; but there is no more proof behind superstition’s fables than there is behind the story of Jack and the Bean-stalk and Jack the Giant-killer. Let us be honest, and candidly recognise this unanswerable truth.
Untruth rules the world, and what a suffering one has it not created? The bolstering up of a lie has been the cause of long and continued sorrow to humanity, and, let me add, to our dumb kith and kin, the brute creation. Is it not time we hailed truth as the saviour of mankind? The idols we have been adoring so long have done nothing for us. Why? Simply and solely because they are false ones, the inventions of unscientific and undeveloped man, Ah! let us have the truth—the truth at any price, no matter what early impressions, believed only because they were implanted in childhood’s gullible days, we have had dinned into our brains until we came to accept them as fact. Let us search for and welcome truth, no matter what false idols, hitherto adored, we may have to cast down and destroy. To all who have grown up with thought undeveloped, and who have accepted falsehood as truth and have spurned truth as falsehood, I say: “Use your own common-sense and reason for yourselves, and refuse to have your belief ladled out to you as if you were a flock of idiots or a crowd of imbeciles. Ask yourselves the following questions, and see if religion can supply a satisfactory answer. If it cannot, as you will quickly perceive it is unable to do, then be honest. Acknowledge to yourselves that you have been reared to believe an untruth, and are yourselves bolstering it up and passing it on to coming generations, and then be brave and say: ‘This shall not be; I will no longer be the catspaw of a lie or the preceptor of it to others. I desire to find truth and serve it alone—yes, it alone.’”
Now here are the questions :—
Do you really believe that there is a God who has always been and had no beginning? Is such an impossibility possible? Who tells you this is so? What claims has the author of this fantastic fable to credence?
If God is all-powerful and all-merciful, do you not think that he must be a very extraordinary Deity to have made man and left him through decades of years a prey to sorrow, suffering, and pain, concocting tortures for others and cruelty to himself? If wickedness is wicked, why does God permit it? And if sin is sin, why did God conceive such and allow man to commit it?
Does not the sacrifice of Christ by an atrocious and lingering death strike you as revolting? If God so loved the world, why did he not make it perfect instead of fashioning it imperfect; and surely he could redeem creation without crucifying his son? Moreover, if Christ’s death redeemed mankind, how is it that man is what he is now? Look at the world, and ponder the reply.
There are countless worlds in space. Is there a God for each, and a Christ for each, or is our God and Christ theirs as well? If the latter, has Christ had to die for all the inhabited worlds, if they are so inhabited, or is this earth a specially sinful and suffering one?
Is the heaven offered to man, or the hell either, compatible with the conception of either a just, a merciful, or a sane Deity? If the story of Genesis begins to look to you like a rather nasty fairy tale, do you not think the rest of the autocratic assumptions in the Bible are based on proofs as vacuous and flimsy?
In short, if the Almighty is Almighty, does he not strike you as being a most undignified and unmajestic God? On the other hand, if he is all you say, why do you fear death’s approach, as so many of you do, seeing that it will take you to him ?
I could put you many, many more queries, but Cui bono? If you can answer these, with truth upholding them, you can answer anything. Well, answer these, and then ask yourselves, “Are the replies given supported by fact or proof unassailable?” That is a most important point. Clear proof. Faith will not do. I will not believe there is an apple lying at my feet, which I cannot see, because my parents and preceptors tell me that thousands of years ago men lived who declared that a God said that such was true. The apple not being there, I ask for proof of its existence; and, receiving only fable in return, I assert my own reason, and refuse to believe the untruth. I have selected the “rib” doctrine because upon it rests the claim of the Bible to credence. It has formulated this story of creation and woman’s degradation and enforced credence through long ages; and those who, confronted by science, find the lie nailed to the mast and try to robe it in explanations and definitions have a hopeless task to fulfil. If the story of creation and the rib metamorphosis is false, so also are most of the tables upon which our creed and our laws are based. Carefully studying the Bible throughout, we find no proof from beginning to end of the existence of any deity except a man-devised and clumsily-sculptured magnate who is painfully man-like in faults, failings, and indiscretions. Every god that has been fashioned is the same. The question is: Shall we continue to be swayed by a glaring untruth? Of what use hugging as fact that which is not so? If the story of creation and the hope of a future as offered us by orthodoxy are a comfort to many, of what use is a comfort founded on what is not?
Not very long ago Mr. H. Gaylord Wilshire, editor of Wilshire’s far-extending magazine, wrote me as follows: “It is almost impossible to get people to let go their religious superstitions until you give them something else to cling to.” He is right in asserting that people will not relinquish belief in what is false unless one can give something of worth in exchange and to replace it; but I ask all reasoning minds: What good will allegiance to a myth avail, even though such allegiance may be comforting to the ignorant? Those who desire to see a reign of love take the place of one just the reverse, desire humanity to face the truth and build upon it a sane religion and sane laws, whose composition shall contain true love, in which real justice, kindness, mercy, and fair play to all are alone embowered. Society and government swayed by such would be evenly balanced, and ensure the comfort and happiness of all. The root of the fearful suffering that overshadows mankind is obedience to laws whose parent is Superstition, the largest slave-owner in the world, a giant Legree, whose clutch is upon mankind, but above all, and in a superlative degree, upon womankind.
To superstition’s barbaric teaching woman owes her abased position, yet she is the chief support of this monster. Clericalism knows this well. Revolt from man it can smilingly deride; but revolt from woman it regards with dread, because it knows that that would mean its extinction and the rapid rise of the female slave from serfdom to freedom. Against so glorious a triumph the forces of monopoly and privilege are pitted. Keep the child and its nursery governess in darkness, and all will be well for these: but let the nursery governess once see the light, and even desire to see it, then privilege and monopoly are doomed, and with them the reign of suffering, cruelty, and selfishness, which superstition, buttressed by woman, has upheld.
To all thoughtful human beings I appeal, therefore, to assert their reason; but most especially is my appeal addressed to women. In their hands lies regeneration. Between the sexes there should be nothing but harmony. Harmony means happiness, and happiness should be our goal. Let it be “Man is born to happiness,” instead of “to sorrow”. At present the latter prevails. Orthodoxy says this is God’s will; but then reason steps in and nails that lie to the mast. Reason says that sorrow, in a vast measure, is preventable by making reasonable laws. Reasonable laws can never emanate from superstition. Woman must strike that down, and so redeem the world. It is her mission to do this. Let her do it quickly—and well. Slowly but surely she is awakening from her lethargic state and groping towards the light. Those who, like myself, are in communication with the advanced thought and thinkers throughout the world know that hundreds —nay, thousands—of women have thrown off the yoke of superstition and are thinking for themselves and working for others. But, though dawn has come, the rising sun is as yet afar off, and the coming day which shall marshal in freedom is a mere embryo. It is woman’s province to give it birth, to guard its childhood and adolescence till it reaches adult age. Then shall its greatness be made apparent in the regenerated life of the world. Organisation and unity are the twin souls of strength. Earnest and thoughtful men and women, banded together, can effect much by giving countenance and support to those who are working to spread the light of truth far and wide, and to lift off the burden of superstition from the shoulders of those oppressed by its crushing weight. Those who desire to assist in realising this aim would do well to fall into line and join the ranks of the Rationalists, whose headquarters are the Rationalist Press Association. Join this, I say, and give ready and willing help to its propaganda, the entire working of which is towards freedom. There is not a country of the world where its influence should be unfelt, but primarily among English-speaking peoples and countries. Once these are swayed by rational thought, rational government will prevail, and through it freedom, the birthright of life, attained. To those who can think, I say, “Think and help those who cannot.” To those who desire to think and help, yet know not how to begin, I say, “Join our ranks and become earnest workers and helpers.” Sitting still and twirling one’s thumbs never yet accomplished anything, nor is it likely so to do. Work, work, work, is the only means to attain an end. Truth needs the friendly grip of earnest men and women of every class. There is no distinction where it dwells. It solicits the help of every human item that will give it. It asks for the aid of all. The service of man to fellow-creatures is a nobler and more satisfying religion than that which incites to injustice and cruelty. Injustice and cruelty are limned in the pages of Old and New Testament alike, from the mythical fall of poor Adam and his curse-ladened rib to the blood-stained and lustful deeds of the heroes of Old and New Testament fame. No self-respecting human being should cringe to a creed whose Deity sanctions within the pages of his book such horrors as are therein found. Let me, in conclusion, quote one example: When the children of Israel made prisoners the Midianite women and children, Moses the servant of God commanded, without reproof from that God, Now, therefore, kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him: but all the women children that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves” (Num. xxxi. 17, 18). For me this is enough to prove that Revelation’s religion is the concoction of man. Who, then, will help? It is not enough to be passively acquiescent. Everyone who feels that truth is worth fighting for should do his or her best to stand up for the only genuine Redeemer that exists. Let the dull shadows of falsehood and hypocrisy be driven over the border, false idols east down and no longer adored, and let the twentieth century behold humanity awaking from its long serfdom and marching towards freedom.
“Oh! woman, wake. Behold the dawn
Rising from out that bank of clouds.
No longer grovel, cringe, or fawn
To Superstition, which enshrouds
Thy liberty. Awake! awake!
I bid thee for thy own dear sake
Cast off these cruel chains,
Rise from thy many thousand years
Of degradation. Wipe those tears;
Truth’s golden dawn remains.’”
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