By: Lynda Bustilloz
Re: 19th Cent Holysmoke?!
I came across a document on the Freethought Web which contains a long series
of lectures by Helen H. Gardner, with an introduction by Robert Ingersoll.
Her wit and many of her points reminded me so much of our own little echo,
that I decided to share some snippets with you all. In spite of the length of
this "Reader's Digest condensed version", this only represents about 20% of
the whole piece. If there is interest, and with Styx' permission, I will
post the thing in its entirety, but meanwhile enjoy. :)
MEN, WOMEN, AND GODS
AND OTHER LECTURES BY HELEN H. GARDNER
WITH AN INTRODUCTION BY
ROBERT G. INGERSOLL
From the Introduction:
The men who declare that woman is the intellectual inferior of man, do
not, and cannot, by offering themselves in evidence, substantiate their
Robert G. Ingersoll
Men, Women and God
Helen H. Gardner
It is thought strange and particularly shocking by some persons for a
woman to question the absolute correctness of the Bible. She is supposed
to be able to go through the world with her eyes shut, and her month open
wide enough to swallow Jonah and the Garden of Eden without making a wry
face. It is usually recounted as one of her most beautiful traits of
character that she has faith sufficient to float the Ark without inspecting
Women have for a long time been asking for the right to an education, for
the right to live on an equal footing with their brothers, and for the
right to earn money honestly; while at the same time they have supported
a book and a religion which hold them as the inferiors of their sons and
as objects of contempt and degradation with Jehovah. They have sustained
a so-called "revelation" which holds them as inferior and unclean things.
Now it has always seemed to me that these, women are trying to stand on
both sides of the fence at the same time -- and that neither foot
Every religion must be tried at the bar of human justice, and stand or fall
by the verdict there. It has no right to crouch behind the theory of
"inspiration" and demand immunity from criticism; and yet that is just what
every one of them does. They all claim that we have no right to use our
reason on their inventions. But evil cannot be made good by revelation,
and good cannot be made evil by persecution.
A "revelation" that teaches us to trample on purity, or bids us despise
beauty -- that gives power to vice or crushes the weak -- is an evil.
The dogma that leads us to ignore our humanity, that asks us to throw away
our pleasures, that tells us to be miserable here in order that we may be
happy hereafter, is a doctrine built upon a false philosophy, cruel in its
premises and false in its promises. And the religion that teaches us that
believing Vice is holier than unbelieving Virtue is a grievous wrong.
Credulity is not a substitute for morality. Belief is not a question of
right or wrong, it is a question of mental organization. Man cannot believe
what he will, he must believe what he must. If his brain tells him one thing
and his catechism tolls him another, his brain ought to win. You don't leave
your umbrella at home during a storm, simply because the almanac calls for
a clear day.
A religion that teaches a mother that she can be happy in heaven, with her
children in hell -- in everlasting torment -- strikes at the very roots of
family affection. It makes the human heart a stone. Love that means no more
than that, is not love at all. No heart that has ever loved can see the
object of its affection in pain and itself be happy. The thing is impossible.
Any religion that can make that possible is more to be dreaded than war or
famine or pestilence or death. It would eat out all that is great and
beautiful and good in this life. It would make life a mockery and love a
I once knew a case myself, where an oldest son who was an unbeliever died.
He had been a kind son and a good man. He had shielded his widowed mother
from every hardship. He had tried to lighten her pain and relieve her
loneliness. He had worked early and late to keep her comfortable and happy.
When he died she was heartbroken. It seemed to her more than she could bear.
As she sat and gazed at his dear face in a transport of grief, the door
opened and her preacher came in to bring her the comfort of religion. He
talked with her of her loss, and finally he said, "But it would not be so
hard for you to bear if he had been a Christian. If he had accepted what was
freely offered him yon would one day see him again. But he chose his path,
he denied his Lord, and he is lost. And now, dear madam, place your
affections on your living son, who is, thank God, saved." That was the
comfort he brought her. That was the consolation of his religion. I am
telling yon of an actual occurrence. This is all a fact. Well, a few years
later that dear old lady died in her son's house, where she had gone on a
visit. He broke her will -- this son who was saved -- and brought in a bill
against her estate for her board and nursing while she was ill! Which one
of those boys do you think would be the best company for her in the next
It has always seemed to me that I would rather go to hell with a good son
than to heaven with a bad Christian. I may be wrong, but with my present
light that is the way it looks to me; and for the sake of humanity I am glad
that it looks that way.
A church member said to me some time ago that even though the Bible were not
"the word of God," even though it were not necessary to believe in the creed
in order to go to heaven, it could not do any harm to believe it; and he
thought it was "best to be on the safe side, for," said he, "suppose after
all it should happen to be true!"
So he carries a church-membership as a sort of accident insurance
I do not believe we have a right to work upon that basis, It is not honest.
I do not believe that any "suppose it should be" gives us the right to teach
"I know that it is." I do not believe in the honesty and right of any cause
that has to prop up its backbone with faith, and splinter its legs with
ignorance. I do not believe in the harmlessness of any teaching that is not
based upon reason, justice, and truth. I do not believe that it is harmless
to uphold any religion that is not noble and elevating in itself. I do not
believe that it is "just as well" to spread any dogma that stultifies reason
and ignores common-sense. I do not believe that it is ever well to compromise
with dishonesty and pretence. And I cannot admit that it "can do no harm"
to teach a belief in the goodness of a God who sends an Emerson or a Darwin
to hell because Eve was fond of fruit, and who offers a reserved seat in
heaven to Chastine Cox because a mob murdered Jesus Christ. It does not seem
to me good morals, and it is certainly poor logic.
And speaking of logic, I heard a funny story the other day about one of
those absurdly literal little girls who, when she heard people say they
"wanted to be an angel," did not know it was a joke. She thought it was
all honor-bright. She was standing by the window killing flies, and her
mother called her and said, "Why child, don't you know that is very wicked?
Don't you know that God made those dear little flies, and that he loves
them?" (Just imagine an infinite God in love with a blue-bottle fly!) Well,
the little girl thought that was queer taste, but she was sorry, and said
that she would not do it any more. By and by, however, a great lazy fly was
too tempting, and her plump little finger began to follow him around slowly
on the glass, and she said, "Oh you nice big fly, did dod nade you? And
does dod love you? And does you love dod?" (Down came the finger.) Well,
you shall see him."
Yet we all know Christians who love God. better than anything else -- "with
all their hearts and soul and strength" -- who prefer to postpone seeing him
till the very last minute. They say it is because they have not "fulfilled
their allotted time." Why not be honest and say it is because they like to
live? They "long to put on immortality;" but their sleep is sounder if they
live next door to a good doctor.
People say that men are infidels because it is easier -- to rid themselves
of responsibility. But it seems to me that anyone who advances the doctrine
of "morality and works" instead of that of "repentance and faith," on the
ground that it is easier, is laboring under a mistake. I don't see how any
one could ask for an easier way of getting rid of his sins than the plan that
simply unloads them on to another man. I fail to see anything hard about
that -- except for the man who catches the load; and I am unable to see
anything commendable about it either. But it is not always easy for a man
to be brave enough to be responsible for his own mistakes or faults. It is
not always easy for a man to say "I did it, and I will suffer the penalty."
That is not always easy, but it is always just. No one but a coward or a
knave needs to shift his personal responsibility on to the shoulders of the
dead. Honest men and women do not need to put "Providence" up between
themselves and their own motives.
A short time ago the wife of a very devout man apparently died, but her
body remained so lifelike and her color so natural that her relatives
decided that she could not be dead, and they summoned a physician. The
husband, however, refused to have him administer any restoratives. He said
that if the Lord had permitted her to go into a trance and was anxious to
bring her out alive he would do it. Meanwhile he did not intend to meddle
with Providence. His maxim was, "Whatever else you do, don't interfere with
Providence. Give Providence a good chance and if it doesn't come round all
right for Betsy, I think I can bear it -- and she will have to."
If we take care of our motives toward each ether, "Providence" will take
care of itself.
Did you ever know a pious man do a real mean thing -- that succeeded -- who
did not claim that Providence had a finger in it? The smaller the trick, the
bigger the finger. He is perfectly honest in his belief too. He is the sort
of man that never has a doubt about hell -- and that most people go there.
Thinks they all deserve it. Has entire confidence that God is responsible
for every word in the Bible, and that all other Bibles and all other
religions are the direct work of the devil.
Probably prays for people who don't believe that way. He is perfectly honest
in it. That is simply his size, and he usually pities anybody who wears a
But they say this is not a matter of reason. This is outside of reason, it is
all a matter of faith. But whenever a superstition claims to be so oly that
you must not use your reason about it, there is something wrong some place.
Truth is not afraid of reason, nor reason of truth.
This religion and the Bible require of woman everything, and give her nothing.
They ask her support and her love, and repay her with contempt and oppression.
No wonder that four-fifths of the earnest men are against it, for it is not
manly and it is not just; and such men are willing to free women from the
ecclesiastical bondage that makes her responsible for all the ills of life,
for all the pains of deed and creed, while it allows her no choice in their
formation, no property in their fruition. Such men are outgrowing the petty
jealousies and musty superstitions of narrow- minded dogmatists sufficiently
to look upon the question not as one of personal preference, but as one of
human justice. They do not ask, "Would I like to see woman do thus or thus?"
but, "have I a right to dictate the limit of her efforts or her energy?" --
not, "Am I benefitted by her ecclesiastical bondage and credulity? Does it
give me unlimited power over her?" but, "Have I a right to keep in ignorance,
have I a right to degrade, any human intellect?" And they have answered with
equal dignity and impersonal judgment that it is the birthright of no human
being to dominate or enslave another; that it is the just lot of no human
being to be born subject to the arbitrary will or dictates of any living
soul; and that it is, after all, as great an injustice to a man to make him
a tyrant as it is to make him a slave.
Whenever a man rises high enough to leave his own personality out of the
question, he has gone beyond the Stage of silly platitudes. His own dignity
is too secure, his title to respect too far beyond question, for him to need
such little subterfuges to guard his position, either as husband, as
ousehold-king, or as public benefactor. His home life is not founded upon
compulsory obedience; but is filled with the perfume of perfect trust, the
fragrance of loving admiration and respect. It is the domestic tyrant, the
egotistic mediocre, and the superstitious Church that are afraid for women
to think, that fear to lose her as worshipper and serf.
It is often urged that women are better off under the Christian than under
any other religion; that our Bible is more just to her than other Bibles are.
For the time we will grant this, and respectfully inquire -- what does it
prove? If it proves anything it is this -- that all "divine revelations" are
an indignity to women, and that they had better stick to nature. Nature may
be exacting, but she is not partial. If it proves anything, it is that all
religions have been made by men for men and through men. I do not contend
for the superiority of other Bibles, I simply protest against the wrong in
ours. One wrong cannot excuse another. That murder is worse than arson does
not make a hero of the rascal who fires our homes. If Allah were more cruel
than Jehovah, that would be no palliation of the awful crimes of the Old
That slaves have better clothes than savages cannot make noble traffic in
human blood. A choice of evils is often necessary, but it does not make
either of them a good. But there is no book which tells of a more infamous
monster than the Old Testament, with its Jehovah of murder and cruelty and
revenge, unless it be the New Testament, which arms its God with hell, and
extends his outrages throughout all eternity!
Recently I heard a clergyman give the following as his reason for opposing
medical, or scientific training of any sort, for women: "Now her whole energy
and force of action (outside of the family) must be expended upon religion.
If she were allowed other fields of action or thought, her energy, like that
of man, would be withdrawn from and fatally cripple the Church."
To me, however, it seems that any organization that finds it necessary to
cripple its adherents in order to keep them has a screw loose
These men had come under the shadow of Lot's roof for protection, it seems,
and Lot felt that his honor demanded that he should shield them even at the
cost of the purity and safety of his own daughters! Do you know I have always
had a mild curiosity to know what his daughters were under the shadow of his
roof for. It could not have been for protection, I judge, since Lot was one
of God's best friends. He was on all sorts of intimate terms with the Deity --
knew things were going to happen before they came -- was the only man good
enough to save from a doomed city -- the only one whose acts pleased God and
this act seems to have been particularly satisfactory. These men were "angels
of God" who required this infamy for their protection! If it takes all the
honor out of a man when he gets to be an angel, they may use my wings for a
Between man and his God they tell us there is no one but a Redeemer; but
between woman and man's God there seems to be all her male relations, which,
I should think, would prevent any very close intimacy. And by the time the
divine commands to woman were filtered through the entire male population,
from Moses to the last gentleman who in the confusion natural to the occasion,
misquotes "with all thy worldly goods I me endow," I should think it not
impossible that some slight errors may have crept in, and the hurch should
not feel offended if I were to aid her in their detection.
10 But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.
11 Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection.
12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man,
but to be in silence.
13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve.
14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the
-- I Timothy ii.
According to the reasoning of verse 13 man should be subject to all the lower
animals, because they were first formed, and then Adam. Verse 14 tells us that
Adam sinned knowingly; Eve was deceived, so she deserves punishment. Now I
like that. If you commit a crime understandingly it is all right. If you are
deceived into doing it you ought to be damned. The law says, "The criminality
of an act resides in the intent; "but more than likely St. Paul was not up
in Blackstone and did not use Coke.
34 Let your women keep silence in the churches; for it is not permitted unto
them to speak but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the
85 And if they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home: for
it is a shame for women to speak in the church.
-- 1 Cor. xiv.
That is a principle that should entitle St. Paul to the profound admiration
of women. And yet, when I come to think of it, I don't know which one gets
the worst of that either. Whenever you want to know anything, ask your
husband, at home! No wonder most husbands don't have time to stay at home
much. No wonder they have to see a man so often. It would unseat any man's
reason if he lived in constant feat that he might, any minute, be required
to explain to a woman of sense, how death could have been brought into this
world by Eve, when every one knows that long before man could have lived upon
this earth animals lived and died. It would make any man remember that he
had to "catch a car" if he were asked suddenly to explain the doctrine of the
Trinity. I would not blame the most sturdy theologian for remembering that
it was club night, if his wife were to ask him, unexpectedly, how
ebuchadnezzar, with his inexperience, could digest grass with only one
stomach, when it takes four for the oxen that are used to it. That may
account, however, for his hair turning to feathers.
I don't believe St. Paul could have realized what a diabolical position he
was placing husbands in, when he told wives to ask them every time they wanted
to know anything -- unless he wanted to make marriage unpopular. There is one
thing certain, he was careful not to try it himself, which looks much as if he
had some realizing sense of what he had cut out for husbands to do, and felt
that there were some men who would rather be drafted -- and then send a
Now just stop and think about it. Don't you think that if a God had come down
and talked to Moses he would have had something more important to discuss than
the arrangement of window curtains and the cooking of a sheep? Since Moses
was the leader of God's people, their lawgiver, the guardian of their morals,
don't you think that the few minutes of conversation could have been better
spent in calling attention to some of the little moral delinquencies of Moses
himself? Don't you think it would have been more natural for an infinite and
just ruler to have mentioned the impropriety of murdering so many men, and
degrading so many young girls to a life worse than that of the vilest quarter
of any infamous dive, than to have occupied the time in trivial details about
a trumpery jewel-box? Since God elected such a man as Moses to guide and
govern his people, does it not seem natural that he would have given iven more
thought to the moral worth and practices of his representative on earth, than
to the particular age at which to kill a calf? If he were going to take the
trouble to say anything, would it not seem more natural that he should say
In his numerous chats with Solomon, don't you think he could have added
somewhat to that gentleman's phenomenal wisdom by just hinting to him that
he had a few more wives than were absolutely necessary? He had a thousand we
are told, which leaves Brigham Young away behind. Yet there are Christians
to-day who teach their children that Solomon was the wisest man who ever
lived, and that Brigham Young was very close to the biggest fool. It is not
strange that some of these children infer that the trouble with Brigham was
that he had not wives enough, and that if he had only married the whole state
of Massachusetts he and Solomon would now occupy adjoining seats on the other
shore, and use the same jew's-harp?
As a collection of ingenious stories, as a record of folly and wickedness, as
a curious and valuable old literary work, keep the Bible in the ibrary. But
put it on the top shelf -- or just behind it, and don't let the children see
it until they are old enough to read it with discrimination. As a mythological
work it is no worse than several others. As a divine revelation it is simply
Among your other tales you might tell the children some from it. You might
tell them that at one time a man got mad at another man, and caught three
hundred foxes, and set fire to their tails (they standing still the while),
and then turned them loose into the other man's corn, and burnt it all up.
If they don't know much about foxes, and have never experimented in burning
live hair, they may think it is a pretty good story. But I would not tell
them that the man who got up that torch-light procession was a good man.
I would not tell them that he was one of God's most intimate friends;
because even if they think he had a right to burn his enemy's crops, I don't
believe that any right-minded child would think it was fair to the
Why will they listen to such nonsense? Perhaps woman was made of a rib and
so should be held as flesh and blood only, devoid of intellect. But I don't
know that she was; I was not there to see, and, in fact, none of my family
were; and since they tell us that the only gentleman present upon that
interesting occasion was asleep, I don't know who could have told the story
in the first place.
It is always a surprise to me that women will sit, year after year, and be
told that, because of a story as silly and childish as it is unjust, she
is responsible for all the ills of life; that because, forsooth, some
thousands of years ago a woman was so horribly wicked as to eat an apple she
must and should occupy a humble and penitent position, and remain forever
subject to the dictates of ecclesiastical pretenders. It is so silly, so
childish, that for people of sense to accept it seems almost
According to the story, she was deceived. According to the story, she
believed that she was doing a thing which would give greater knowledge and
a broader life, and she had the courage to try for it. According to the
story, she first evinced the desire to be more and wiser than a mere brute,
and incidentally gave her husband an opportunity to invent the first human
lie (a privilege still dear to the heart), a field which up to that time
had been exclusively worked by the reptiles. But they never got a chance
at it again. From the time that Adam entered the lists, competition was
too lively for any of the lower animals to stand a ghost of a chance at it,
and that may account for the fact that, from that time to this, nobody
has ever heard a snake tell a lie or volunteer information to a woman.
The Church has had a monopoly of these profitable perquisites ever since.
The serpent never tried it again. He turned woman over to the clergy, and
from that time to this they have been the instructors who have told her which
apple to bite, and how big a bite to take. She has never had a chance since
to change her diet. From that day to this she has had apple pie, stewed
apple, dried apple, baked apple, apple-jack, and cider; and this clergyman
that I heard, started out fresh on apple-sauce. He seemed to think --
"anything for a change." You would have thought to hear him, that the very
worst thing that ever happened to this world was the birth of the desire
for knowledge, and that such desire in woman had been the curse of all
Do you think the world has any further use for the man who can gravely
tell those stories about Samson, for instance as truth -- as the word of
God? Do you think they do honor to most attenuated intellect? Now just stop
and think of it. Just think of one thousand able-bodied men (1,000 is a
good many men) quietly standing around waiting for Samson to knock them on
the head with a bone! And how does the durability of that bone
If prowess with arms were estimated, I should say that was about the most
effective piece of generalship on record. If the gentleman who conducted
that neat little skirmish were living to-day there would not be a question
as to his eligibility for a third term, unit rule or no unit rule. If we
could provide our generals with a bone like that, we might reduce the
standing army sufficiently to reassure the most timid congressman of the
whole lot. It would not take more than four or five generals and a captain
to guard the whole frontier. Then we might keep a private to keep the peace
at the polls, and that would give us sufficient force to readily murder
several thousand people any morning before breakfast, and I don't see how
you could ask for anything better than that. Two live men and one dead mule
could raise a siege in a quarter of an hour. Now, if there is anybody who
wants to start "a brilliant foreign policy," here is his chance. He could
at the same time make a record for economy, for it would be an enormous
saving to this country in arms and ammunition alone. For durability,
cheapness, and certainty not to miss fire there is simply no comparison at
It may be objected that our soldiers are not so strong as Samson; but I
am told by those who are intimately acquainted with mules, that they have
not deteriorated. They have simply transferred their superior strength and
durability from their jaw-bones to their heels -- and they engineer them
themselves. So if our men can stand his voice and aim him right, they won't
have to wear long hair.
But seriously, if it is necessary to believe such stories as that in order
to go to heaven, don't you think the admission fee is a trifle high? It is
entirely beyond my means, and that is not one of the big stories
The one that comes right after it is just as absurd. It is the second scene
of the same performance, and Samson only went out between acts for a drink,
and then he playfully walked off with a building about the size of the
capitol at Washington.
They say we must believe these tales or be damned; and that a woman has not
even a right to say, "I object." But it always did seem to me that anybody
who could believe them would not have brains enough to know whether he was
damned or not. They say we must not laugh at such very solemn things as that.
They also say that even if we don't believe them ourselves we should show
respect for those, who do.
That is a very good theory, but I should like to know how any human being
with a sense of humor could sit and look solemn, and feel very respectful,
with that sort of chaff rattling down his back. It can't be done unless he is
scared. Fear will convince a man the quickest of anything on earth. Even a
shadow is provocative of solemnity if the light is dark enough and the man
is sufficiently scared.
Solomon saying it cannot make a silly thing wise, nor Moses doing it a cruel
thing kind. David cannot make brutality gentle, nor Paul injustice just; and
that the Bible sustains a wrong can never make it right.
I am sometimes asked, "What do you propose to give in place of this
comforting faith? It makes people so happy. You take away all this blessing
and you give no other in its place. What is your creed?"
It has never seemed to me, that a creed was the staff of life. Man cannot
live by creeds alone. I should not object, however, to one that should read
something like this:
* I believe in honesty.
* I believe that a Church has no right to teach what it does not know.
* I believe that a clean life and a tender heart are worth more to this
world than all the faith and all the gods of Time.
* I believe that this world needs all our best efforts and earnest endeavors
twenty-four hours every day.
* I believe that if our labors were needed in another world we should be in
another world; so long as we are in this one I believe in making the best
and the most of the materials we have on hand.
* I believe that fear of a god cripples men's intellects more than any other
influence. I believe that Humanity needs and should have all our time,
efforts, love, worship, and tenderness.
* I believe that one world is all we can deal with at a time.
* I believe that, if there is a future life, the best possible preparation
for it is to do the very best we can here and now.
* I believe that love for our fellow-men is infinitely nobler, better, and
more necessary than love for God.
* I believe that men, women, and children need our best thoughts, our tenderest
consideration, and our earnest sympathy.
* I believe that God can get on just as well without any of these as with them.
If he wants anything he can get it without our assistance. it is people
with limitations, not gods without limitations, who need and should have
* I believe that it is better to build one happy home here than to invest in a
thousand churches which deal with a hereafter.
Christ was a thinker, a man of progress, an infidel, a man who outgrew the
Church of his time; and the Church of his time crucified him. Those who
oppose the spirit of religious stagnation to-day meet the same spirit in the
Church that Christ met, and receive the same treatment so far as the law will
It is a sentiment as true as it is beautiful that asks us to reverence the
great men, the thinkers of the past; but it is no mark of respect to them to
rest forever over their graves. We show our respect and our appreciation
better by a spirit of research that reaches beyond them, than by a simple
admiration which takes their gifts and dies. The lessons they left were not
alone lessons of memory and acceptance, but examples of effort and
A pupil who stops content with his teacher's last words is no great credit
either to himself or to his master. If he has learned only to accept, his
lesson is only begun; and until he knows that he must investigate, his
education is that of a child, his development that of a clown.
It is no compliment to Christ, the man of progress 1800 years ago, that his
followers clip the whigs of thought. He struck for freedom from ecclesiastical
bondage. The added a now link to the chain of intellectual growth, and his
followers have riveted it back to the immovable rock of superstition. He
offered a key to open the door of individual liberty. They have wrapped it in
the folds of ignorance and laid it in the closet of fear. He said in effect,
"When you have outgrown the Church, leave it and bless the world." They say,
"Leave it and be damned." For what is a Christian to-day without his hell?
The chief objection I hear offered to the last arrangements made for us by
the revisers is that they left out some of the hell, and gave the part they
kept a poetical name.
St. Paul said, "If they [women] will learn anything, let them ask their
husbands at home;" and the colossal ignorance of most women would seem to
indicate that they have obeyed the command to the letter.