Chapter 02 : Mlle. Meunier
Among my pupils was a certain Mlle. Meunier, a wealthy old lady with no dependents, who was fond of travel, and studied Spanish with the object of visiting my country. She was a convinced Catholic and a very scrupulous observer of the rules of her Church. To her, religion and morality were the same thing, and unbelief - or "impiety," as the faithful say - was an evident sign of vise and crime.
She detested revolutionaries, and she regarded with impulsive and undiscriminating aversion every display of popular ignorance. This was due, not only to her education and social position, but to the circumstance that during the period of the Commune she had been insulted by children in the streets of Paris as she went to church with her mother. Ingenuous and sympathetic, without regard to antecedents, accessories, or consequences, she always expressed her dogmatic convictions without reserve, and I had many opportunities to open her eyes to the inaccuracy of her opinions.
In our many conversations I refrained from taking any definite side; so that she did not recognize me as a partizan of any particular belief, but as a careful reasoner with whom it was a pleasure to confer. She formed so flattering an opinion of me, and was so solitary, that she gave me her full confidence and and invited me to accompany her on her travels. I accepted the offer, and we traveled in various countries. My conduct and our constant Conversation compelled her to recognize the error of thinking that every unbeliever was perverse and every atheist a hardened criminal, since, I, a convinced atheist, manifested symptoms very different from those which her religious prejudice had led her to expect.
She, thought, however, that my conduct was exceptional, and reminded me that the exception proves the rule. In the end the persistency and logic of my arguments forced her to yield to the evidence, and, when her prejudice was removed, she was convinced that a rational and scientific education would preserve children from error, inspire men with a love of good conduct, and reorganize society in accord with the demands of justice. She was deeply impressed by the reflection that she might have been on a level with the children who had insulted her if, at their age, she had been reared In the same conditions as they. When she had given up her belief in innate ideas, she was greatly preoccupied with the, following problem: If a child were educated without hearing anything about religion, what idea of the Diety would it have on reaching the age of reason?
After a while, it seemed to me that we were wasting time if we were. not prepared to go on from words to deeds. To be in possession of an important privilege through the imperfect organization of society and by the accident of birth, to conceive ideas of reform, and to remain inactive or indifferent amid a life of pleasure, seemed to me to incur a responsibility similar to that of a man who refused to lend a hand to a person whom he could save from danger. One day, therefore, I said to Mlle. Meunier:
"Mlle., we have reached a point at which it is necessary to reconsider our position. The world appeals to us for our assistance, and we cannot honestly refuse it. It seems to me that to expend entirely on comforts and pleasures resources which form part of the general patrimony, and which would suffice to establish a useful institution, is to commit a fraud; and that would he sanctioned neither by a believer nor an unbeliever. I must warn you, therefore, that you must not count on my company in your further travels. I owe myself to my ideas and to humanity, and I think that you ought to have the same feeling now that you have exchanged your former faith for rational principles."
She was surprised, but recognized the justice of my decision, and, without other stimulus than her own good nature and fine feeling, she gave me the funds for the establishment of an institute of rational education. The Modern School, which already existed in my mind, was thus ensured of realization by this generous act.
All the malicious statement - that have been made in regard to this matter - for instance, that I had to submit to a judicial interrogation - are sheer calumnies. It has been said that I used a power of suggestion over Mlle. Meunier for my own purposes. This statement, which is as offensive to me as it is insulting to the memory of that worthy and excellent lady, is absolutely false. I do not need to justify myself; I leave my vindication to my acts, my life, and the impartial judgment of my contemporaries. But Mlle. Meunier is entitled to the respect of all men of right feeling, of all those who have been delivered from the despotism of sect and dogma, who have broken all connection with error, who no longer submit the light of reason to the darkness of faith nor the dignity of freedom to the yoke of obedience.
She believed with honest faith. She had been taught that between the Creator and the creature there is a hierarchy of intermediaries whom one must obey, and that one must bow to a series of mysteries contained in the dogmas imposed by a divinely instituted Church. In that belief she remained perfectly tranquil. The remarks I made and advice I offered her were not spontaneous commentaries on her belief, but natural replies to her efforts to convert me; and, from her want of logic, her feeble reasoning broke down under the strength of my arguments, instead of her persuading me to put faith before reason. She could not regard me as a tempting spirit, since it was always she who attacked my convictions; and she was in the end vanquished by the struggle of her faith and her own reason, which was aroused by her indiscretion in assailing the faith of one who, opposed her beliefs.
She now ingenuously sought to exonerate the Communist boys as poor and uneducated wretches, the offspring of crime, disturbers of the social order on account of the injustice which, in face of such a disgrace, permits others, equal disturbers of the social order, to live unproductive lives, enjoy great wealth, exploit ignorance and misery, and trust that they will continue throughout eternity to enjoy their pleasures on account of their compliance with the rites of the Church and their works of charity. 'The idea of a reward of easy virtue and punishment of unavoidable sin shocked her conscience and moderated her religious feeling, and, seeking to break the atavistic chain which so much hampers any attempt at reform, she decided to contribute to the founding of a useful work which would educate the young in a natural way and in conditions which would help them to use to the full the treasures of knowledge which humanity has acquired by labor, study, observation, and the methodical arrangement of its general conclusions.
In this way, she thought, with the aid of a supreme intelligence which veils itself in mystery from, the mind of man, or by the knowledge which humanity has gained by suffering, contradiction, and doubt, the future will be realized; and she found an inner contentment and vindication of her conscience in the idea of contributing, by the bestowal of her property, to a work of transcendent importance.
From : Anarchy Archives
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