As it’s International Woman’s Day…
Annie Laurie Gaylor wrote a super chapter (“Woman, What Have I To Do With Thee?) in John Loftus’ book Christianity Is Not Great (in which I myself have a chapter on morality). The chapter details “Christianity’s War Against Women”. I just want to reproduce here a few quotes from 19th century feminists that I think are really powerful.
Much of the chapter details the horrors of the Bible, but I am interested here in what later feminists have had to say about the barrier to equality that religion has posed. Let’s start with a former chaplain, Ella E. Gibson, who published a critique around 1878 “The Godly Women of the Bible”, in which she claims:
The abominable laws respecting [women in the Bible]… are a disgrace to civilization and English literature; and any family which permits such a volume to lie on their parlor-table ought to be ostracized from all respectable society…
As Elizabeth Cody Stanton, famous freethinking agnostic, stated, in her two volume work of 1895 and 1898:
The Bible and the Church have been the greatest stumbling blocks in the way of woman’s emancipation.
She also said, in an 1885 speech:
You may go over the world and you will find that every form of religion which has breathed upon this earth has degraded woman. There is not one which has not made her subject to man. Men may rejoice in them because they make man the head of the woman. I have been traveling the old world during the last few years and have found new food for thought. What power is it that makes the Hindu woman burn herself on the funeral pyre of her husband? Her religion. What holds the Turkish woman in the harem? Her religion. By what power do the Mormons perpetuate their system of polygamy? By their religion. Man, of himself, could not do this; but when he declares, “Thus saith the lord,” of course he can do it. So long as ministers stand up and tell us that man is the head of the woman how are we to break the chains which have held women down through the ages? We want to help roll off from the soul of woman the terrible superstitions that have so long repressed and crushed her.
Matilda Joslyn Gage has this to add (from her 1893 book Woman, Church and State):
The world has seemingly awaited the advent of heroic souls who once again should dare all things for the truth. The woman who possesses love for her sex, for the world, for truth, justice and right, will not hesitate to place herself upon record as opposed to falsehood, no matter under what guise of age or holiness it appears. A generation has passed since the great struggle began, but not until within ten years has woman dared attack upon the veriest stronghold of her oppression, the Church. The state, agent and slave of the church, has so long united with it in suppression of woman’s intelligence, has so long preached of power to man alone, that it has created an inherited tendency, an inborn line of thought toward repression. Bent in this line before his birth, man still unwittingly thinks of woman as not quite his equal, and it requires a new creation of mind to change his thought. A second generation has arisen, in whom some slight inherited tendencies toward recognition of a woman’s right to herself are seen. In the next generation this line of inherited thought will have become stronger, both Church and State more fully recognizing woman’s inherent right to share in all the opportunities of life; but at what cost to all who have taken part in the great struggle….
During the ages, no rebellion has been of like importance with that of Woman against the tyranny of Church and State; none has had its far reaching effects. We note its beginning; its progress will overthrow every existing form of these institutions; its end will be a regenerated world.
She also stated, in some resolutions of 1890:
In order to help preserve the very life of the republic, it is imperative that women should unite upon a platform of opposition to the teaching and aim of that ever most unscrupulous enemy of freedom – the Church.