August 7, 2012

Feminism and non-theism personified in a gentle lady

Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902) was an American suffragist. Stanton was described at her funeral as "a fearless, serene agnostic." She was tireless in her criticism of religion and the Bible, decrying their denigration of women.

She wrote of the Bible, "I found nothing grand in the history of the Jews nor in the morals inculcated in the Pentateuch. Surely the writers had a very low idea of the nature of their god. They made him not only anthropomorphic, but of the very lowest type, jealous and revengeful, loving violence rather than mercy. I know of no other books that so fully teach the subjection and degradation of women." And, "The Bible and the Church have been the greatest stumbling blocks in the way of women's emancipation."

Her own religious beliefs evolved over the course of her life. As a young woman, she was briefly under the spell of fundamentalist religion. Her family led her out of that by taking her on a trip and giving her sensible things to read. She said, "That disabused my mind of hell and the devil and of a cruel, avenging God, and I have never believed in them since."

Her early political addresses were sprinkled generously with references to God, but as she found her own voice, increasing in confidence and battle-scarred by denunciations against her sacrilege in the popular press, invocations lessened. When such references occurred, "Nature" and "God" became interchangeable.

Elizabeth's daughter, Margaret Stanton Lawrence, recalled, "We children have only pleasant memories of a happy home, of a sunny, cheerful, indulgent mother, whose great effort was to save us from all the fears that shadow the lives of most children. God was to us sunshine, flowers, affection, all that is grand and beautiful in nature. The devil had no place at our fireside, nor the Inferno in our dreams of the future."

Late in her life, Elizabeth wrote, "I can say that the happiest period of my life has been since I emerged from the shadows of superstitions of the old theologies, relieved from all gloomy apprehensions of the future, satisfied that as my labors and capacities were limited to this sphere of action, I was responsible for nothing beyond my horizon, as I could neither understand nor change the condition of the unknown world.

Giving ourselves, then, no trouble about the future, let us make the most of the present, and fill up our lives with earnest work here." In her book on the Bible, the Woman's Bible, Stanton hailed the changes since the Bible had been written, when "rationalism took the place of religion and reason triumphed over superstition."

Elizabeth Cady Stanton lived her life without deference to a higher power and advocated such living for others. Her criticism of religion was not limited to "organized religion," which is popularly disparaged today. She decries "superstition," which probably indicates all religious belief, and trumpets rationalism and reason. Her identification of God with nature is a way of celebrating the purely secular without directly denouncing the religious beliefs of others. She is in the camp of other freethinkers of her time, such as Robert Green Ingersoll.

I found this unattributed, but the quotes are cited HERE: