Religion is a subject that has often baffled
me. Since young adulthood, I have thought
of myself as a pantheist, a neo-pagan, if
you will, more than anything: one who believes
in the power, wonder and forces of nature,
one who reveres her Mother Earth. And I
know that faith has sustained me many a
time. So I believe faith is an important
aspect in our lives. But faith in an anthropomorphic
God, one in whose image we have been made,
has troubled me since I was in Sunday School.
So many women I greatly admire and respect
believe passionately in the existence of
a biblical god. I wanted to take a look
at what they had to say about their beliefs.
I was surprised and overwhelmed with the
size and strength of what I found-so much
so, that I am doing this collection in two
parts, the next to be posted next quarter.
Now, with the holidays swiftly approaching,
it felt like the right time to share some
of what I found with you.
In sisterhood, Elaine
Bernstein Partnow, Editor
QUOTATIONS ON RELIGION
"Not everybody feels religion the
same way. Some it's in their mouth, but
some it's like a hope in their blood, their
Tillie Olsen (1912/13- ), American
writer; from "O Yes" (1956), Tell
me a Riddle, 1960
We know all their gods; they ignore ours.
What they call our sins are our gods, and
what they call their gods, we name otherwise.
Natalie Clifford Barney (1876-1972),
American/French essayist, author, translator;
from "Gods," Adam, No.
She was trying to get rid of a religious
Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986), French
feminist, philosopher, writer; lover of
Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980; philosopher,
playwright); won the Prix Goncourt, 1954;
from Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter,
She saw every personal religion as a pair
of intersecting circles. . . . Probably
perfection is reached when the area of the
two outer crescents, added together, is
exactly equal to that of the leaf-shaped
piece in the middle.
On paper there must be some neat mathematical
formula for arriving at this; in life, none.
Jan Struther (1901-1953), English
poet, writer; w. Anthony Maxtone Graham;
from Mrs. Miniver, 1940, by
If the Bible teaches the equality of women,
why does the church refuse to ordain women
to preach the gospel, to fill the offices
of deacons and elders, and to administer
Elizabeth Cady Stanton (1815-1902),
American editor, newspaper, abolitionist,
suffragist, historian, nonfiction writer;
d. Daniel C- (lawyer, congressman, judge);
co-organized, Women's Rights Convention
in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848; co-founder,
Women's Loyal League, 1863; co-founder,
American Equal Rights Association (AERA),
1866; co-founder, National Woman Suffrage
Association (NWSA), 1869; co-founder, National
American Woman Suffrage Society (NAWSA),
1890; from The Woman's Bible, 1895
I have been into many of the ancient cathedrals
-- grand, wonderful, mysterious. But I always
leave them with a feeling of indignation
because of the generations of human beings
who have struggled in poverty to build these
altars to the unknown god.
Ibid., from Diary Entry (1882), Elizabeth
Cady Stanton, Vol. II, Theodore Stanton
and Harriot Stanton Blatch, eds., 1922
Christ will be King, but I ne'er understood
His Subjects built his Kingdom up with
Katherine Fowler Philips (1631-1664),
English/Irish poet, translator, playwright;
from "Upon the Double Murther of King
Charles I in Answer to a Libellous Copy
of Rimes by Vavasor Powell," Poems.
By the most deservedly Admired Mrs. Katherine
Philips, the Matchless Orinda
"A priest can achieve great victories
with an army of women at his command."
Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1837-1915),
English writer; from Hostages to Fortune,
Vol. I, 1875
Religion is a temper, not a pursuit.
Harriet Martineau (1802-1876), English
writer, feminist, critic, social; from "Women,"
Society in America, Vol. III, 1837
There you will find what
Every man needs,
Without any creeds.
Louise Driscoll (1875-1957), American
poet, writer; from "Spring Market,"
St. 5, n.d.
[There is a] depth and urgency of the
search of Jewish and Christian women for
connection to the Divine, which found expression
in more than 1000 years of feminist Bible
criticism and religious re-visioning.
Gerda Lerner (1920- ), Austrian/American
writer, lecturer, educator, historian; founder
of university-based women's history; from
The Creation of Feminist Consciousness:
From the Middle Ages to Eighteen-Seventy,
It is a curious fact that pacifism . .
. is a mark of an age weak in faith, whereas
the people of religious times have honored
war as God's rod of chastisement . . . Only
the age of enlightenment has wished to decide
the great questions of world history at
the table of diplomats.
Lydia Gottschewski (fl. 1930s), German
political activist; from Women in the
New State, 1934
There's practically no religion that I
know of that sees other people in a way
that affirms the others' choices.
But in our century we're forced to think
about a pluralistic world.
Elaine Pagels (1943- ), American
educator, historian of religion, author;
National Book Award, 1980; Quoted in A
World of Ideas by Bill Moyers
Every religion oppresses women. I talk
about the Koran because I know this book
best. It allows for torture and other mistreatment,
especially for women. And I despise the
Sharia laws [the code of law based on the
Koran]. They cannot be changed. They must
be thrown out, abolished.
Taslima Nasrin (1962- ), Bangladeshian
physician, poet, feminist, novelist; Quoted
in "Writer with price on her head
by Barry Bearak, Seattle Post-Intelligencer,
28 October 1998
How many brave Men, courageous Women, and
innocent Children did I see butcher'd, to
do God good Service?. .. I went to the Irish
Rebellion, where I saw more than three hundred
thousand Souls murder'd in cold Blood.crying,
Nits will become Lice, destroy Root and
Branch: with a thousand other Barbarities,
too tedious as well as too dreadful to repeat,
beside what has been transacted abroad.
Mary Davys (1674-1732), Irish/English
shopkeeper, novelist, playwright; "To
Artander, November 10," Familiar Letters,
Betwixt a Gentleman and a Lady," 1725
When, and how, and at what stage of our
development did spirituality and our strange
notions of religion arise? the need for
worship which is nothing more than our frightened
refuge into propitiation of a Creator we
do not understand? A detective story, the
supreme Who-done-it, written in indecipherable
hieroglyphics, no Rosetta stone supplied,
by the consummate mystifier to tease us
poor fumbling unravellers of his plot.
Vita Sackville-West (1892-1962),
English writer; from No Signposts in
the Sea, 1961
i found religion in the greeting card aisle
now i know hallmark was right
Ani DiFranco (1970- ), American songwriter,
singer; from "Superhero (song),"
May it please you to take away my life
rather than the old religion.
Mary I of England (1516-1558; a.k.a.
Bloody Mary, Mary Tudor), English queen;
d. Henry VIII (1491-1547; King of England,
1509-47) and Catherine of Aragon,* half-s.
Elizabeth I* and Edward VI (1537-53; King
of England, 1447-53), w. Phillip II (1527-98;
King of Spain, 1556-98); Quoted in Catherine
of Aragon by Garrett Mattingly, 1942
Religion is a dangerous prod, because it
can always be misused and get out of hand,
but it's useful for keeping people on the
straight and narrow.
Octavia Butler (1947- ), American
novelist; Hugo, 1984; Nebula, 1987; Interview,
Amazon.com, 24 March 1999
Religion without humanity is a poor human
Sojourner Truth (1797?-1883), American
author, lecturer, abolitionist, reformer,
mystic, slave; first Black woman to speak
publicly against slavery; Interview, Battle
Creek, Michigan, c. 1877
Every dictator uses religion as a prop
to keep himself in power.
Benazir Bhutto (1953- ), Pakistani
political leader; daughter of Zulfikar Ali
B- (d. 1979; former prime minister of Pakistan)
and Nusrat (member of parliament and deputy
prime minister, first elected prime minister
of Pakistan, 1971-77; hanged); m. Nusrat
Ispahani B- (co-leader of People's Party);
Interview, 60 Minutes, CBS-TV, 8
Religion is love; in no case is it logic.
Beatrice Potter Webb (1858-1943),
English reformer, sociologist, writer, historian;
w. Sidney W- ; co-founder of the Fabian
Society, 1883, and of the New Statesman,
1913; from My Apprenticeship, 1926
From a biological viewpoint, patriarchal
religion denied women the natural rights
of every other mammalian female: the right
to choose her stud, to control the circumstances
of her mating, to occupy and govern her
own nest, or to refuse all males when preoccupied
with the important business of raising her
Barbara G. Walker (1930-), American
researcher, writer; from Introduction, The
Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets,
Religion and art spring from the same route
and are close kin. Economics and art are
Willa Cather (1873-1947), American
editor, journalist, poet, writer; Pulitzer,
1923; from "Four Letters: Escapism"
(1936), On Writing, 1949
"Art and religion first; then philosophy;
lastly science. That is the order of the
great subjects of life, that's their order
Muriel Spark (1918-), Scottish poet,
writer; from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie,
One of the things Jesus did was to step
aside from the organized religion of his
time because it had become corrupt and bogged
down with rules. Rules became more important
than feeding the hungry.
Corita Kent (1918-1986), American
former nun, graphic artist; quoted in The
Los Angeles Times, 11 July 1974
It is difficult to grasp the immensity
and significance of the extreme reverence
paid to the Goddess over a period of (at
least) seven thousand years and over miles
of land cutting across national boundaries
and vast expanses of sea. Yet it is vital
to do just that to fully comprehend the
longevity as well as the widespread power
and influence this religion once held.
Merlin Stone (1931-), American educator,
nonfiction writer; from When God Was
A Woman, 1976
Religion, like water, may be free, but
when they pipe it to you, you've got to
help pay for the piping. And the piper.
Abigail Van Buren (1918-2003), American
lecturer, writer, columnist; sister Ann
Landers; from "Dear Abby" Newspaper
Column, 28 April 1974
"Wasn't religion invented by man for
a kind of solace? It's as though he said,
'I'll make me a nice comfortable garment
to shut out the heat and the cold'; and
then it ends by becoming a straitjacket."
Agnes Sligh Turnbull (1888-1982),
American novelist; from The Rolling Years,
Organized religion has a part in the evolution
of personal religion. It is the material
upon which personal religion is grafted,
but the process of grafting must be individual.
Every human soul must, through thought,
prayer, and study, cultivate his [sic] own
religion to suit himself.
Lily Montagu (1873-1963), English
religious figure, social worker, judge,
novelist; founder, Jewish Religious Union
(1902); Int. JRU, 1926; proponent of Liberal
Jewish movement; from Sermon to the Reform
Synagogue, Berlin (August 1928), Lily
Montagu: Sermons, Addresses, Letters and
Prayers, Ellen M. Umansky, ed., 1985
"Sure there's different roads from
this to Dungarvan* -- some thinks one road
pleasanter, and some think another; wouldn't
it be mighty foolish to quarrel for this?
-- and sure isn't it twice worse to thry
to interfere with people for choosing the
road they like best to heaven?"
Marguerite Blessington (1789-1849),
Irish novelist, salonist, poet; from The
"I b'lieve in religion, and one of
these days, when I've got matters tight
and snug, I calculate to 'tend to my soul,
and them are matters:
Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896),
American writer, social critic; sister of
Henry Ward B- (1813- 87; clergyman, editor,
writer); great-aunt of Charlotte Perkins
Gilman (1860-1935, American writer and social
critic); Hall of Fame, 1910; from Uncle
Tom's Cabin, 1852
One of the effects of modern liberal Protestantism
has been gradually to turn religion into
poetry and therapy, to make truth vaguer
and vaguer and more and more relative, to
banish intellectual distinctions, to depend
on feeling instead of thought, and gradually
to come to believe that God has no power,
that he cannot communicate with us, cannot
reveal himself to us, indeed has not done
so, and that religion is our own sweet invention.
Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964), American
writer; from The Habit of Being,
She was a good Christian woman with a large
respect for religion, through she did not,
of course, believe any of it was true.
Ibid., from "Greenleaf," Everything
That Rises Must Converge, 1965
. . . I regard irreligious people as pioneers.
If there had been no priesthood the world
would have advanced ten thousand times better
than it has now.
Anandabai Joshee (1865-1887), Indian
physician; first Hindu woman and first Indian
woman to receive medical degree; Letter
to Her Aunt (27 August 1881), Quoted in
The Life of Anandabai Joshee by Caroline
H. Dall, 1888
Religion is 'twixt God and my own soul,
Nor saint, nor sage, can boundless thought
Judith Sargent Murray (1751-1820),
American feminist, author, playwright, poet;
"Lines Prefacing Essay No. XIX. A Sketch
of the Gleaner's Religious Sentiment,"
The Gleaner, Vol. I, 1798
"To speak the plain truth, all religions
seem alike to me, one mass of absurdities
and lies -- .I know that there is a God,
but I know no more of him; and I believe
that all those are liars who pretend to
know more than I do."
Mary Martha Sherwood (1775-1851),
English author; from The Works of Mrs.
Sherwood, Vol. III, 1856
When I read of the vain discussions of
the present day about the Virgin Birth and
other old dogmas which belong to the past,
I feel how great the need is still of a
real interest in the religion which builds
up character, teaches brotherly love, and
opens up to the seeker such a world of usefulness
and the beauty of holiness . . . .
Olympia Brown (1835-1926), American
suffragist, minister; mother of Gwendolyn
Willis; first woman ordained in U.S., 1863
(Universalist denomination); from "Olympia
Brown, An Autobiography," Gwendolen
B. Willis,* ed. (1960), Quoted in The
Annual Journal of the Universalist Historical
Society, Vol. 4, 1963
The concept of religious tolerance has
been stretched to its outer limits, implying
freedom from criticism and the nonpayment
of taxes. Neither patriotism nor religion
should be justification for the suspension
Sarah J. McCarthy (1942-), American
writer, educator, activist; "Why Johnny
Can't Disobey," The Humanist,
Religions, which are often nothing more
than cults that grew, set the stage for
the credulity and gullibility required for
membership in cults.
Ibid., "Why Johnny Can't Disobey,"
The Humanist, September/October 1979
FATHER WHALEN. Shure, we're all trying
to get to the same place when we pass on.
We're just going by different routes. We
can't all go on the same train.
RABBI. And just because you are not riding
on my train, why should I say your train
won't get there?
Anne Nichols (1891-1966), American
playwright; from Abie's Irish Rose
Religion converts despair, which destroys,
into resignation, which submits.
Marguerite Blessington (1789-1849),
Irish novelist, salonist, poet; from Commonplace
No religion can be built on force.
George Sand (1804-1876), French writer;
Quoted in Women: A Journal of Liberation,
. . . although every organized patriarchal
religion works overtime to contribute its
own brand of misogyny to the myth of woman-hate,
woman-fear, and woman-evil, the Roman Catholic
Church also carries the immense power of
very directly affecting women's lives everywhere
by its stand against birth control and abortion,
and by its use of skillful and wealthy lobbies
to prevent legislative change. It is an
obscenity -- an all-male hierarchy, celibate
or not, that presumes to rule on the lives
and bodies of millions of women.
Robin Morgan (1941- ), American poet,
writer, anthologist, feminist; co-founder,
New York Radical Feminists (1967); founder,
WITCH (Women's International Terrorist Conspiracy
from Hell); from Introduction, Sisterhood
Is Powerful, 1970
the synagogin', the tabernaclin',
the psalmin', that goes on in this hoose,
that's enough to break the spirits o' ony
Susan Edmonstone Ferrier (1782-1854),
Scottish novelist; from The Inheritance,
No future life could heal the degradation
of having been a woman. Religion in the
world had nothing but insults for women.
Dorothy Miller Richardson (1873-1957),
English writer; from Pilgrimage,
Vol. II, 1938
And if the central religious image [in
Neolithic times] was a woman giving birth
and not, as in our time, a man dying on
a cross, it would not be unreasonable to
infer that life and the love of life --
rather than death and the fear of death
-- were dominant in society as well as art.
Riane Eisler (1931- ), Austrian/Cuban/American
author, social historian; founder, Center
for Partnership Studies, International Partnership
Network; from "Messages from the Past:
The World of the Goddess," The Chalice
and the Blade, 1987
The origin of torture and execution in
the name of religion is the certainty that
your religion is true, and therefore any
other religion must be false. This being
so, you must regard people who profess a
different religion than your own as heretics,
and as inevitably damned (as Saint Augustine
did). It is your religious duty to persecute
them; and because their crime is against
God, no cruelty is too great to use towards
them. Indeed, anyone who urges mercy towards
heretics is suspect himself. The evidence
of history shows overwhelmingly that witches
were persecuted, not because they had done
harm, but because their crime was heresy
[ital]. Hence the heavy involvement, from
the beginning, of the Church in witchcraft
Doreen Valiente (1922-1999), English
witch, author; leader of wiccan and pagan
movements in Britain; from "Torture
used on witches," An ABC of Witchcraft,
to "Women of Wisdom" Main Page
Bernstein Partnow is the editor
of "Women of Wisdom," and she is a perfect
fit for this task. Compiler of the noted
Quotable Woman, The First 5,000 Years,
Elaine started working on the first edition,
way back in 1974, she was making the transition
from actor to writer. Now in its 5th edition.
Quotable Woman has become the standard
book of quotations for women's studies programs
and organizations all over the English-speaking
world. She also wrote The
Female Dramatist a few years back, and
has just came out with a new collection,
Quotable Jewish Woman, Wisdom, Inspiration
and Humor from the Mind and Heart. Elaine
has marveled at how her work in women's
history has changed who she is and how she
is. Ever eager to share that experience
with others, she merged her two passions
- acting and women's studies - and began,
in 1984, to present living history portraits
of notable women to civic and educational
institutions. To date she has given more
than 400 such presentations to upwards of
50,000 people, not only across the U.S.A.,
but in Mexico and even China! You can find
out more about Elaine by visiting her web