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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


"Not everybody feels religion the same way. Some it's in their mouth, but some it's like a hope in their blood, their bones."
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. 299, 1962

She was trying to get rid of a religious hangover.
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, 1959

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 the Sacraments...?
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…, 1678

"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,
Wild religion
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, 1993

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)," Dilate, 1996

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 stuff.
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 August 1986

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 young.
Barbara G. Walker (1930-), American researcher, writer; from Introduction, The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, 1983

Religion and art spring from the same route and are close kin. Economics and art are strangers.
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 of importance."
Muriel Spark (1918-), Scottish poet, writer; from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, 1961

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, 1936

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 Repealers, 1833

"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, 1978

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 control.
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 of reason.
Sarah J. McCarthy (1942-), American writer, educator, activist; "Why Johnny Can't Disobey," The Humanist, September/October 1979

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 (play), 1922

Religion converts despair, which destroys, into resignation, which submits.
Marguerite Blessington (1789-1849), Irish novelist, salonist, poet; from Commonplace Book, n.d.

No religion can be built on force.
George Sand (1804-1876), French writer; Quoted in Women: A Journal of Liberation, Fall 1970

. . . 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 young creature."
Susan Edmonstone Ferrier (1782-1854), Scottish novelist; from The Inheritance, 1824

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 trials.
Doreen Valiente (1922-1999), English witch, author; leader of wiccan and pagan movements in Britain; from "Torture used on witches," An ABC of Witchcraft, 1973

Return to "Women of Wisdom" Main Page

Elaine Bernstein Partnow is the editor of "Women of Wisdom," and she is a perfect fit for this task. Compiler of the noted work The 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. The 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, The 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 site: www.TheQuotableWoman.com.


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