UCTAA churchlight

Site Search via Google

Meditation 1094
Faith or Fact

Woman in Christian and Heathen Countries

by: Henry M. Taber

Comment by JT: We tend to forget in these somewhat more enlightened times the degree to which the Bible advocates and supports the idea of the subjugation of women. A little over a century ago, things were much different. As Taber writes: "Is it any wonder that women have been treated in the disgraceful manner that they have been in Christian countries, when authority is found for it in the book which is the Christian’s idea of all that is right?"

Your thoughts on this Meditation are welcome. Please sign in to the discussion forum below, or alternatively, use the contact page to provide your comments for publication.


IN turning over the leaves of Colonel Ingersoll’s Prose Poems on my library table, I found, opposite to his article on Woman, a paper on which was written, ”In what lands are women looked up to, and considered men’s equals — Heathen or Christian?” The handwriting was that of a young lady, who had recently been on a visit at my house, and my answer to her question was as follows:

First, let me say of the author of the Prose Poems, that it is, in my judgment, no extravagance to say that no man ever lived who had a higher appreciation of the character of woman, or who has uttered more generous sentiments, more eulogistic words, or more beautiful thoughts, or who has interested himself more, or done more in defense of every right of woman, than has this big-brained, big-hearted and justice-loving man, whom the Christian church has traduced, slandered, maligned, and against whom she has fulminated the most terrible of her anathemas, because he dared to think differently from what the Church taught, and because he dared to give expression to his honest thoughts.

To ascertain the cause, or the reason, of the treatment of women in Christian lands, we go back to the inspiring cause, , the authority therefor, viz: the Christian text-book called the Holy Bible. Now, what does that teach? At the outset, I am embarrassed by the fact that, in the allusions in this book to the subject of your inquiry (regarding woman), my own sense of delicacy and fear to bring the blush of shame to your cheeks, prevents me from directing your attention to particular passages in the Bible ; but I can say in general terms, it teaches that the husband shall be the ruler, and the wife the subject (Gen. iii: 16); that a father may sell his daughter; that he may sacrifice her to a mob; that he may murder her; that maternity is a crime; that divorce is the privilege of the husband only ; that polygamy and the slavery of women is justifiable; that a man not only, may, but shall “surely kill” his wife or daughter, if either endeavor to persuade him to “serve other gods;” and many other outrages in addition, which a respect for your sense of modesty forbids my even alluding to.

Mrs. Elizabeth Cady Stanton says: “In binding up the Jewish records with the New Testament, under the title of ‘Holy Scriptures,’ Christianity indorses the Jewish idea of womanhood.”

On the subject of polygamy, Luther said : “I confess for my part, that, if a man wishes to marry two or more wives, I cannot forbid him; nor is his conduct repugnant to Holy Scripture.” And Mrs. Stanton says: “Many Protestant divines wrote in favor of polygamy.”

And what do we find in the New Testament? Does it teach that women should be looked up to, and considered men’s equals? Far from it. “In that book also,” says Helen H. Gardener, “the words sister, mother, daughter, wife, are only names for degradation and dishonor.” (I may here acknowledge my indebtedness to that gifted woman — Helen H. Gardener — and to that remarkable work of hers, Men, Women, and Gods, for much of the information I am able to furnish on the subject of this communication.)

A few specimens only are necessary to show that the subjection of woman, and her inferiority to man, is inculcated in the New, — as well as the Old, — Testament:

“Wives submit yourselves to your husbands.” “Man is the glory of God — but woman is the glory of man.” “As the Church is subject unto Christ, so let wives be to their husbands, in everything.”

“They (women) are commanded to be under obedience.” “Let woman learn in silence, with all subjection.” “Ye wives be in subjection to your husbands.” “If they (women) will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home.”

Is it any wonder that women have been treated in the disgraceful manner that they have been in Christian countries, when authority is found for it in the book which is the Christian’s idea of all that is right?

In contrast with Paul’s instruction to women to ask their husbands if they want to know anything, Dr. Livingstone says that, “among the intelligent tribes of the Upper Gambia, respect for women is universally accorded. Many tribes are governed by a female chief. If you demand anything of a man, the demand is acceded to or rejected, in accordance with the decision of the wife, who is always consulted.” So that there, if a man wants to learn anything, he asks his wife.

In Miss Amelia B. Edwards’ lecture in this city, March 22, 1890 on the Women of Ancient Egypt (many centuries before the Christian era), she says that “from the earliest time of which we can catch a glimpse, the women of Egypt enjoyed a freedom and independence of which modern nations are only beginning to dream.

Mrs. Stanton says “Through theological superstitions woman finds her most grievous bondage. The greatest barrier in the way of her elevation, is the perversion of the religious element of her nature. ‘Thus saith the Lord,’ has ever been a talisman by which tyrants have held the masses in subjection; and woman, in her unbounded faith, has ever been the surest victim. All scriptural lessons teaching the slavery of woman, are echoed and re-echoed in every pulpit.”

Principal J. Donaldson, LL. D., of the great Scotch University of St. Andrews, in a recent number of the Contemporary Review, says: “ It is a prevalent opinion that woman owes her present high position to Christianity. I used to believe in this opinion. But in the first three centuries I have not been able to see that Christianity had any favorable effect on the, position of women, but, on the contrary, that it tended to lower their character, and contract the range of their activity.”

The “fathers” of the Christian Church, drawing their inspiration, doubtless, from the writings of the Old and New Testaments, have given their opinion of woman, which, I submit, is not quite as flattering to her as the opinion of some who do not believe in the fathers.

Mrs. Mary A. Livermore says: “The early Church fathers denounced women as noxious animals, necessary evils and domestic perils.”

Lecky says: “Fierce invectives against the sex form a conspicuous and grotesque portion of the writings of the fathers.”

Mrs. Stanton says that holy books and the priesthood teach that “woman is the author of sin, who (in collusion with the devil) effected the fall of man.”

“Gamble says that “in the fourth century holy men gravely argued the question, ‘ought women to be called human

But let the Christian fathers speak for themselves. Tertulian, in the following flattering manner, addresses woman: “You are the devil’s gateway; the unsealer of the forbidden tree; the first deserter from the divine law. You are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed God’s image — man.”

Clement, of Alexandria, says : “It brings shame, to reflect of what nature woman is.”

Gregory Thaumaturgus says: “One man among a thousand may be pure; a woman, never.”

“Woman is the organ of the devil.“ — St. Bernard.

“Her voice is the hissing of the serpent.“ — St. Anthony.

”Woman is the instrument which the devil uses to get possession of our souls.” — St. Cyprian.

“Woman is a scorpion.” — St. Bonaventura.

“The gate of the devil, the road of iniquity.“ — St. Jerome.

“Woman is a daughter of falsehood, a sentinel of hell; the enemy of peace.” — St. John Damascene.

“Of all wild beasts, the most dangerous is woman.“ — St. John Chrysostom.

“Woman has the poison of an asp, the malice of a dragon.” — St. Gregory-the-Great!

Is it surprising, with such instructions from the fathers, that the children of the Christian Church should not “look up to women, and consider them men’s equals?”

The following lines of Milton reflect the estimate of woman, which the teachings of Christianity had inculcated:

“                                Oh, why did God,
Creator wise that peopled highest heaven
With spirits masculine create at last
This novelty on earth, this fair defect
Of nature, and not fill the world at once
With man, as angels, without feminine?”

It is not possible to find in “heathen lands” more revolting expressions than those indicating the estimate of woman, as held by the Christian Church, and so it is not surprising that ample proof can be adduced of the superior regard in which woman was held, by what Christian people call Heathen, or Pagan people.

Lecky, in his European Morals, says: “In the whole feudal (Christian) legislation, women were placed in a much lower legal position than in the Pagan empire. That generous public opinion, which in Pagan Rome had revolted against the injustice done to girls, totally disappeared.”

Sir Henry Maine says: “No society, which preserves any tincture of Christian institutions, is ever likely to restore to married women the personal liberty conferred on them by the Roman law.”

The cause of “Woman’s Rights” was championed in Greece five centuries before Christ.

Principal Donaldson says: “The entire exclusion of women (by Christianity) from every sacred function, stands in striking contrast with both heathen and heretical practice.” Again, speaking of the respect shown to women in ancient Rome, he says: “The same respect was accorded to women by many of the heretical Christians.”

W. Matthieu Williams, F.R.A.S., F.C.S., in his narrative, Through Norway with Ladies, asks the question: “Is it because their religion is superior to ours, that the Lapp women are better treated, and that their comparative status is higher?”

Helen H. Gardener says : “ When the Pagan law recognized her (the wife) as the equal of her husband, the Church discarded that law.”

Lecky says: “In the legends of early Rome we have ample evidence, both of the high moral estimate of women, and of their prominence in Roman life. The tragedies of Lucretia and of Virginia display a delicacy of honor and a sense of the supreme excellence of unsullied purity which no Christian nation can surpass.”

Sir Henry Maine, in his Ancient Law, says that “the inequality and oppression which related to women disappeared from Pagan laws,” and adds, “The consequence was that the situation of the Roman female became one of great personal and proprietary independence ; but Christianity tended somewhat, from the very first, to narrow this remarkable liberty.” He further says that “the jurisconsults of the day contended for better laws for wives, but the Church prevailed in most instances, and established the most oppressive ones.”

There is no more patent fact in history than that Christianity has exerted its influence in favor of inequality and injustice, with reference to woman.

Professor Draper, in his Intellectual Development of Europe, gives certain facts as to the outrageous treatment of women by Christian men (the clergy included) which it would be exceedingly indelicate in me to repeat.

Moncure D. Conway says: “There is not a more cruel chapter in history, than that which records the arrest, by Christianity, of the natural growth of European civilization regarding women.”

Neander, the Church historian, says: “Christianity diminishes the influence of woman.”

Mrs. Matilda Joslyn Gage says: “It was not until the tenth century that a Christian wife of a Christian husband acquired the right of eating at the table with him, For many hundred years the law bound over to servile labor all unmarried women between the ages of eleven and forty.”

Lord Brougham says of the common law of England (in its application to women) that “ it is a disgrace to any heathen nation.”

Mrs. Livermore says: “The mediaeval Church declared women unfit for instruction, and down to the Reformation the law proclaimed the wife her husband’s creature and slave.”

Herbert Spencer says: “ Wives in England were bought from the fifth to the eleventh century, and as late as the seventeenth century, husbands of decent station were not ashamed to beat their wives. Gentlemen (!) arranged parties of pleasure for the purpose of seeing wretched women whipped at Bridewell. It was not till 1817, that the public whipping of women was abolished in England.”

Where, I ask, do these Christian people get their warrant for their atrocious treatment of women, but from the Bible and from those in authority in the Church ?

The late Rev. N. A. Staples, in writing to the Rev. Robert Collyer, said: “That is a real good point you make about woman’s treatment in the Bible. I tell you it is a shameful book, in some of its chapters on that subject, and the time will come when it will be so regarded.”

Martin Luther, Sir Matthew Hale, Richard Baxter, Cotton Mather, John Wesley, all contributed to the heartless, fiendish persecution of women as witches (not of men as wizards) because the “Word of God” said, “Thou shalt not permit a witch to live. ”

Buckle says: “The severe theology of Paganism despised the wretched superstition (the belief in witchcraft.”)

Rev. Thomas C. Williams says: “ I need not remind you of the moral enormities which have been defended by the supposed authority of the Bible ; the burning of witches, the subjection of women,” etc.

Not long ago, a firm believer in the complete subjection of women, Rev. Knox Little, said; “No crime which a husband .fan-commit, can justify the wife’s lack of obedience.”

I suppose there is no nation in heathendom where there are so many wife-beaters, to-day, as in Christian England.

Not many years ago the daughter of a Christian minister to India, who had lived in India from her birth, was on a visit in New York, and meeting with a lady who had married an Englishman, inquired: “Does your husband beat you?” and on the lady replying, “No, why do you ask?” answered, “In India all Englishmen beat their wives.”

In answering the question, “In what lands are women looked up to, and considered men’s equals — Heathen or Christian?” I have simply given what facts I have collected relative thereto, and my authorities for those facts, and if they are found to differ from what has been supposed to exist, it is only the “truth of history” that has made them so to differ.

Next: Inspiration >

Have your say...

Please take a moment to share your thoughts, pro and con, on this Chapter.

comments powered by Disqus