A Revived Sense of the Sacred.

In honor of Women’s History Month and pertinent to the political climate in which we now find ourselves, I recommend a fine article in USC’s Religion Dispatches:

WHAT A FORGOTTEN 19TH CENTURY SUFFRAGIST CAN TEACH US ABOUT WOMEN’S RIGHTS VS. THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT

The following caught my attention

…[Matilda Joslyn Gage] would publish the heavily researched, carefully planned Woman, State, and Religion, which provides an excellent socio-political history of women’s place in religious and cultural traditions. Some of her history of matriarchies have been dismissed within the “rigors” of twentieth-century historical criticism, but her analyses of Christian patriarchy are crucial for anyone concerned with gender and the church. She finds the mythology of Eden at the core of patriarchy, the introduction of original sin: “By false interpretation of Scripture, woman is held to duties, not rights; responsibilities, not power; and is deemed to be an appendage to man, created for his benefit and happiness.”

It’s not the bible per se that is the problem, but the interpretation of it, and she appealed to the Protestant principle of individual scripture interpretation: the priesthood of all believers extends to women, who should “be guided by her own reason.” She plays Protestantism against itself to find new approaches to the ancient myths. At the same time the new religious movements of Spiritualism and Theosophy, both founded by women, gave her new channels to understand a revived sense of the sacred….

Matilda Joslyn Gage never left the Baptist church, though she never baptized her children either. She would claim that,

True civilization is a recognition of the rights of others at every point of contact, and when this takes place the world will step out of the darkness of heathendom into a full light of a religious and political civilization grander than any of which it has yet dreamed.

For real freedom to occur, religiously and politically, it was necessary to maintain the separation of religion and politics, to keep a secular government intact, if only to more fully provide equality among the sexes and religions. Suffrage was part of the broader set of freedoms that Gage sought, but freedom goes well beyond that.

What Gage saw was that you can’t just “get out the vote.” You have to change the mythologies. New stories need to be told, even if they are the old stories that have been forgotten.

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