Early Women Atheists in the US

Early Women Atheists in the US

early women

The mid-nineteenth century in the United States was a time of turmoil. The Civil War, fought to end slavery, resulted in over 600,000 deaths of soldiers. Over 400 women served as soldiers, disguising themselves as men. Both men and women joined the abolitionist movement. Most notable of the women abolitionists were Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Harriet Tubman, Mary Todd Lincoln, Lucretia Mott, Clara Barton, and Susan B. Anthony to name just a few. Many of these women became the forefront of the fight for women’s suffrage after the war. What is perhaps less well known is the number of these women activists who were also atheists. Below are a few salient facts about some of these women drawn from Annie Laurie Gaylor’s book, Women Without Superstition: “No Gods-No Masters” published in 1997 by the Freedom from Religion Foundation. All quotes are drawn from this book unless otherwise indicated. These were brave women. Some were arrested, jailed, and ostracized from their families and communities. Just by speaking out, they were violating the tenets of the Bible:

“Let the woman learn in silence in all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression.” (I Timothy 2:11-14)

Anne Hutchinson

As Ms. Gaylor outlines in her introduction, the first “female heretic” in the “American” colonies was Anne Hutchinson who arrived in 1634. Remember that at this time in this Puritan colony, there was no separation of church and state: the church ruled. Hutchinson began by inviting women to her home to listen and discuss her critique of the male ministers’ sermons and ideas. People became more alarmed, of course, when men began to join her. It is not surprising that she was banished from the colony for “sedition and heresy in 1637.” What is perhaps most interesting, however, is that she and her followers established a community on Aquidneck Island where they adopted a secular government. What courage she had to disagree with virtually everyone in her community and at the cost of banishment! I strongly doubt whether I would have had her strength. Becoming an atheist in Western democracies can mean losing friends and family, but it is not a crime. I am always impressed with the pioneers of a movement. They risk everything, but they persevere. We always owe a great deal to the women who came before us, whether that is in expressing anti-religious beliefs or becoming the first woman scientist, astronaut, lawyer, etc. If they had not blazed the trail, we could not have followed. Other outspoken atheists prior to the Civil War were Anne Newport Royall and Frances Wright.

Ernestine L. Rose

Gaylor characterizes Rose as “nineteenth-century America’s most outspoken atheist.” Her early life must have prepared her to fight the battle of religion. She was raised by a rabbi, lost her mother at sixteen, made a legal case for refusing to marry an older man her father had chosen for her, appealed to the Prussian king regarding the restrictions of travel for Jews, and started a business. Whew! Any one of those things would have been considered difficult even for the men of her day. Once in the United States, she became a woman’s rights activist and was instrumental in achieving the passage of the Married Woman’s Property Act of New York passed in 1848. Part of that act reads as follows:

“The real and personal property of any female who may hereafter marry, and which she shall own at the time of marriage, and the rents issues and profits thereof shall not be subject to the disposal of her husband, nor be liable for his debts, and shall continue her sole and separate property, as if she were a single female.”

In a time when education was limited, especially for women, and society preferred the demure, obedient housewife, it is truly amazing that a woman such as Ernestine Rose could do what she did. She also worked with others to gain women’s suffrage and was an outspoken atheist. In a lecture entitled “A Defence [sic] of Atheism” she writes the following:

“But believing as I do, that Truth only is beneficial, and Error, from whatever source, and under whatever name, is pernicious to man, I consider no place too holy, no subject too sacred, for man’s earnest investigation; for by so doing only can we arrive at truth, learn to discriminate it from Error, and be able to accept the one and reject the other.”

We can only wish that our politicians today who want to curtail women’s reproductive rights, refuse to accept climate change, and cling to their Iron Age religions were as intelligent as she was.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton

If ever time travel becomes possible, I would like to travel back and meet this woman. She is one of my heroes. I am using the following quote from her for the introduction to my next book.

“Take the snake, the fruit-tree and the woman from the tableau, and we have no fall, nor frowning Judge, no Inferno, no everlasting punishment – hence no need of a Savior. Thus the bottom falls out of the whole Christian theology. Here is the reason why in all the Biblical researches and high criticisms, the scholars never touch the position of women.”[1]

She was the person who wrote the text of the Nineteenth Amendment guaranteeing women’s right to vote. As Gaylor explains, Susan B. Anthony gets most of the credit for women’s suffrage. Stanton was more well-known at the time, but her “outspoken criticism of religion” relegated her to a position below Anthony’s in the history books.

Women abolitionists, such as Stanton, had to suffer the fact that they were not the equal of men. Her honeymoon took her to the World’s Anti-Slavery Convention in London where the women were separated from the men. In addition, they were not permitted to speak. Isn’t it amazing that at a convention to talk about liberating the slaves, women were not seen as needing equal rights? At that time, men just couldn’t make the leap to human rights for all.

In a sermon in London rendered in an article in the Boston Investigator in 1901, she states the following:

“According to Church teaching, woman was an after-thought in the creation, the author of sin, being at once in collusion with Satan. Her sex was made a crime, marriage a condition of slavery, owing obedience; maternity a curse; and the true position of all womankind one of inferiority and subjection to all men; and the same ideas are echoed in our pulpits to-day.”

We all owe her a debt of gratitude for exposing the superstition of religion. If only her views had held sway, we would not be in the situation today, 100 years later, of still having a society whose dominate views center around a supernatural god who rules over the lives of its people.

This is just a small sampling of the women Gaylor portrays in her book. She does a short biography on each and then includes their original works if available. Great resource!

Karen L. Garst

The Faithless Feminist

Thanks God for Blaming Eve…Not

Thanks God for Blaming Eve

Dressed in my cotton print dress with two scratchy crinolines underneath, I hold my mother’s hand as we enter the gathering area for Sunday school classes. After an opening song, we split up by age group. Cautiously, I enter the first grade room. Fortunately, I know at least three kids. Thank heaven! The teacher, Mrs. Johnson, informs us that each week we will learn about a different story from the Bible. I’m just learning to read at public school and love it when someone reads out loud to me. Sunday school sounds like it’s going to be great! I shouldn’t have worried so much.

Both my mother and father have shared some of the stories from the Bible with me and I’ve seen my father open his black leather Bible every night. But coming to church seems different. I’ve been to church before and everyone is quiet when the pastor speaks. I don’t understand much of what he says, so I hope Mrs. Johnson will be easier to understand, just like my teacher at school.

After she asks us to calm down and sit quietly in our chairs, Mrs. Johnson explains the story of Adam and Eve. She skips over the creation of the earth and goes right to the garden part. Eve eats from the forbidden Tree of Knowledge and boy is God mad! She and Adam get kicked out of the Garden of Eden and now Eve becomes the cause of all the sin in the world!

All right, I don’t remember this episode exactly, but it probably happened in a similar manner. There I was, an eager young girl, ready to learn about my faith. And what was I hit with? Women are the cause of all evil. Seriously?

It is hard to underestimate the role that the story of Eve has played in the treatment of women in Western Civilization. She comes to symbolize all that is wrong with humankind. She represents disobedience, pride, arrogance, lust, and sin. While previous patriarchal societies, even those with female deities, had treated women as subordinate to men in terms of property ownership, the right to choose a spouse, and access to education, the portrayal of Eve brings that subordination to a whole new level.

Prior to Israelite monotheism, women weren’t always portrayed as the epitome of evil. Carved clay figurines dating from 25,000 years ago may have symbolized the awe and mystery of new birth. These figurines, mostly female, often with pregnant torsos and pendulant breasts, were found in the living spaces of our hunter-gatherer ancestors. These figurines represented, in all likelihood, the regenerative power of the female, who was responsible for giving birth to new members of the clan. These clay representations were probably used also to promote the fertility of the land when the tribes moved from hunting and gathering to simple agriculture. Referred to as clay pillars, similar female figurines have been found extensively in the area of the Israelites’ settlement in Canaan dating to the 7th and 8th centuries BCE.

Virtually all religions prior to Judaism also had women in them: Greeks had Aphrodite and Artemis; Romans had Minerva, Venus and Diana; and the Babylonians had Ishtar and Ninlil just to name a few. Even the Canaanites worshipped the goddess Asherah along with the male gods Ba’al and El. But this new Israelite religion, the first strictly monotheist religion, is going to be different: no women. Just one god (for now) and he is MALE.

But let’s get back to Eve. Banishment from paradise isn’t the only punishment for Eve. In addition to putting her under the rule of man from this time forward, god tells Eve that she will also endure great pain in childbirth. Instead of venerating fertility as other religions had done, the Bible equates it with sin. In the 1800’s, this passage about punishment of pain for women was used by clerics to attempt to deny women any anesthesia during childbirth![1] What omniscient, omnipotent god would make the wonderful and amazing event of giving birth a painful punishment?

But how about the Christians? Did they carry this story forward? As the followers of Jesus were Jewish, they knew the Tanakh well. Tanakh became what Christians now call the Old Testament. Even though Eve is not mentioned anywhere outside of Genesis, early Christian leaders weren’t going to let go of that imagery or the opportunity to further subordinate women – in the priesthood, in her role in the new church, and in virtually all aspects of their lives. Tertullian, a prolific Christian writer (155-240 CE) in the Roman province of Carthage, was just one of many to expand upon the biblical account of Eve to further denigrate women:

And do you not know that you are Eve? God’s sentence hangs still over all your sex and His punishment weighs down upon you. You are the devil’s gateway; you are she who first violated the forbidden tree and broke the law of God. It was you who coaxed your way around him whom the devil had not the force to attack. With what ease you shattered that image of God: Man! Because of the death you merited, even the Son of God had to die…Woman, you are the gate to hell.[2]

Irenaeus, bishop of Lyons in Gaul (modern-day France) in the second century (ca. 115 – ca. 202 CE) summed it up well, “Eve, having become disobedient, was made the cause of death both for herself and for all the human race.”[3] Epiphanius, bishop of Salamis in Cyprus (ca. 315 – 403 CE) noted ironically:

For Eve was called mother of the living after she had heard the words, “You are dust and to dust you shall return” (Gen. 3:19), in other words, after the fall. It seems odd that she should receive such a grand title after having sinned. Looking at the matter from the outside, one notices that Eve is the one from whom the entire human race took its origin on this earth.[4]

19th century atheist and woman suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton commented on the pivotal role this story has played in the subordination of women.

Take the snake, the fruit-tree and the woman from the tableau, and we have no fall, nor frowning Judge, no Inferno, no everlasting punishment – hence no need for a Savior. Thus the bottom falls out of the whole Christian theology. Here is the reason why in all the Biblical researches and high criticisms, the scholars never touch the position of women.[5]

What has been the legacy of this portrayal of the first woman? Women in countries across the globe are still denied access to education and other rights based in part on this story. Remember that each of the three monotheist religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, all support the books of the Old Testament as divinely inspired. Even in the United States, access to education for girls was not commonplace until the late 19th century and that still depended on race and class distinctions. Today, the most vocal opponents to women’s rights to birth control, abortion, and the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment use the Bible as the justification for their views.

Maybe it’s time for women to say no to religion and to recognize the Judeo-Christian tradition not as divinely inspired but as a means for men to dominate women, for men to secure property and power, and for women to keep their place in the private sphere. In the Western World today, women have an opportunity to be equal to men: in the workplace, in the public sphere, and at home. Times have changed. As women, let’s acknowledge the role religion played in the patriarchal society of old as we work to create a society that values men and women equally. Let’s acknowledge it’s time to let go of religion. As Sonia Johnson said after her excommunication by the Mormon Church in 1979: “One of my favorite fantasies is that one Sunday not one single woman, in any country of the world, will go to church. If women simply stop giving our time and energy to the institutions that oppress, they would have to cease to do so.”[6]

Karen Garst

The Faithless Feminist

July 27, 2015

P. S. I am always looking for contributions to my blog. If you are interested in writing, you can contact me here.


[1] Gaylor, Annie Laurie. (1981) Woe to the Women: The Bible Tells Me So: The Bible, Female Sexuality, and the Law. Madison, Wisconsin: Freedom from Religion Foundation, p. 65.

[2] Steffanelli, Al . (2012) Free Thoughts: A Collection of Essays by An American Atheist. UAF Publications at Smashwords, p. 17

[3] Miller, Patricia Cox. (2005) Women in Early Christianity. Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, p. 292

[4] Ibid., p. 293

[5] Daly, Mary. (1973) Beyond God the Father. Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, p. 69.

[6] Gaylor, Annie Laurie. (1981) Woe to the Women: The Bible Tells Me So: The Bible, Female Sexuality, and the Law. Madison, Wisconsin: Freedom from Religion Foundation, p. 132.

Journey of a Bangladeshi Woman from Islam to Atheism

Guest post by Zerin M. Firoze

Bangladeshi WomanI never believed in religion, not even as a child. Religions, particularly Islam, never made sense to me. However, I used to believe in Allah—The Almighty God who created the whole universe. After all, just like most Muslim kids, it was drilled into my head that there is no god except Allah and the prophet Muhammad is his only messenger. My imam told me to write “There is no god except Allah and the prophet Muhammad is his only messenger” hundreds of times every day and to learn it by heart. There is no way I could doubt or deny the existence of the All-powerful, Omni-potent and Omni-present Allah.

As a child, endless doubt and questions used to arise in my young mind when I used to read outdated Sharia laws and Bronze Age moral stories in the Qur’an and other Islamic textbooks. However, I quickly used to reassure myself by saying, “Maybe religions are man-made but Allah is real.” How can I or this planet exist without Almighty Allah’s grace and power?  There must be a god called Allah. My mother and imam used to scold me every time I used to doubt and ask too many questions about religion. My mother and imam used to warn me not to use the devil’s tool—critical thinking skills, that Allah is testing my faith, and that I must have faith in all-powerful Allah.  I used to feel guilty for doubting the existence of All-powerful Creator Allah. I quickly used to pray and ask for forgiveness when a bout of seasonal doubt used to attack me.

My maid and mother constantly used to threaten me about Satan and eternal hell-fire if I did not behave like a pious, modest Muslim girl.  I could not sleep at night because I literally used to believe in the existence of Allah, Satan, jinns (genies), angel Gabriel, and other superstitious mythical characters. Between age seven to ten I was extremely superstitious. My mother used to hang showpieces with Arabic writings in the living room, dining room, bedroom and everywhere in the house. I used to feel extremely guilty every time I used to stretch my legs while lying down on a sofa and my legs used to point toward “holy” Arabic writings which mention Allah’s name. I used to feel as if I were pointing my legs to god. I used to feel guilty if I accidentally used to keep my science or history textbook on top of my Islamic textbooks. I used to believe that the divine Qur’an and other Islamic textbooks were holy and should always be placed above mere science books. In fact, all the furniture in my house and at most Muslim houses are arranged in a way so that our feet never point toward the holy Kaaba in Mecca. After coming home from school, I used to watch Dr. Zakir Naik’s videos on Peace TV and at that time I used to consider him the most logical preacher.

I lived my childhood and teenage life with superstitious fear in my heart. However, I was also exposed to science and my family was pretty much secular compared to an average Pakistani/Bengali family. My parents enrolled me in the most expensive private high school of Bangladesh. My father is a scientifically literate person and is a free-thinker as well. My father always encouraged me to think critically and taught me math and science. Unlike my mother, my father never forced religion, the hijab, or the burqa down my throat. My father gave me more freedom than is ever granted to an average Bengali Muslim girl.

However, everything slowly started to change as I grew up. My parents told me that I no longer had to study and that I should drop out of high school. Even when I was in kindergarten, my dad used to constantly taunt me about my high tuition fees and used to threaten me that he would pull me out of school. However, I never thought this would actually happen.

Around 2012-2013, many of my high school friends were forced to quit high school and later were forced into arranged marriages. While in the western world, men and women alike normally use dating apps, in other parts of the world this is still common. My parents no longer wanted to educate me either. Back in 2013, a film called “Innocence of Muslims” was released on YouTube. The Bangladesh government decided to ban the entire YouTube platform just because of that one particularly anti-Islam video on YouTube. The Bangladesh government is notoriously famous for banning Facebook, YouTube, and even the whole Internet because the Internet contains atheist bloggers, cartoons of the prophet, and other anti-Islam content. I used to be very angry at my government for shutting down social media and anti-Islamic film makers and cartoonists for making anti-Islamic content. After all, I was raised in a conservative society and I was always taught that religion is a good thing. It is a holy thing and is above criticism. I deeply believed that I must respect others’ belief even though I was not religious. I folded my sleeves and aggressively logged into Facebook to give a piece of mind to white people who are insulting my birth religion Islam. I encountered many atheists on random anti-Islam pages and they spoke very rudely to me and opened my eyes.

The last time I read the Qur’an was when I was in seventh grade. Even during my grade seven days, I could not take religion and outdated verses seriously. However, I firmly believed that religion should be respected and Allah did exist.  I kept making excuses and went back to reading the Qur’an again for the first time after becoming an adult. I shook my head in disbelief. My adult mind simply could not take in the garbage in the Qur’an. I dug deeply for truth and did my own homework and research. I was also taking my A-Level exams during that time and I studied evolution for the first time in class. I was agnostic from 2013 till July 2014 and then I fully came out as an atheist on 2014. Initially, I called myself agnostic because I just could not give up the idea of an all-powerful creator. Later, I realized that the silly, sadistic gods described in the scripture cannot exist in reality. Islamic preachers’ speeches, like those of Zakir Naik’s, are full of anti-science nonsense.

My friends’ forced marriages, my parents’ refusal to educate me and their desire to marry me off, and numerous terrorist attacks and gross atrocities committed in the name of Islam forced me to seriously question my birth religion and culture again. I read the Quran and Hadith again and I found out that it contradicted my secular upbringing and scientific education that I had received at my private English high school. I first heard about the term “atheist” on 2014 and finally I found a label that suits me well.

I became more confident and independent after becoming an atheist. I stopped believing in supernatural power and took complete charge of my life. I was able to stand up against a forced arranged marriage and I demanded my right to receive an education. Atheism has truly freed me from the dangerous shackles of Islam.

Zerin M. Firoze is now a nursing student in New York. If you would like to support her efforts, check out this link –  Zerin M Firoze | Patreon  Zerin’s escape and journey to the United States will be featured in next week’s blog post.

Why aren’t there more women atheists?

Why aren’t there more women atheists?

We all know that the movement called the “New Atheism” was promoted most importantly by the “Four Horsemen.” These men-Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris, and the late Christopher Hitchens-all became very outspoken after the tragedy of 9/11. Each of them published seminal books in the first decade of the 21st century. A survey of the 100 best-selling books on atheism on Amazon shows each of them still in the top ten today. The number of women on that list of 100 on May 8, 2017 was two. YouTube debates between Christian apologists and atheists are dominated by men, usually on both sides of the issue, including the men mentioned above. Women atheists who take to debates about religion are few and far between. Why?

If we look at the men listed above, Dawkins was a renowned scientist with many books to his name and Dennett was a philosopher with works published as well. Both of these fields, if indeed these fields gave rise to their work on atheism and I would argue they did, have been dominated by men. Data from 2011 show that slightly over 20% of faculty teaching philosophy in the United States are women.[1] Currently, even though women make up 47 percent of the total U. S. workforce, they comprise much lower percentages in the fields of science: from a high of 39 percent of chemists to just 12 of civil engineers.[2] Hopefully the new emphasis on STEM education will bring more women into the field by encouraging girls to explore the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Sam Harris is a philosopher and neuroscientist combining the fields of both Dawkins and Dennett. His first work criticizing religion was written while he was still working on his PhD. Timing is everything they say. Finally, the late Christopher Hitchins was a well-known author and columnist on a wide range of issues. He wrote over 30 books in his lifetime including a strong critic of Mother Teresa. It is fair to say that each of these authors was well positioned to write about religion. It is also fair to attribute the renewed emphasis on atheism in the 21st century to their work.

In the United States, women atheists have been around for centuries. Annie Laurie Gaylor, in her seminal book, Women without Superstition: “No Gods-No Masters,” chronicles the contributions of 51 women freethinkers from the 18th century to the present.[3] Thus, one cannot argue that there are no historical precedents for women standing up and declaring their atheism. Elizabeth Cady Stanton is one of the more well-known 19th century women who not only supported the abolition of slavery, but also the women’s suffrage movement, all the while opposing organized religion. She once said, “Surely the immutable laws of the universe can teach more impressive and exalted lessons than the holy books of all the religions on earth.”[4] Suffice it to say that she received a fair amount of censure for her views on religion but probably not as much as Madalyn Murray O’Hair who was portrayed in a Life magazine article in 1964 as “The Most Hated Woman in America.” She was the head of American Atheists and was murdered along with her son and granddaughter in an extortion scheme.

Today, Annie Laurie Gaylor is the co-president of the important Freedom from Religion Foundation based in Madison, Wisconsin. She joins other women heads of organizations such as Margaret Downey, former president of the Atheist Alliance International and founder and president of the Freethought Society, Debbie Goddard, director of African Americans for Humanism, Rebecca Hensler, founder of Grief Beyond Belief, Maryam Namase, an ex-Muslim activist in London and many others. Women atheist authors and bloggers include Sikivu Hutchinson, Greta Christina, Candace Gorham, Susan Jacoby, Rebecca Goldstein, and Valerie Tarico. And the list continues, but the problem remains. A recent Pew Research study cites that 68% of the people who identify as atheists are men.[5]

I believe that they are many reasons why there are not more women atheists. The most important involves the sense of community. When a woman participates in a church, she usually does much more than attend services. She volunteers to teach the children’s classes. She volunteers to help with events. My mother-in-law is 95 and she is STILL the volunteer for potlucks for funerals at her local Catholic parish, which means they are still depending on women to volunteer to get the work done. When my father was elected deacon of my home church, Trinity Evangelical Lutheran in Bismarck, North Dakota, he came home and informed my mother that “the wives” of the deacons, because of course the deacons were all men at that time, were responsible for the flowers on the altar each Sunday. Bless my mother, she said, “I didn’t run for deacon of the church, you did” and refused to do it. She was the exception. She was, however, a Sunday School teacher and part of the Ladies’ Aid. With volunteer work come connections. Other women become your friends. Your kids play together and know each other. You live in the same community as most religious institutions are neighborhood based. And it’s not just about Sunday. You may sing in the choir. You may attend Bible Study. For some, the church is the center of their entire social life. Marsha Abelman, one of the essayists in my first book, Women Beyond Belief: Discovering Life without Religion, said that once she and her husband decided to leave the church, NO ONE in the congregation remained their friends. That’s a tough blow that many are unwilling to take. They may have lost their faith, but they are not willing to lose their friends.

Another factor is the ability to be on the outside, to be the one who is different, and to be the one who most people, at least in the United States, aren’t comfortable with. If you are an atheist sitting in a pew and have never told anyone, you are hardly going to convince another woman to leave the church. You are even less likely to take an active role in an atheist organization. It’s not easy getting the stares and comments when you announce you are an atheist. For some atheists, like ex-Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali, there are even threats to their lives. It is also not easy to take on the role of an outspoken atheist if you don’t already have a platform. When I wrote my first book, I had never participated in an atheist organization and had never published a book. I can assure you that it is an uphill battle.

Leadership also plays a role. Let’s face it, with only 5% of CEOs of Fortune 500 companies headed by women and no woman president… yet, women are not always seen as the ones to stick their necks out and take the plunge. I remember an incident that occurred when I was in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. The Teaching Assistants were an organized local of the American Federation of Teachers when we went on strike against the University. During the strike, the women teaching assistants announced a meeting of women TA’s. During that meeting, a woman stood up and said, “We need to pick a spokesperson to represent us at the membership meetings.” I was astounded and answered, “Do you think the guys are picking spokespersons? We ALL need to speak up at the meetings and share our views, just like the guys.” Here was a highly-educated set of women who just didn’t get it. Yes, it was a long time ago, but life hasn’t changed that much.

Finally, many church communities provide a social safety net for members of their congregation. Sikivu Hutchinson has written extensively about this issue in her book, Moral Combat, as well as other works. According to research by the Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation, 87% of African-American women said that religion was “very important” in their lives. That compares to 79% of African-American men, 66% of white women, and 51% of white men.[6] When the parents of an African-American decide not to take their children to church, Hutchinson notes that “female relatives and neighbors often volunteer to escort children of non-practicing parents to church.”[7] Stressing the support the church communities often provide to families, she states, “With blacks comprising 25% of the nation’s poor, only economic justice can truly redress the cult of religiosity in African American communities.”[8]

These are just a few of the reasons that men outnumber women in the atheist “movement.” But we can overcome these obstacles and create a more balanced voice for atheism. Wendy Marsman has started a podcast, Women Beyond Belief. She interviews women who have left religion. If you are a woman atheist, please consider speaking to her. She can be contacted at www.womenbeyondbelief.com. The more voices we have the more likely we are to attract more women. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day.


Karen L. Garst

The Faithless Feminist

Why Every Woman Knows Her Body Was NOT the Creation of an Intelligent Designer

Why Every Woman Knows Her Body Was NOT the Creation of an Intelligent Designer

In 1987, teaching creation science in public school classrooms became illegal. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Edwards v. Aguillard may have barred the teaching of creation science, but, shortly thereafter, the term “intelligent design” (ID) was coined as a euphemism to offer an argument against a purely scientific explanation for the creation of the world and as an argument against biological evolution of species in particular. Christian apologists now use words like “irreducible complexity” to try to refute the fact that we evolved from earlier beings. Conservative Christians formed the Discovery Institute to push ID as a theory that should be taught in schools.

But if a woman thinks carefully about her body and how it functions, she will know that an intelligent designer did not create it. Let’s take a look.


If a woman has been through childbirth, she can tell you that while it is exciting to deliver a child, it hurts like hell. I remember the birth of our son. My husband and I had attended a natural childbirth class. When the doctor advised that I get an epidural (after 12 hours of labor), my husband suggested I just continue to take deep breaths. You can imagine what I told him to do with the deep breaths suggestion. Then, I had an epidural and knew in an instant the anesthesiologist was my new best friend. I never had another child, but if I had, I would have asked for the epidural the moment that I pushed open the hospital doors.

The reason for the pain in childbirth is understandable with a quick lesson in evolution. When our ancestors started to walk upright, the shape of the pelvis began to change to accommodate a walking gait. Specifically, a narrower pelvis developed. Over hundreds of thousands of years, human brains gradually became more complex and grew bigger to accommodate a higher level of intelligence. The coincidence of these two changes resulted in a baby with a larger head being delivered through a narrower pelvis. Pain, therefore, results as the mother pushes a bigger baby through a smaller opening. (Today, where a child cannot be delivered through this opening, a caesarean section must be performed.)

Women need not believe that they are being punished for original sin by being made to bear unbearable pain in childbirth. There is a logical explanation for what she experiences, and the “original sin” musings of ancient believers can be set aside in favor of a more rational explanation for pain in childbirth.

Menstrual Cycle

Most women might agree that it was not intelligent to create a woman capable of getting impregnated EVERY month. (On the contrary, many women might think such a design was a cruel joke). The impact of a woman having thirteen menstrual cycles in a year is that—prior to reliable birth control—a woman got pregnant about every two years if she was having regular intercourse. I once investigated my family genealogy and the national census listed the ages of the children of one of my ancestors as 2, 4, 6, 8 and so on. You can see the pattern here: women had many children in two-year increments. This was likely not the pattern in early societies, but once nutrition reached a certain level, this became the norm. I found it very prevalent in the 19th century for example.

In general, menstrual cycles are limited to primates. But did you know that in most placental mammals, there is no shedding of the uterine lining? It just gets reabsorbed into the body—no need for tampons there. Biologists debate whether the monthly loss of blood was an evolutionary advantage or not. Whether it was to our evolutionary advantage or not, it is not serving us well today.


Why isn’t it on the inside? Wouldn’t it make more sense for the clitoris to be located on the inside of the vagina where the man’s penis rubs against it during intercourse? Being on the outside, the clitoris is usually only stimulated through external forms of contact that require some extra effort on the man’s part or the woman’s. The organ’s exterior location just isn’t very effective for stimulating a woman through intercourse. Don’t get me wrong, that is pleasurable of course, but inside would have been better. Its location can, in part, be explained because the clitoris and the penis both developed from the genital tubercle. A protein on the Y chromosome causes the tubercle to develop into a penis, hence, the outside location. Without this protein, a clitoris develops.

Since the first publication of this article, I have received several comments about the fact that in the last ten years, it was discovered that there are parts of the clitoris that extend into the body cavity and wrap around the vagina. Who knew? Read more here. Someone also pointed out that the clitoris inside the vagina might not work so well during childbirth.

The exterior location of the clitoris has also allowed genital mutilation to be practiced. A barbarous practice still prevalent today primarily in areas of North Africa, this involves cutting out the clitoris resulting in the female losing any pleasure this organ allows. Had it been hidden inside the vagina, maybe this practice never would have arisen.

In the same location, there is another major flaw—the juxtaposition of the urethral opening and the vaginal opening. The vagina also shares a wall with the bowel. This anatomy is responsible for urinary tract infections and fistulas. The latter often occur when very young girls give birth and endure long labors. A fistula is a hole between the vagina and the rectum or bladder. The resulting seepage causes a woman to be incontinent. The Fistula Foundation has been set up to provide repairs to these women. If a repair is not made, her community often shuns the young woman.


Desmond Morris in his book, The Naked Ape, postulates that large breasts developed in women when intercourse moved from the man approaching the woman from the back to a woman facing a man during intercourse. In the first instance, the large buttocks of a woman were what attracted the male. In the second, the breasts evolved to substitute. Given the current status of female breasts displayed in pornography, the shunning of mothers nursing in public, and the possibility of being arrested for indecent exposure should a woman be bare-breasted in public, the obsession with a female’s breasts continues today regardless of whether Morris was right or not.

However, large breasts are not necessary for lactation to occur. In fact, some women with larger breasts encounter too much engorgement during nursing. The flow of milk is triggered by how much the baby nurses and is not dependent on a large breast, which is just evidence of a large amount of fatty tissue.[1]

It is probably hard to imagine what it would be like to have breasts like a man’s (although that is pretty close to how I was shaped as a young teen—28AAA bra). While men do experience breast cancer, this is much more prevalent in women. Man’s risk of cancer is 1 in 1,000 and a woman’s is 1 in 8.[2] As a breast cancer survivor myself, I would have happily given up female breasts to avoid it.

If you want to learn more about evolution and intelligent design, read Abby Hafer’s excellent book The Not-so-Intelligent Designer. She also outlines problems with men’s bodies. The real point of this essay, however, is to show how illogical and unreasonable the ID argument is. The facts simply do not support it.


[1] http://www.babycenter.com/404_is-it-true-that-moms-with-small-breasts-produce-less-milk_10310185.bc

[2] http://www.breastcancer.org/symptoms/understand_bc/statistics

Abortion Opponents – Power, Control, and Hypocrisy

Abortion Opponents – Power, Control, and Hypocrisy


While Evangelical Christians and Republican Presidential Candidates tout superior morality as a rational for their opposition to abortion, the history of religious views on this issue and its use to gain political power and control reveal morality places a distant third.

The Bible’s Support of Abortion and Killing Fetuses

The Christian Old Testament is replete with its lack of reverence for either a woman’s body or the life that is growing inside her. Many scholars have long indicated that the ritual undertaken below for a suspected adulterous wife might very well have been the administration of an abortifacient. Previous translations of the original Hebrew attempted to blur the clarity of this curse. The widely accepted New International Version does not.

But if you have gone astray while married to your husband and you have made yourself impure by having sexual relations with a man other than your husband”—here the priest is to put the woman under this curse—“may the Lord cause you to become a curse among your people when he makes your womb miscarry and your abdomen swell. May this water that brings a curse enter your body so that your abdomen swells or your womb miscarries. (Numbers 5: 20-22 NIV)

The following verse, one of many, shows the utter disdain of God’s chosen people for women and their fetuses.

At that time Menahem, starting out from Tirzah, attacked Tiphsah and everyone in the city and its vicinity, because they refused to open their gates. He sacked Tiphsah and ripped open all the pregnant women. (2 Kings 15:16 NIV)

And when God gets mad at Israel, what does he use as punishment?—killing of unborn fetuses.

Give them, Lord—what will you give them? Give them wombs that miscarry and breasts that are dry. (Hosea, 9:14 NIV)

Early Christianity Supported Abortion

The early Christian church did not recognize the fetus to be a person (defined as ensoulment) until after the quickening, the time at which a woman could first feel the fetus moving inside of her, defined today at approximately 18-20 weeks. Thomas Aquinas, a Catholic friar from the 13th century who later achieved sainthood, defined life as beginning after forty days of gestation. These views continued well into the 19th century. Even the Catholic Church permitted abortion up until quickening prior to 1869.

Nineteenth Century Move to Make Abortion Illegal – Role of Doctors

Starting in the mid-1800’s, states began to restrict and/or prohibit abortion. There were several factors that prompted this action. The first involves the fact that abortions were predominantly performed by unlicensed women. Even though the Catholic Church through its promulgation of the Malleus Malleficarum in the 15th century killed hundreds of thousands of people, mainly women, on accusations of witchcraft when doctors sought to enter the medical profession, midwives and women healers still persisted. Recipes for herbal abortifacients were passed on from generation to generation. This information is available even today and can be found with a simple Google search. In the mid-19th century, one famous abortionist, Madame Restell in New York, advertised her services in the local newspapers. The ads were couched in somewhat veiled language such as treatment for “suppression of those functions of nature” that any woman understood to be the termination of a pregnancy. Male doctors (no woman was admitted to formally study medicine in the United States until 1847) first attempted to limit abortions through state law to put untrained doctors, midwives and herbal healers out of business. While they were somewhat successful, the formation of the American Medical Association in 1849 substantially increased their clout. While touting the morality of their actions to make abortion illegal, some of their comments reveal their desire to eliminate competitors. What is also interesting in the following quote from the 1857 reports of the AMA is the castigation of drugs, which of course today is one of the mainstays of medical healing.

Every phase of quackery is characterized by an over-weening faith in drugs, and a delusive confidence in specifics, inspired by the brazen effrontery of the charlatans who “by this craft have their gains,” and who employ themselves in encouraging the people to become, with the aid of their new system of drugging, “everyone his own doctor.”

And of course, women were judged unable to make an intelligent decision about their bodies on their own.

If each woman were allowed to judge for herself in this matter, her decision upon the abstract question would be too sure to be warped by personal considerations, and those of the moment. Woman’s mind is prone to depression, and, indeed, to temporary actual derangement, under the stimulus of uterine excitation, and this alike at the time of puberty and the final cessation of the menses, at the monthly period and at conception, during pregnancy, at labor and during lactation; a matter that also seems to have been more thoroughly investigated by the authority I have so freely drawn from in reference to the question of abortion, than by any other writer in this country.

Nineteenth Century Move to Make Abortion Illegal—Women’s Suffrage Movement Backlash

The mid-19th century saw two major social movements—the first led to the abolition of slavery and the second led to a constitutional amendment to give women the right to vote. The women’s suffrage movement sought not only to secure the vote, but also to emphasize a broader role for women. Educational opportunities for women increased and women sought employment in new fields and professions. But this change was not welcomed by those who still thought that women’s role was in taking care of the household and raising children. Frederick Engels, a socialist in 19th century England, pointed out the support this role gave to burgeoning capitalism. The woman kept the male fed and clothed and gave birth to more workers. It is not a coincidence that attempts to make abortion illegal coincided with women’s desire to break out of the traditional role of mother and wife. Our Bodies, Ourselves, a seminal work from the 1960’s women’s movement, sums it up well. “Antiabortion legislation was part of an antifeminist backlash to the growing movements for suffrage, voluntary motherhood, and other women’s rights in the 19th century.”[1]

Nineteenth Century Move to Make Abortion Illegal—Fear of Immigrants

Dr. Horatio Storer, responsible in large part for the AMA’s resolution against abortion also provided evidence of another factor in the fight to make abortion illegal—fear of the new wave of immigrants. “Shall” these regions, he asked, “be filled by our own children or by those of aliens? This is a question our women must answer; upon their loins depends the future destiny of the nation.”[2] Immigration to the United States reached its peak in the 1850’s. A large share of these immigrants were Catholics from Germany and Ireland.[3] Not dissimilar to today’s attempts to limit Muslim immigration, people feared the Catholics were taking over the country. Making abortion illegal would have the effect, ostensibly, of producing more Protestant children. Physicians, eager to eliminate competitors, coupled their pleas to white, native-born legislators’ fears of “losing political power to Catholic immigrants and women.”[4] The Quiverfill sect today has the same goal in mind—populate the earth with people who adhere to your religious views, in their case Christian fundamentalists.

Various measures were used to make abortion illegal, most importantly state laws. At the time of the passage of Roe v. Wade in 1973, abortion was completely illegal in 30 states with the remaining 20 having some form of restrictions. The first state to restrict abortion after quickening was Connecticut in 1821. In 1873, the Comstock Act was passed which made it illegal to send information by mail about abortion. By 1890, most states prohibited abortion unless it involved saving the life of the mother.[5]

An interesting twist to the 19th century history of abortion is that juries often refused to convict either abortionists or women who chose abortion. Abortion was part of the culture of U. S. society and it continued in spite of prohibitions as it did throughout the 20th century as well.

It must be said that there were also other issues that moved people to outlaw abortion in the 19th century, they just weren’t the dominant ones. Some cited the dangers of the procedure as part of their concern even though other surgical procedures were just as risky. Others used religion citing that “God by His eternal “fiat,” at the moment of conception, creates and breathes into the product of that conception a living soul.”

Rise of Abortions during Great Depression

The Great Depression of the 1930’s caused widespread hardship throughout the United States. Without enough food and shelter for adults, additional children put women over the breaking point. The rate of abortions increased during this time and prompted discussion of a change to the current abortion laws. As an example, “in 1939, 68 percent of medical students in the U.S. reported that they would be willing to perform abortions if they were legal.”[6] As Ricky Solinger discovered in his research for an essay on abortion in the second half of the 20th century, “before the war many women had found cooperative doctors, as evidenced by the vast number of approved medical indications for ‘therapeutic abortion’ (a list that kept expanding through the 1930s).” In addition, a poll in 1937 found that nearly 80% of women supported birth control and prompted the AMA to abandon its official opposition to birth control.

The End of World War II Sent Women Back to the Home

While there had been a trend to allow abortion even in medical clinics throughout the 1930’s and 40’s, that all changed when the men came back from the war. If you have ever watched the movie “Rosie the Riveter” about women’s place in the workplace during the war, you will remember the woman welder who just wanted to keep on with her work after WWII. It was not meant to be. Not only she, but many other women, were forced out of their war era jobs and expected to go back to their homes to take care of their husbands and have kids.

Thus it is not surprising that this era saw an increased prosecution of abortionists and an increasing portrayal of women who sought abortions as sluts. To quote Solinger again, “To promote their defensive ends, the men who ran the show almost always adopted an offensive mode: cryptoporn, titillating the crowd while at the same time provoking shame and repugnance.”

Thalidomide, NOW, and NARAL

In the 1960’s, a drug, thalidomide, taken to prevent morning sickness and nausea, tragically caused thousands of birth defects in babies born to mothers who had taken the drug. This caused many to rethink their opposition to abortion. During this same decade, the women’s movement spawned the National Organization for Women led by Betty Friedan and the National Action Rights Abortion League. Fighting against a history of women’s bodies as someone else’s property, women began to speak out about reproductive freedom resulting in the passage of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision in 1973.

Republican Strategy

While Catholics had been opposed to abortion at all stages of pregnancy since the late 19th century, other religious groups had remained divided on the issue. Certainly there were those who spoke out about abortion from a religious perspective, but this was not the dominant voice in conservative politics. The November 8, 1968 edition of Christianity Today, the leading evangelical magazine, contained several articles on reproduction including abortion. The issue contained what was called “A Protestant Affirmation” that stated: “Whether or not the performance of an induced abortion is sinful we are not agreed, but about the necessity of it and permissibility for it under certain circumstances we are in accord.”[7]

In 1971, the Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution calling for “legislation that will allow the possibility of abortion under such circumstances as rape, incest, clear evidence of fetal abnormality, and carefully ascertained evidence of the likelihood of damage to the emotional, mental, and physical health of the mother.”[8] This is a fairly liberal view of the right to an abortion.

At this time, prior to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, the majority in both political parties supported the right to abortion. As Jill Lapore, a frequent writer on the subject of abortion for The New Yorker explains, “In June of 1972, a Gallup poll reported that sixty-eight per cent of Republicans and fifty-nine per cent of Democrats agreed that ‘the decision to have an abortion should be made solely by a woman and her physician.’ Fifty-six per cent of Catholics thought so, too.”[9]

In the early 1970’s many mainstream Republicans like Richard Nixon were pro-choice. But his advisors convinced him to change his views in order to win re-election. But it was Republican political strategies in two elections that made abortion the divisive issue it is today. From an article in the New Yorker in 2011 comes the following analysis.

In 1970, the year Nixon signed Title X, the Department of Defense adopted a policy that doctors on military bases could in some instances perform abortions. In 1971, Patrick Buchanan wrote a memo recommending that the President reverse that policy, as part of a strategy to insure that George McGovern (the candidate Nixon wanted to run against) would defeat Edmund Muskie for the Democratic nomination. Observing that abortion was “a rising issue and a gut issue with Catholics,” Buchanan wrote, “If the President should publicly take his stand against abortion, as offensive to his own moral principles . . . then we can force Muskie to make the choice between his tens of millions of Catholic supporters and his liberal friends at the New York Times and the Washington Post.” A week later, in a statement to the Department of Defense, Nixon borrowed the language of the Catholic Church to speak of his “personal belief in the sanctity of human life—including the life of the yet unborn.”

The strategy worked and Nixon was reelected in November of 1972. A similar strategy proved fruitful in Iowa as well in the 1978 U. S. Senate election. Randall Balmer was a pastor’s son from Iowa. In a longer analysis of politics in Iowa, he states the following.

Iowa, in fact, served as the proving ground for abortion as a political issue. Until 1978, evangelicals in Iowa were overwhelmingly indifferent about abortion as a political matter. Even after the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973, most evangelicals considered abortion a “Catholic issue.” The Iowa race for U.S. Senate in 1978 pitted Dick Clark, the incumbent Democrat, against a Republican challenger, Roger Jepsen. All of the polling and the pundits viewed the election an easy win for Clark, who had walked across the state six years earlier in his successful effort to unseat Republican Jack Miller. In the final weekend of the 1978 campaign, however, pro-lifers (predominantly Catholic) leafleted church parking lots all over the state. Two days later, in an election with a very low turnout, Jepsen narrowly defeated Clark, thereby persuading Paul Weyrich and other architects of the Religious Right that abortion would work for them as a political issue.

Finally, in the late 1970’s, the Moral Majority movement, led by Jerry Falwell, brought together both social and economic conservatives around a supposedly pro-family agenda. Their targets included gay rights, sexual freedom, women’s liberation, the E.R.A., child care, and sex education. One of the key strategists, Paul Weyrich, stated clearly why abortion was included. This was “the issue that could divide the Democratic Party.” Paul Brown, the founder of the American Life League, stated in 1982, “Jerry Falwell couldn’t spell ‘abortion’ five years ago.”[10]

  1. Hypocrisy

The hypocrisy of the Right’s use of abortion as a political issue is exacerbated by the other positions it takes that seem diametrically opposed to a concern for children. Republicans in Congress have sought to reduce or eliminate funding for Planned Parenthood even though no federal funding is provided for abortion services. Instead, this move would eliminate health services to women and men for STD screening, access to birth control, and information on sex education and family planning. Research has shown that use of contraceptives available today drop the abortion rate by over ninety percent.

Republicans have often sought to eliminate or reduce food stamps (the SNAP program) that provide nutrition for families including their children. Temporary assistance programs for families (TANF) are also a target of budget cuts. These programs provide needed support to families with children where parents do not have the means to provide for themselves and their children.

Other programs that come under attack are sex education in the public schools. 26 states currently require abstinence-only to be taught as the best method in sex education classes. Research shows that abstinence-only sex education does not reduce sexual activity or prevent teen-age pregnancy. Instead it simply leaves young people unprepared to take adequate measures to assure conception does not occur. Bristol Palin, now the mother of two children born out of wedlock, earned hundreds of thousands of dollars advocating for abstinence education proving just how ineffective the program is.

The attacks on doctors who perform abortions and attacks on legal clinics where abortions are performed number in the thousands. The November 27, 2015 rampage at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood facility by alleged gunman killed three people and wounded nine more is simply the latest violence spurned by the anti-abortion rhetoric, particularly targeted by Congress against Planned Parenthood based on highly-edited video footage.

Finally, there is the hypocrisy of the gulf between the doctrine of the churches and the practices of the parishioners. The Freedom from Religion Foundation latest newsletter just reported that

A survey done by LifeWay, a Christian research group, shows that 70% of women who had abortions indicated their religious preference is Christian, including 25% who are Catholic. According to the survey, 76% of the 1,038 women surveyed said the church had no bearing on their decision. Only 7% discussed their abortion decision with someone at church.

I first got involved with writing my book, Women Beyond Belief: Discovering Life without Religion (Fall 2016), and creating this blog because of the U. S. Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that allowed a religious exemption for this privately held company so that it did not need to provide certain forms of birth control for its employees. I will continue to work to make people aware of the intrusion of religion into the lives of men and women in this country. I am a woman. It is my body. It is not the property of the state. Period.

Karen L. Garst


[1] http://www.feminist.com/resources/ourbodies/abortion.html

[2] http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/97may/abortex.htm

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_immigration_to_the_United_States#Immigration_1850_to_1930

[4] http://www.theatlantic.com/past/docs/issues/97may/abortex.htm

[5] http://www.chicagotribune.com/sns-abortion-timeline-story.html

[6] Leslie J. Reagan, When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States, 1867-1973 (Berkley, CA: University of California Press, 1996), p. 134.

[7] http://www.faithstreet.com/onfaith/2013/01/22/roe-v-wade-anniversary-how-abortion-became-an-evangelical-issue/11238

[8] Ibid.

[9] http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2011/11/14/birthright-jill-lepore

[10] John Gehring, The Francis Effect: A Radical Pope’s Challenge to the American Catholic Church (Lanham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2015) p. 68

Ten Reasons Humans Created Religion – Part A

Ten Reasons Humans Created Religion – Part A

To make sense of their world

Humans are meaning seeking beings. They want answers to questions: why did the sky erupt in fire? Why did the sun go dark? Why did my newborn daughter die? And the list goes on. For many of these occurrences, early humans felt pure terror. Even when we know what causes an earthquake today, it still causes fear and alarm for those affected. So how do we make sense of these events? Early humans created an explanation by positing the notion of some kind of a supernatural entity that was angry at them. Many of the early deities, not surprisingly, were sky gods—they lived “up there” and rained down fire and calamities on the humans living below. To appease these deities—to make them less angry—people developed practices such as animal and human sacrifice as well as other rituals. As Robert Wright explains, humans tried “to raise the ratio of good to bad.”[1] As our knowledge of our world grew, primarily through science, we learned that events such as eclipses are predictable and that the universe is immeasurably vast. As this happened, the sky god moved from the physical sphere to a more spiritual one. Unfortunately, some religions today have mired themselves so deeply in their stories, that they have become oblivious to new discoveries in science, with some believing that the earth was created in 4004 BCE because of the calculations of the 17th century Archbishop of Armagh (Church of Ireland), James Ussher.[2] 39% of Americans recently polled believe that the earth was created less than 10,000 years ago.[3]

To provide for a sense of belonging

Humans are not the only species on this planet that operate within social groups. They are also not the only ones that show empathy. Barbara King writes about the youngest son of Flo, an ape, who was unable to cope with his mother’s death. He stopped eating and died 3 ½ weeks after his mother. The roots of our dependence on others go deep.[4] Most scholars believe the word religion comes from the Latin word religare, which means to bind fast. While the word bind has both positive and negative connotations, it indicates something that holds people together. Modern religion has a myriad of activities that provide cohesion for a group: stories that trace the history of a culture, rituals such as communion, music in many forms, and ceremonies that cover virtually every aspect of life from birth to death. The negative aspects of the word to bind also come into play with the practices of some religions, such as disfellowship in Jehovah’s Witnesses, which banishes members from their families and friends when they leave the church.

To seek help in their endeavors

Imagine a Paleolithic cave. It is a refuge from a harsh environment. Evidence of fires near the entrance show where the people lived, ate, and gave birth. Female figurines, often with pregnant bellies, are mostly found in this area. In the back of the cave, one finds the wall paintings of animals, such as those at Lascaux in France. Some of these paintings show evidence of being painted over multiple times. This is the space for the hunters and the shaman. What can they do to assure success in the hunt? Does the shaman lead them in incantations? Does he perform another type of ritual? Shamans, as studied in existing cultures, are the first religious “experts.” It is likely they existed in the Paleolithic era as well. As Robert Wright explains, shamans are a crucial first step in the emergence of organized religion. They move the group from a “fluid amalgam of beliefs about a fluid amalgam of spirits and what religion came to be: a distinct body of belief and practice, kept in shape by an authoritarian institution.”[5] The shamans gave the hunters hope that they would be successful. Given the fact that even today we only notice when a good result comes from religious efforts such as prayer (and forget all those times when it does not), it is not surprising that the hunters became reliant on the shamans.

To unify diverse people

It is believed that hunter-gatherer groups were more or less egalitarian. As small groups, they were fairly homogenous. When our hunter-gatherer ancestors developed agriculture, they became more sedentary. Instead of wandering small bands, these tribes coalesced into larger entities. Undoubtedly, there was great diversity among these tribes who may have had little contact with others. Religion, with all that comes with it, can unify a group. As an example, as people came to the Nile, they brought their individual tribal gods with them in the form of a mascot or tribal fetish.[6] As the country unified these diverse groups, a more cohesive theology developed to worship Ra, the sun god, who also became the symbolic father of the Pharaoh.[7] Unity also makes it easier to defend one’s ground, which became a necessity once agriculture developed. It is always easier to fight “the other” when your leader is telling you that they don’t believe in your god. We see this today as ISIS attracts people from diverse nations to fight all who do not believe as they do. In some ways, nothing has changed.

To instill order

Settling in villages requires some type of order. The larger the community, the greater the need for a set of codes or laws to not only guide behavior, but to provide punishment for those who refuse to obey. Religion helped provide that. The very first laws were discovered in Elba (modern-day Syria) and date from 2400 BCE.[8] More well-known is Hammurabi’s (1792-50 BCE) code, carved on a stone tablet (and now in the Louvre in Paris), whose purpose is stated clearly from the beginning—”Anu and Bel called by name me, Hammurabi, the exalted prince, who feared God, to bring about the rule of righteousness in the land, to destroy the wicked and the evil-doers; so that the strong should not harm the weak; so that I should rule over the black-headed people like Shamash, and enlighten the land, to further the well-being of mankind …”[9] The Ten Commandments, which is found in two versions in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy and formed the basis of Jewish law, came much later around 1000 BCE. In Judaism, it was the Levites who served as priests in the temple. As priests, they served to enforce the rules and norms of the state. Temples were indeed the first statehouses. All of these examples, of course, predate any notion of separation of church and state.

See next week’s post for reasons six through ten.

Karen L. Garst

November 27, 2015


[1] Robert Wright, The Evolution of God (Boston, MA: Little, Brown, and Company, 2009), 32.

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ussher_chronology

[3] http://ncse.com/rncse/30/3/americans-scientific-knowledge-beliefs-human-evolution-year-

[4] Barbara King, Evolving God: A Provocative View of the Origins of Religion (New York: NY: Doubleday, 2007), 32.

[5] Wright, 31

[6] Don Cupitt, After God: The Future of Religion (New York: NY, Basic Books, 1997), 6.

[7] Ibid.

[8] http://www.ushistory.org/civ/4c.asp

[9] Ibid.

Ten Reasons for Women to Reject Christianity

Ten Reasons for Women to Reject Christianity

Most Christians believe that God is omnipotent which means all powerful. Most also believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God with some going further to state that it is the inerrant word of God with every word being true. Given these assumptions, God had a choice in choosing a woman, Eve, to be the person to eat of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden, to be the cause of original sin, and to suffer pain in childbirth. Would an omnipotent God choose half of his creation to be maligned, abused, and subordinated throughout most of human history? Couldn’t he have come up with a better story to talk about making the right choices?

Or could Eve have been chosen in this story of Genesis because this book is not sacred or the inspired word of a deity, because it was written by men who believed women were their property, and because it was used to suppress the worship of the Canaanite goddess Asherah? A tree or pillar as well as a snake, often represented Asherah, as well as many other goddesses in other religions. Both of these symbols are found in the Biblical story of Eve lending credence to this latter view.

2. Virginity

Deuteronomy 22:21 states the following. If a man married a woman and the “tokens of her virginity” could not be proved, she would be killed. “Then they shall bring out the young woman to the door of her father’s house and the men of her city shall stone her to death with stones.”

A woman’s virginity is lost when she has sex with a man. In this story, nothing happens to the male half of this equation. It is thus the law of God to treat women as inferior to men and to blame them solely for an act that it takes two to commit. In the Bible, only in the case of adultery is the man punished in equal measure to the woman. What untold horror has beset women because of this “law of God?”

3. Barter

In Genesis 19:8, Lot offers his two virgin daughters to the mob threatening to rape the two angels he is harboring. His daughters are used simply as barter.

Is this the story of parental love that you want your children to read? Wouldn’t you do anything to save the lives of your children? Yet this story resides in a book in church pews across the world. What does it say about a religion whose deities would sacrifice a man’s daughters to save themselves (as the angels did nothing to intervene)?

4. Women as cause of a plague

In Numbers 31:17-18, God tells Moses to “avenge the people of Israel on the Midianites.” After the battle Moses rebukes his soldiers because they let the women live. Because they were the cause of the plague, he orders his soldiers to “kill every woman who has known man by lying with him.” He allows the soldiers to spare the virgins and keep them for themselves.

How can this be interpreted as anything less than a lack of knowledge about disease and an opportunity for men to rape virgins? Today we know a virus causes the plague. Why wouldn’t an omnipotent God know that? Why would he let women be killed? Why didn’t he stop Moses?

5. Jephthah’s daughter

Jephthah makes a vow to God to give him the first person that comes out of his house if he returns victorious from fighting the Ammonites. He wins and sacrifices his virgin daughter who is the first person to greet him.

Isn’t this a vow to God? Couldn’t God have told Jephthah to go and sacrifice a lamb instead like he did in the case of Isaac? Why didn’t God act the same when a daughter was involved instead of a son?

6. Sacrifice of Isaac

Abraham is willing to follow the dictates of God to kill his son. Fortunately, in this case, God intervenes and Abraham is allowed to sacrifice a lamb instead.

Should any woman or man believe in a deity that would ask a father or mother to sacrifice their children to him? If this is a test, it is a cruel test indeed. And where is Sarah the mother? She is not present, she is not consulted, and she has no say in the matter. This is a book written by men and for men to justify their power over women. Isn’t it interesting how Sarah is barren and God even takes over the power to cause pregnancy?

7. Harlots and prostitutes

If a daughter of a priest “plays the harlot,” the punishment is severe – “She shall be burned with fire.” (Leviticus 21:9)

This concept of blaming the woman for sex outside of marriage still endures today. Prostitution is not legal in most of the United States and prostitutes are regularly arrested. It is the rare case, where the men who frequent prostitutes are arrested and charged with a crime. Isn’t this just another example of men’s power? Is this really something a loving God would condone? Or is it the means by which men maintain control of women?

8. Mary is a Virgin

Matthew states that Jesus was born of a virgin who is called Mary. Matthew explains in Chapter 1:23 that Jesus’ birth fulfills the Old Testament prophesy – “Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son.” This virgin birth is a key tenet of Christianity today.

Unfortunately, Matthew used a mistranslation of Isaiah 7:14 to compose his text. The word in Isaiah in the original Hebrew means young woman, not virgin. The Revised Standard Version of the Bible now correctly translates Isaiah using the words young woman. Doesn’t this lend credence to the fact that men wrote these gospels? Wouldn’t God have known the correct translation? Why didn’t Jesus write down his own story?

9. Men Are in Charge of Women

1 Corinthians 11:3 states that the “head of every woman is the man.” This passage, as well as many others, has been used to keep women in a subordinate position throughout most of the last 2000 years.

Do women support this inferiority today? If they do feel they are men’s equals, how can they square that with the teachings of Christianity? While things have moved in a positive direction for women, there’s still a long way to go. Women should reject the place that’s expected by them from Christianity, and always keep positive self-esteem instead in relationships.

10. Women Should Be Submissive

In 1 Peter 3:1-2, women are told to be submissive to their husbands.

Women and men should be equal. Religion and particularly Christianity in the United States has been used throughout this country’s history to subjugate women. Even today, men use the Bible to justify their beliefs on issues such as access to birth control or abortion. It’s time for women to acknowledge that this religion, like most others, was created by man and by man alone.

If you would like to write a guest post, please contact me at karen@faithlessfeminist.com

Karen Garst

The Faithless Feminist