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|Frances Wright (1795-1852)|
Pioneering advocate of women's equality; first US woman to question the utility of religion; antislavery activist; advocate of free public schools; editor of Free Enquirer
The hired preachers of all sects, creeds, and religions, never do, and never can, teach any thing but what is in conformity with the opinions of those who pay them.
We have seen that no religion stands on the basis of things known; none bounds its horizon within the field of human observation; and, therefore, as it can never present us with indisputable facts, so must it ever be at once a source of error and contention.
I am not going to question your opinions. I am not going to meddle with your belief. I am not going to dictate to you mine. All that I say is, examine, inquire. Look into the nature of things. Search out the grounds of your opinions, the for and against. Know why you believe, understand what you believe, and possess a reason for the faith that is in you.
I am neither Jew nor Gentile, Mahomedan nor Theist; I am but a member of the human family, and would accept of truth by whomsoever offered -- that truth which we can all find, if we will but seek -- in things, not in words; in nature, not in human imagination; in our own hearts, not in temples made with hands.
Time is it to arrest our speculations respecting unseen worlds and inconceivable mysteries, and to address our inquiries to the improvement of our human condition, and our efforts to the practical illustration of those beautiful principles of liberty and equality enshrined in the political institutions, and, first and chief, in the national declaration of independence.
The victims of this odious experiment on human credulity and nervous weakness were invariably women.... the despair of Calvin's hell itself seemed to have fallen upon every heart, and discord to have taken possession of every mansion.
It was in this year, 1828, that the standard of "the Christian Party in Politics" was openly unfurled.... This was an evident attempt, through the influence of the clergy over the female mind -- until this hour lamentably neglected in the United States -- to effect a union of Church and State.
Above, her agitated fancy hears the voice of a god in thunders; below, she sees the yawning pit; and, before, behind, around, a thousand phantoms, conjured from the prolific brain of insatiate priestcraft, confound, alarm, and overwhelm her reason!
However novel it may appear, I shall venture the assertion, that, until women assume the place in society which good sense and good feeling alike assign to them, human improvement must advance but feebly.... whenever we establish our own pretensions upon the sacrificed rights of others, we do in fact impeach our own liberties, and lower ourselves in the scale of being!
Instead of establishing facts, we have to overthrow errors; instead of ascertaining what is, we have to chase from our imaginations what is not.
A necessary consequent of religious belief is the attaching ideas of merit to that belief, and of demerit to its absence. Now here is a departure from the first principle of true ethics. Here we find ideas of moral wrong and moral right associated with something else than beneficial action. The consequent is, we lose sight of the real basis of morals, and substitute a false one. Our religious belief usurps the place of our sensations, our imaginations of our judgment.... We no longer look to actions, trace their consequences, and then deduce the rule; we first make the rule, and then, right or wrong, force the action to square with it.
And when did mere preaching do any good? Put something in the place of these things. Fill the vacuum of the mind. Awaken its powers, and it will respect itself. Give it worthy objects on which to spend its strength, and ti will riot no more in wantonness. Do the clergy this? Do they not rather demand a prostration of the intellect -- a humbling and debasing of the spirit? Is not their knowledge that of things unseen, speaking neither to the senses, nor to the faculties? Are not their doctrines, by their own confession, incomprehensible? Is not their morality based upon human depravity? Preach they not the innate corruption of our race? Away with this libel of our nature! Away with this crippling, debasing, cowardly theory! Long, long enough hath this foul slander obscured our prospects, paralyzed our efforts, crushed the generous spirit within us! Away with it! such a school never made a race of freemen.
Satisfied by experience, no less than observation, of the advantage to be derived from this rule of practice, vis. to communicate with others only respecting my knowledge, and to keep to myself my belief, I venture to recommend the same to my fellow creatures; and, in conformity with this rule, would urge them, as soon as possible, to turn their churches into halls of science, and exchange their teachers of faith for expounders of nature.
I purpose to develope with you that just rule of life, which no system of religion ever taught, or can ever teach; which exists apart from all faith, all creeds, and all written laws, and which can alone be found by following, with an open eye, a ready ear, and a willing heart, the steps of knowledge; by exercising the senses, faculties, and feelings, which appertain to our own nature; and, instead of submitting our reason to the authority of fallible teachers, by bringing always the words of all books and all teachers to the test of our reason.
The Subtle Fulmination of the Encircled Sea
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