Joseph McCabe (1867-1955) was one of the most prolific authors of all time. He was brought up as a Roman Catholic, worked on Latin documents, and made himself very well-informed about Christianity, but turned against it. But he was extremely naive about Jews; bear this in mind.

Click for Detailed notes on McCabe - scroll down for selections from A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (1948).

Here's the full A Rationalist Encyclopaedia (about 1.3 MBytes; Word format; includes notes on some of its limits)

Woman and Christianity. Woman and Religion.

J. McCabe, Rationalists Encyclopaedia

Woman and Christianity. Five of the six broad and fundamental claims that are made for the moral or social service of Christianity - that it "gave the world schools," "broke the fetters of the slave," "taught men charity" (hospitals, etc.), purified morals, secured justice for the workers, and "uplifted woman," are considered in many articles of this work. The sixth, which is discussed here, is not merely as unsound, but, soberly speaking, as ridiculously opposed to the historical truth, as the other five. In the large literature about woman which began to appear in the feminist struggle of the first quarter of the present century it is not disputed that in the Egyptian and Babylonian civilizations woman was, legally and socially - neither sex had political rights - the equal of man, and the scanty evidence clearly suggests that she had a similar equality amongst the Hittites and the Cretans, since their chief deity was female. It is not seriously disputed, in the face of the evidence of the Old Testament, that the Jews were in this respect below the level of contemporary civilization. Although the best part of the Mosaic legislation was borrowed from the Hammurabi Code [see], the clauses which gave woman equal justice were not adopted. The Greeks began their history, like the Aryans generally, with a marked inequality of the sexes; but woman began to find powerful champions (Euripides, Plato, etc.) at Athens, and, as Epicurus stood for equality, the general influence of the Epicureans on the later Greek world relieved woman's disabilities until Christianity was established and the Byzantine civilization relapsed into the old injustice. The Romans in turn opened their historical career with woman in a position of profound inequality [see Marriage; Romans; etc.], but the women conducted an organized revolt as early as the second century B.C., and by the end of the pre-Christian era were generally free from the tyranny of the men and admitted to social equality. The first empress, Livia, a woman of strong and high character - as were half a dozen of the pagan empresses (Fundana, Plotina, Sabina, Julia Donna, etc.), and none of their Christian successors - was in many respects an ancient Queen Victoria, and in the following two centuries the Stoic-Epicurean lawyers removed all the disabilities of women from Roman law. Sir Henry Maine says: "Led by their theory of Natural Law, the jurists bad evidently at this time assumed the equality of the sexes as a principle of their code of equity" (Ancient Law, p. 154). The apologist is, in fact - especially as he rarely knows anything about Roman law or history - obliged to content himself with a claim that the Church "elevated" women by making marriage a sacrament. How many modern women would consider it a gain to be bound for life, whatever the character of the husband, need not be considered, as the Church had no control of marriage until centuries later; and the plea of the more ignorant apologists, that the Church, by purifying the morals of the Romans, lifted woman from the position of "plaything" of man is absurdly at variance with the social history of the time. [For authorities see Divorce; Marriage; Romans, Morals of the.] The claim of the apologist is seen to be quite reckless when we recall the broadest fact of the history of the time, that the attainment of power by the Christian religion was at once followed by the fall of Rome (410) and the setting - in of the Dark Age [see], during which for five or six centuries at least four-fifths of the women of Europe were serfs [see] living in squalid subjection, and the women of the Teutonic ruling class were very disorderly. [See Franks.] The apologist would have us admire the Church for creating such positions as abbess for women; but there was a widespread corruption of the nunneries [see Boniface], and there had been no need in later pagan years to adopt a life that was either cruel or hypocritical in order to gain respect.
      During the Dark Age it might almost be said that woman was equal to man because all were sunk in a common degradation and subjection. In the second part of the Middle Age her position is much misunderstood, and the guilt of the Church is greater. Very few writers on the subject seem to appreciate the fact that what they say about the position of woman from the fifth century to the nineteenth applies only to women of the middle class (which was very small until the later Middle Age) and the wealthy, or noble class. The less said the better about four-fifths (earlier more) of the women of Europe during that period. But the peculiar disservice of the Church to woman was that when she began to rise with the general rise of European civilization, after 1050, the Church thrust her down into a position of deeper injustice than ever. For a century or two the women of the knightly and noble class enjoyed a remarkable freedom. In no civilized age were these women so aggressively immoral and so far removed from what is called the ideal of womanhood as during the Age of Chivalry. See article on that period for the facts and the authorities, who are unanimous. The licence, cruelty, and unscrupulousness of the women of the new Teutonic nobility had generally continued throughout the Dark Age [see Rule of the whores for Rome], and in the eleventh century, reinforced by the Normans who had settled in France, they greedily seized upon the new luxury and adventurousness. The shrinking maid and the tender matron of romantic literature concerning this period are grotesque fiction. It was an age of what are called "masculine" women, entirely shameless in their pursuit of men, and extraordinarily callous to the sufferings of the mass of the people. The Church was bound to react on so gross a defiance of Christian principles; but under the lead of the Schoolmen, who are now represented as quite modern in sentiment, the reaction went so far that it put woman in the state of injustice from which she had to be redeemed in modern times. The Schoolmen followed the early Fathers, almost all of whom had, in their zeal against sins of the flesh, used contemptuous language about women. Broadly they followed the legend of Genesis, that it was woman who caused the fall of man. As most of the feminist writers before 1910 - before the Churches were compelled in their own interest to take up the feminist cause - were sceptics, they freely reproduce the misogynous passages of Clement, Alexandria, Tertullian, Origen, Gregory of Nazianzum, Ambrose, and Augustine. About the same time the Canon Law was elaborated, based upon the same ascetic sentiments of Paul and the Fathers, and there is no dispute amongst jurists about the fact that its influence on civil law was profoundly injurious to women. "It was the policy of the Church to keep women in a subordinate position," says one of the more Christian of the modern feminist writers, Mrs. G. Hill (Women in English Life, p. vii). And, as if history sought to emphasize in every chapter the truth that other-worldly religions cannot of their nature be expected to be of social service, it records how, while woman in a generally advancing Christendom sank lower and lower, she at the same time rose to her old position of equality and justice in the new sceptical civilization, that of the Spanish Arabs (McCabe's Splendour of Moorish Spain, 1935).
      Feminist writers who try to mitigate this reflection on the Church can do little more than point out how, after the Reformation, many women were conspicuous and honoured in English, French, and German public life, as some had been during the Italian Renaissance. They lack a sense of proportion. Certainly not one woman in 10,000 had any such power or distinction, and the basis of it was not always very Christian. But it is superfluous to argue. In her standard History of Women's Suffrage (III, 290) Mrs. Cady Stanton has a lengthy statement of women's legal and social position at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The husband was permitted by law to beat her with a stick or sell her - this was still done in England a hundred years ago - take all her property or remove her children from her. Few careers were open to her, and those who wanted the professions opened to them, or political rights, or a redress of their legal grievances, were drenched with obloquy. There is no greater mistake than to suppose that the spirited feminist fight of the last two generations was just for the right to vote. Woman, in both Catholic and Protestant countries, was "not a person," says Mrs. Cady Stanton. What the Nazis did to woman in Germany was to restore part of the injustice which was inflicted on her by Christian influence; what Russia has done for her is a repetition of the work of sceptical periods of history. And, significantly, it was from the ferment of French thought created by the atheistic Encyclopaedists that the cry for redress arose. The Condorcets formulated the demand in France, but it had not had time to soften the traditional opposition when the Napoleonic compromise, and then the period of reaction, paralysed it. Meantime it had passed to England, where Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft, and Shelley voiced it; and while the clergy continued to sneer, Robert Owen, Bentham, J. S. Mill, and Holyoake, lent all their influence in support. Not until the cause was within sight of political victory, and had won considerable legal and social redress, did the Church move. It was the same in America. Frances Wright [see], a follower of Owen, took the agitation there from Scotland, and in the difficult years that followed throughout the nineteenth century it was mainly rebels against the Churches who sustained the fight for justice. Of fourteen leaders after Frances Wright, indicated as such in Mrs. Cady Stanton's large history, four were Quakers one a Deist, and the remainder nearly all Agnostics or Atheists. It was the same in every country. It was the atheistic German Socialist leaders in Germany, and Ibsen, Bj‚ÄĚrnson, and Ellen Key in Scandinavia, who led the demand, while notoriously the cause made least progress, and was most opposed by the clergy, in Catholic countries. [For literature see Feminism and the articles to which reference is made in the text.]

Woman and Religion. While the attempt to retain the loyalty of women to the Churches on the ground that Christianity has been "her best friend" was discredited, as far as educated women are concerned, by the large historical literature which the modern feminist agitation evoked, many imagine that the Churches can still rely on it because woman is from her "nature," or psychological endowment, "more religious than man." This is one of those facile generalizations which exact inquiry discredits. Modern psychology [see] increasingly rejects the idea of a fixed "nature" of either man or woman, and, although psychologists discreetly avoid inquiries which might be distasteful to religious folk, the laboratory experiments conducted in America have destroyed much of the basis of the belief in a special feminine "nature" from the psychological point of view. It has been proved, for instance, that woman is not more sensitive than man, and that faculties especially claimed for her (intuition, clairvoyance, etc.) do not exist. Glandular differences, and the larger extent of her sympathetic (abdominal) nervous system and adipose deposits, tend to give her more emotional instability - this does not necessarily mean attachment to religion as such - but the idea that she has less brain than man (in proportion to total weight of active body) is exposed in all manuals of physiology. The fundamental fallacy is, however, the generalization itself, and the idea becomes preposterous when the women of different countries or historical periods are considered. The average woman of the Age of Chivalry was the exact opposite of the alleged feminine type (gentle, clinging, and modest). All authorities admit that she was quite generally, in the knights and noble class, brazen in her sexual aggressiveness, callous, "hard," and noisily self-assertive. Havelock Ellis, in reference to men and women of this period in his Psychology of Sex, is led astray by the conventional version of Chivalry. Dr. R. Briffault (The Mothers, 3 vols., 1927) has several sound chapters on the women of the time, with full references. On the other hand, Havelock Ellis has an admirable chapter on this subject in his Man and Woman (8th ed., 1934). He points out that, of 600 founders of religions or sects, only seven (including the founders of Spiritualism, Theosophy, and Christian Science) were women, and that women are as enthusiastic as men in modern Left Wing movements. The truth is that the common idea that women are the "main support of the Churches" is greatly exaggerated. The only exact statistics are those of the census of churchgoers taken in London in 1902-3 (R. Mudie-Smith, The Religious Life of London, 1904). The total of churchgoers was 372,264 men and 607,267 women, whereas writers had said that there were three women to one man. But the figures in detail showed that environment and the artistic quality of the Church counted more than "nature." In the wealthy Catholic churches there were three or four women to one man; in the poorer districts and Protestant churches there was little disproportion of the sexes. In a normal social order, with complete equality, there is no greater religiosity in the female sex, but the narrower environment of the domestic woman on six days of the week makes her more ready to welcome the change on Sunday.

Return to Joseph McCabe Selection

Home Page

Scanning, HTML Rae West. First upload 2012-04-13