Cane Ridge - Harriet Martineau - Women and Preachers
Of Cane Ridge revivalism and professional preachers Harriet Martineau asks: How can any man come between another's soul and the infinite to which it tends? If it is said that they are guardians of truth, and not of conscience, they may be asked for their warrant. God has given his truth for all. Each is to lay hold of what he can receive of it: Harriet Martineau: Society in America. Observations made during a Stay in 1837
RELIGION. General Treatise on the Unhealthly Preoccupation of Women with Religion; Abuses of the Clergy.
The way in which religion is made an occupation by women, testifies not only to the vacuity which must exist when such a mistake is fallen into, but to the vigour with which the religious sentiment would probably be carried into the great objects and occupations of life, if such were permitted.
I was perpetually struck with this when I saw women braving hurricane, frost, and snow, to flit from preaching to preaching; and laying out the whole day among visits for prayer and religious excitement, among the poor and the sick. I was struck with this when I saw them labouring at their New Testament, reading superstitiously a daily portion of that which was already too familiar to the ear to leave any genuine and lasting impression, thus read.
Note: Researchers note that after a song has been sung about 5 times the congregation just sings it and does not understand what they are singing. The same is true of so-called "preaching." How often we hear one say that "I have a sermon on that." Well developed and preached over and over. Even when newly composed many offer the same subject which most of the congregation might recite more accurately.
Extraordinary instances met my knowledge of both clergymen and ladies making the grossest mistakes about conspicuous facts of the gospel history, while reading it in daily portions for ever.
It is not surprising that such a method of perusal should obviate all real knowledge of the book: but it is astonishing that those who feel it to be so should not change their methods,
and begin at length to learn that which they have all their lives been vainly trusting that they knew.
The wife of a member of Congress, a conscientious and religious woman, judges of persons by one rule,
whether they are "pious." I could never learn how she applied this; nor what she comprehended under her phrase. She told me that she wished her husband to leave Congress. He was no longer a young man, and it was time he was thinking of saving his soul.
She could not, after long conversation on this subject,
realise the idea that religion is not an affair of occupation and circumstance,
but of principle and temper;
and that, as there is no more important duty than that of a member of Congress, there is no situation in which a man can attain a higher religious elevation, if the spirit be in him.
A great mischief from the isolation of the clergy is that, while it deprives them of the highest kind of influence which is the prerogative of manhood,
it gives them a lower kind: Can influence as strong as it is pernicious to others, and dangerous to themselves;
Can influence confined to the weak members of society;
women and superstitious men.
By such they are called "faithful guardians." Guardians of what? A healthy person may guard a sick one: a sane man may guard a lunatic: a grown person may guard a child: and, for social purposes, an appointed watch may guard a criminal.
But how can any man guard his equal in spiritual matters, the most absolutely individual of all?
How can any man come between another's soul and the infinite to which it tends?
If it is said that they are guardians of truth, and not of conscience,
they may be asked for their warrant.
God has given his truth for all. Each is to lay hold of what he can receive of it;
and he sins if he devolves upon another the guardianship of what is given him for himself.
As to the fitness of the clergy to be guardians, it is enough to mention what I know: that
there is infidelity within the walls of their churches of which they do not dream;
and profligacy among their flocks of which they will be the last to hear.
Even in matters which are esteemed their peculiar business, the state of faith and morals, they are more in the dark than any other persons in society. Some of the most religious and moral persons in the community are among those who never enter their churches;
while among the company who sit at the feet of the pastor while he refines upon abstractions, and builds a moral structure upon imperfect principles, or upon metaphysical impossibilities, there are some in whom the very capacity of steadfast belief has been cruelly destroyed; some who hide loose morals under a strict profession of religion; and some if possible more lost still, who have arrived at making their religion co-exist with their profligacy. Is there not here something like the blind leading the blind ?
Over those who consider the clergy " faithful guardians," their influence, as far as it is professional, is bad; as far as it is that of friendship or acquaintanceship, it is according to the characters of the men.
I am disposed to think ill of the effects of the practice of parochial visiting, except in cases of poor and afflicted persons, who have little other resource of human sympathy.
I cannot enlarge upon the disagreeable subject of the devotion of the ladies to the clergy.
I believe there is no liberal minded minister who does not see, and too sensibly feel, the evil of women being driven back upon religion as a resource against vacuity;
and of there being a professional class to administer it.
Some of the most sensible and religious elderly women I know in America
speak, with a strength which evinces strong conviction,
of the mischief to their sex of ministers entering the profession young and poor, and with a great enthusiasm for parochial visiting.
There is no very wide difference between the auricular confession of the catholic church, and the spiritual confidence reposed in ministers the most devoted to visiting their flocks. Enough may be seen in the religious periodicals of America about the help women give to young ministers by the needle, by raising subscriptions, and by more toilsome labours than they should be allowed to undergo in such a cause.
If young men cannot earn with their own hands the means of finishing their education, and providing themselves with food and clothing, without the help of women,
they may safely conclude that their vocation is to get their bread first; whether or not it may be to preach afterwards. But this kind of dependence is wholly unnecessary. There is more provision made for the clergy than there are clergy to use it
A young clergyman came home, one day, and complained to me that some of his parochial visiting afflicted him much. He had been visiting and exhorting a mother who had lost her infant;
a sorrow which he always found he could not reach. The mourner had sat still, and heard all he had to say: but his impression was that he had not met any of her feelings; that he had done nothing but harm.
How should it be otherwise? What should he know of the grief of a mother for her infant?
He was sent for, as a kind of charmer, to charm away the heart's pain. Such pain is not sent to be charmed away. It could be made more endurable only by sympathy, of all outward aids: and sympathy, of necessity, he had none; but only a timid pain with which to aggravate her's. It was natural that he should do nothing but harm.
My final impression is, that religion is best administered in America by the personal character of the most virtuous members of society,
out of the theological profession:
and next, by the acts and preachings of the members of that profession who are the most secular in their habits of mind and life.
The exclusively clerical are the worst enemies of Christianity, except the vicious.
APPENDIX F: Further Notes on the Relation of Women and the Clergy.
Independently of the disinterestedness, simplicity, and humility of woman's character, in all matters relating to religion, they naturally reverence and cling to those who show them respect and deference.
The clergy, from understanding this point in their nature, possess great and deserved influence over them; and they have only to interest their feelings, to insure success to any clerical or charitable purpose.
Look at a woman's zeal in foreign or domestic missions, not only devoting her time at home, but leaving her friends and her comforts, to assist in establishing them in a distant land. And is it ever pretended that a woman was not more than equalled a man in these duties?
And will she not toil for days, scarcely raising her eyes from the work, to assist in purchasing an organ, a new altarcloth, or in cleaning and painting a church?
So great is the tax, now, on a woman's time, for these and for other religious purposes, such as the "educating young men for the ministry, that the amount is frightful and scandalous.
If the funds of a religious congregation be low, which can only happen where the men are poor in spirit, and wanting in religious fervour, a woman is allowed to exert herself beyond her means; for well we know that she cannot endure a want of neatness and order, in a house where God is to be worshipped.
To be sure, it may be said, that no one compels her to this unequal share of labour;
but we know how the thing operates.
She ought, and she does, and nobly does her share, in educating poor children, both during the week and on Sunday. She searches out the widow and the fatherless, the orphan, the sick and the poor, the aged and the unhappy. All this, although it amount to a great deal, and certainly much more than men can ever do, it is her duty to do, and she performs the duty cheerfully. As she considers it incumbent on her thus to exert herself, and as it gives her pleasure, there can be no objection on our part, to let her do al] the good in this way that she can; but do not let us exact too much of a willing mind and tender conscience. Confiding in her spiritual directors, she may be brought to do more than is proper for her to do.
This "educating of young men, this preparing them for a theological seminary," is not part of a woman's duty, and it is not only contemptible, but base, to allow such a discipline of their minds, as to make them imagine it to be their duty.
Look at the young men who are to be educated- - What right have they, with so many sources open to them, what right have they to allow women to tax themselves for their maintenance? Poor credulous woman! she can be made to think anything a duty. How have we seen her neglecting her health, her comfort, her family, the poor, and, above all, neglecting the improvement of her own mind, that she might earn a few dollars towards educating a young man, who is far more able to do it himself,
and who, nine times in ten, laughs in his sleeve at her.
What right, we again ask, have these young men to the labours of a woman?
Are they not as capable of working as she is? What should hinder them from pursuing some handicraft, some employment, during their term of study ?
If a woman were to be educated gratis, in this way, would any set of young men associate and work for her maintenance? No, that they would not; she would not only have to labour for herself, but her labour would be unaided even by sympathy.
Now, very few women are aware, that they are, in a manner, maneuvred into thus spending their precious time; we mean for the education of young men that have a desire to enter the theological seminary.
Many of them are not conscious of being swayed by other motives indeed, some have no other motive, than that of pure Christian love, when they thus assist in raising funds for educating young men. They feel a disposition to follow on, in any scheme proposed to them;
and when the thing is rightly managed, the project has the appearance of originating with themselves. Men understand the mode of doing this.
The spirit of piety and charity is very strong in the bosom of a woman; she feels the deepest reverence and devotion towards her spiritual pastor, and is naturally, therefore, disposed to do good, in the way he thinks best.
If it were not for this reverence and submission, if they were left unbiased by hint, persuasion, or by some unaccountable spell which they cannot break through, their charities would find another and a more suitable channel.
Their good sense would show them the impropriety of giving up so much of their time, for a, purpose that belongs exclusively to the care of men: they would soon see the truth, as it appears to others, that the scheme must be a bad one, which enables young men to live in idleness, during the time that they are getting through with their classical studies: such a " getting through," too, as it generally is.
We do not set forth the following plan, as the very best that can be offered, but it is practicable, and would be creditable. It is that every theological seminary should have sufficient ground attached to it, that each student might have employment in raising vegetables and fruit. There should likewise be a workshop connected with it, wherein he might pursue some trade so that if he did not find it his vocation to preach, when his religious education was finished, he might not be utterly destitute, as too many are. In fact, it ought to be so much the part of a clergyman's education, to be acquainted with certain branches of horticulture, that he should not receive a call to a country or village church, if he were ignorant of it.
So far from degrading, it would be doing these young men a kindness. In the first place, they would hold fast that spirit of independence which is so necessary to a man's prosperity, and to his usefullness as a clergyman. He would be of the greatest consequence to his parishioners, for horticulture is an art but little known to them; and even if they go to a great distance as missionaries, of what great service would his horticultural knowledge be to the poor people, whose souls he hopes to save! We all know how immediately civilisation follows the cultivation of the soil; and we may rest assured, that the sacred object which the young missionary has in view, will meet with fewer obstacles, if his lessons are connected with attention to the bodily wants of his charge.
It is really disgusting to those who live in the neighbourhood of religious institutions, to see the frivolous manner in which young men pass their time, when not in actual study. We do not say that they are dissipated, or vicious, in the common sense of the word, but that they lounge about, trifle, and gossip, retailing idle chit-chat and fooleries.
At the very time when they are thus happily amusing themselves, the women who assist in giving them a classical education allow themselves scarcely any respite from their labours. We have known some of them to sew, it is all they can do, from sunrise till nine o'clock at night; and all for this very purpose.
It is quite time to put a stop to this, and let indigent young men educate themselves. Why do they not form societies to create funds for the purpose,
not as is usually done whenever they have attempted a thing of this kind, by carrying about a paper to collect money,
but by extra labour of their own, as women do?
Let those who live in cities write for lawyers or clerks in chancery, or make out accounts for poor shopkeeping women, who will never cheat them out of a cent, nor refuse them a just compensation.
If it be said that they cannot write well enough for any of these purposes, then they must go to the free-school again. There are a hundred modes by which they could earn at least twenty-five cents a day, which is the average of what a woman makes when she is employed in sewing for this purpose. Those who live in the country, where, in fact, all students, rich or poor, ought to be, on account of health, should raise fruit, vegetables, we mean assist in this, work at some trade, write for newspapers, teach the children of the families at extra hours:
in short, a lad of independent spirit could devise ways and means enough to pay for his board and clothing while he is learning Latin and Greek. This plan of proceeding would raise a young man twice as much in the opinion of the public, and a thousand times as much in his own.
But this is not the time to dwell on such a subject; it was too important, however, to remain untouched. We intend to discuss it amply at some future period. Our object, at present, is to assist women. They who are always so willing to assist others, to their own detriment, should now, in turn, for their wants loudly call for it, be assisted and encouraged to strike out a new path, by which they could assist themselves.
The first step for us to take in order to effect our intentions, is to prove to them that they should attend to their own wants exclusively; work for their own sons, if those sons can bear to see it; but to let young men, unconnected with them,
and who are destined for the ministry, educate themselves,
as the poor young men of other professions do.
When do we ever hear that a lawyer or a doctor owed their education to the industry or the alms of women ?
We have said all this before, and we shall say it again and again. There must be a change for the better in the affairs of poor women; they are degraded by their poverty; and their degradation is the cause of nearly all the crime that is committed." Aladdin's Lamp. New York, 1833<
Harriet Martineau: Society in America. Observations made during a Stay in 1837
This was the meaning of Cane Ridge, Kentucky when one goal was to demonstrate superiority over other preachers by creating the greatest mental breakdown, primarily among women and weak men. The result was that division resulted when the "sheep" were divided up among the ministers. This was not the meaning of the American Restoration Movement in its better demonstrations.
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