The Victorians Baptized Pagan Ideas

This excerpt from my book, Beyond Authority and Submission, comes from Chapter 4: “Women and Men in the Victorian Era.” Many of our beliefs about women and men come to us from the Greeks and Romans by way of the Victorians. The Victorian era, more than any other, was a unique blend of several streams of thought. Victorians combined the Greco-Roman philosophy of the Renaissance, the technological advancements of the Industrial Revolution, and the evolutionary science of Darwinism. All of this they added to existing Christian religious and moral beliefs.

Beyond Authority and Submission: Women and Men in Marriage, Church, and Society will be available September 3. You can click the links to pre-order on Amazon or Barnes and Noble. A Kindle version will be available on the release date.

The Victorian era is a significant link between ancient Greece and Roman and our society today. Some of the greatest damage the Victorians did was through attempting to incorporate the older pagan ideas with Christianity. After the Victorian era, ancient Greek and Roman beliefs about women and men were taught as if they were biblical.

How did the Victorians combine Christianity with the older pagan ideas about gender? One way was by misapplying Scripture. The authors of Victorian literature and magazines took Bible verses out of context to reinforce their beliefs about the nature of women and men and their proper spheres.

The Victorians found support for their belief that women belonged in the home in Paul’s encouragement that young women be “ at home” (Titus 2:5, KJV). William Alcott, an influential Victorian author and a cousin of Louisa May Alcott, explained that a woman “cannot discharge the duties of a wife, much less those of a mother, unless she prefers home to all other places, and is only led abroad from a sense of duty, and not from choice.”[1]

Staying at home was the duty of a wife—a duty that was owed to God. “Ask not, ‘Why should I keep at home?’ the answer is, because it is your duty to your servant—your children—your husband—your God!”[2] To be a “true woman,” to desire nothing more than to have a husband and children to care for, was the “holiest design a woman can entertain.”[3]

[1] William A. Alcott, The Young Wife, or Duties of Woman in the Marriage Relation, 4th ed. (Boston, 1838), 83.

[2] Arthur Freeling, The Young Bride’s Book: Being Hints for Regulating the Conduct of Married Women (London, 1839), 86.

[3] Fascinating Womanhood, or the Art of Attracting Men: A Practical Course of Lessons in the Underlying Principles by Which Women Attract Men—Leading to the Proposal and Culminating in Marriage (St. Louis: The Psychology Press, 1922), 1:24.

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