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Emily Dickinson
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Emily Elizabeth Dickinson (1830-1886)
American poet

Emily Dickinson"Faith" is a fine invention, when gentlemen can see
But microscopes are prudent, in an emergency.
-- Emily Dickinson, "Faith" (ca. 1860), quoted from James A Haught, ed, 2000 Years of Disbelief

Faith is Doubt.
-- Emily Dickinson, to Susan Dickinson, her sister-in-law, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

Sweet Skepticism of the Heart
That knows and does not know
And tosses like a Fleet of Balm
Affronted by the snow
-- Emily Dickinson, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

On subjects of which we know nothing, we both believe and disbelieve a hundred times an hour, which keeps believing nimble.
-- Emily Dickinson, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

The Supernatural is only the Natural disclosed.
-- Emily Dickinson, shades of naturalism or pantheism, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

The Truth never flaunted a sign.
-- Emily Dickinson, beginning to doubt his veracity after having listened to a preacher insistently reiterate the glory of God, quoted in Gary Sloan, "America pans Pledge lite" (July, 2002)

Those who lift their hats shall see Nature as devout do God.
-- Emily Dickinson, more naturalism or pantheism, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

If Aims impel these Astral Ones
The ones allowed to know
Know that which makes them as forgot
As Dawn forgets them now
-- Emily Dickinson, distrusting the Enlightenment claim that the orderly motions of celestial bodies “substantiate” a Designer, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

That no Flake of [snow] fall on you or them -- is a wish that would be a Prayer, were Emily not a Pagan.
-- Emily Dickinson, letter of 1878 to Catherine Sweetser, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

Knew I how to pray, to intercede for your [broken] Foot were intuitive -- but I am but a Pagan.
-- Emily Dickinson, letter of 1885 to Helen Hunt Jackson, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

I was almost persuaded to be a Christian. I thought I never again could be thoughtless and worldly. But I soon forgot my morning prayer or else it was irksome to me. One by one my old habits returned and I cared less for religion than ever.
-- Emily Dickinson, at age 15, shortly after a Christian revival in her home town of Amherst, Massachusetts, in a letter to her friend Abiah Root, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

The world allured me & in an unguarded moment I listened to her siren voice. From that moment I seemed to lose interest in heavenly things. Friends reasoned with me & told me of the danger I was in. I felt my danger & was alarmed, but I had rambled too far to return & ever since my heart has been growing harder.
-- Emily Dickinson, at age 15, shortly after a Christian revival in her home town of Amherst, Massachusetts, in a letter to her friend Abiah Root, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

I do not feel I could give up all for Christ, were I called to die.
-- Emily Dickinson, at age 15, shortly after a Christian revival in her home town of Amherst, Massachusetts, in a letter to her friend Abiah Root, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

I am one of the lingering bad ones, and so do I slink away, and pause, and ponder, and ponder, and pause, and do work without knowing why -- not surely for this brief world, and more sure it is not for heaven -- and I ask what this message of Christ means.
-- Emily Dickinson, letter to a schoolmate at Holyoke Seminary, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

You are out of the way of temptation and out of the way of the tempter -- I didn't mean to make you wicked -- but I was -- and am -- and shall be -- and I was with you so much that I couldn't help contaminate.
-- Emily Dickinson, identifying with the Christian Satan character in a letter, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

What shall we do my darling, when trial grows more, and more, when the dim, lone light expires, and it's dark, so very dark, and we wander, and know not where, and cannot get out of the forest -- whose is the hand to help us, and to lead, and forever guide us? ... Where do you think I've strayed and from what new errand returned. I have come from "to and fro, and walking up and down" the same place that Satan hailed from when God asked where he'd been.
-- Emily Dickinson, identifying with the Christian Satan character as part of her departure from Orthodoxy, in a letter, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

You are nipping in the bud fancies which I let blossom. The shore is safer, but I love to buffet the sea -- I can count the bitter wrecks here in these pleasant waters, and hear the murmuring winds, but oh, I love the danger!
-- Emily Dickinson, embarking on a quest for truth unfettered by doctrinal constraints and herd prescriptions (very reminiscent of Melville), in a letter to Abiah, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

Much Madness is divinest Sense --
To a discerning Eye --
Much Sense -- the starkest Madness --
'Tis the Majority
In this, as All, prevail --
Assent -- and you are sane --
Demur -- you're straightway dangerous --
And handled with a Chain --
-- Emily Dickinson, finding "salvation" the more her paganism ripened, the more she demurred at Christian nonsense, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

I never felt at Home -- Below --
And in the Handsome Skies
I shall not feel at Home -- I know --
I don't like Paradise --
 
Because it's Sunday -- all the time --
And Recess -- never comes --
And Eden'll be so lonesome
Bright Wednesday Afternoons --
 
If God could make a visit --
Or ever took a Nap --
So not to see us -- but they say
Himself -- a Telescope
 
Perennial beholds us --
Myself would run away
From Him -- and Holy Ghost -- and All --
But there's the "Judgment Day"!
     -- Emily Dickinson, seeing the enforced Christian Heaven as a thronged corporation, devoid of privacy, an interminable Sunday, where the voyeuristic proprietor never traveled or slept

Emily Dickinson Postage StampThis World is not Conclusion.
A Species stands beyond --
Invisible, as Music --
But positive, as Sound --
It beckons, and it baffles --
Philosophy -- don't know --
And through a Riddle, at the last --
Sagacity, must go --
To guess it, puzzles scholars --
To gain it, Men have borne
Contempt of Generations
And Crucifixion, shown --
Faith slips -- and laughs, and rallies --
Blushes, if any see --
Plucks at a twig of Evidence --
And asks a Vane, the way --
Much Gesture, from the Pulpit --
Strong Hallelujahs roll --
Narcotics cannot still the Tooth
That nibbles at the soul --
-- Emily Dickinson, even the saints didn't quite believe in the “Heaven further on,” despite opiate assurances from the pulpit, quoted (in part) from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

[They] address an Eclipse every morning, whom they call their "Father."
-- Emily Dickinson, describing the god of her parents as "The Eclipse," also: "Papa Above"; "the gentleman in the air"; "the little God with Epaulettes"; "a small Deity"; "our old neighbor"; (now paraphrasing): a conceited tyrant; vindictive dunce; thievish scofflaw; lethal intruder; peeping Tom; homicidal burglar; cold assassin; sadistic inquisitor. Quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001).

They say that God is everywhere, and yet we always think of Him as somewhat of a recluse.
-- Emily Dickinson (attributed: source unknown)

Vinnie [Dickinson's sister] rocks her Garden and moans that God won't help her. I suppose he is too busy getting angry with the Wicked every day.
-- Emily Dickinson, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

God's little Blond Blessing we have long deemed you, and hope his so-called "Will" will not compel him to revoke you.
-- Emily Dickinson, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

Why should we censure Othello [for the jealous murder of Desdemona] when the Criterion Lover says, "Thou shalt have no other Gods before Me"?
-- Emily Dickinson, to Mabel Loomis Todd, editor of a posthumous collection of Dickinson's poems, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

When we think of his lone effort to live and its bleak reward, the mind turns to the myth "for His mercy endureth forever," with confiding revulsion.
-- Emily Dickinson, to her cousins Louise and Frances Norcross after President James A Garfield's abortive battle for life, quoted (in part) from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

"Heavenly Father" -- take to thee
The supreme iniquity
Fashioned by thy candid Hand
In a moment contraband --
Though to trust us seem to us
More respectful --
"We are Dust" --
We apologize to thee
For thine own Duplicity.
-- Emily Dickinson, in an indiscreet moment, He made us wicked, but we must sue Him for pardon, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

The Crime, from us, is hidden, [though] he is presumed to know.
-- Emily Dickinson, the Kafka-esque Inquisitor arraigns us for an unspecified offense, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

Within thy Grave!
Oh no, but on some other flight --
Thou only camest to mankind
To rend it with Good night
-- Emily Dickinson, the risen Savior, a fickle suitor, pledged his troth then hightailed it to points unknown, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

Some Arrows slay but whom they strike --
But this slew all but him --
Who so appareled his Escape --
Too trackless for a Tomb
-- Emily Dickinson, while Jesus gallivants through the galaxies, his followers mourn his sham demise, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

At least to pray is left -- is left
Oh Jesus -- in the Air --
I know not which thy chamber is --
I'm knocking everywhere
-- Emily Dickinson, despite his promise to answer the knock, Jesus he never came to the door, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

When he tells us about his Father, we distrust him. When he shows us his Home, we turn away, but when he confides to us that he is "acquainted with grief," we listen, for that also is an acquaintance of our own.
-- Emily Dickinson, as Son of Jehovah, a pretentious bore; as Son of Sorrow, our compatriot, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

The Spirit lurks within the Flesh
Like Tides within the Sea
That make the Water live, estranged
What would the Either be?
-- Emily Dickinson, whatever the "soul" may be, it is inseparable from the body, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

I cannot help esteem
The 'Bird within the Hand'
Superior to the one
The 'Bush' may yield me
Or may not
Too late to choose again
-- Emily Dickinson, preferring this life to a tentative "hereafter," quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

To possess is past the instant
We achieve the Joy --
Immortality contented
Were anomaly
-- Emily Dickinson, everlasting bliss an oxymoron, happiness lay in the chase, not the catch, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

Assent -- and you are sane --
Demur -- and you're straightaway dangerous --
     and handled with a chain.
-- Emily Dickinson (1862)

Emile DickinsonThe minister today preached about death and judgment, and what would become of those who behaved improperly -- and somehow it scared me. He preached such an awful sermon I didn't think I should ever see you again until the Judgment Day. The subject of perdition seemed to please him somehow.
-- Emily Dickinson, spooked by the doctrine of Christian Hell, which had been hammered into her since early childhood, in a letter to her friend Elizabeth Holland. The Hollands embraced a “creedless, churchless, ministerless christianity” and an avuncular, “sunshiny” God. Their friendship helped Emily slough off lingering anxieties about the Wre that never quenches. Quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001). For more perspective on this phenomenon, see our Forum piece titled, "Do You Suffer from Burgess's 'Vestigial Fear Of Hell'?"

Does not Eternity appear dreadful to you. I often get to thinking of it and it seems so dark to me that I almost wish there was no Eternity. To think that we must forever live and never cease to be. It seems as if Death would be a relief to so endless a state of existence.
-- Emily Dickinson, at age 15, in a letter to Abiah, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

Parting is all we know of heaven, and all we need of hell.
-- Emily Dickinson

That it will never come again
Is what makes life so sweet.
-- Emily Dickinson, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

Short Graphic Rule

Gary Sloan: No Belief In Biblical God

"When the Amherst sphinx styled herself a pagan, she meant she didn’t believe in the biblical God. What sort of deity, if any, she did believe in is hard to pinpoint."
-- Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

Richard Sewall: Not Coordinate

"[In] her own personal theology, the World and Man and God were all but coordinate."
-- Richard Sewall, quoted from Gary Sloan, "Emily Dickinson: Pagan Sphinx," Positive Atheism (June, 2001)

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