EMASCULATION OR UN-MASCULINIZATION OF GOD
Opponents of inclusive imagery and language about God often claim it is bordering on blasphemy, with a significant number of those making the case being women. Proponents cite myriad reasons for its legitimacy. For now, let’s begin by looking at the arguments for the masculine image of God, so we can determine what’s at stake in changing our approach.
Except for Mormons, many who believe there is a God-mother beside the God-father, and some non-trinitarian sects, most adherents of Christians sects believe that the totality of God is wrapped up in the trinitarian formula, “Father, Son and Holy Ghost (Spirit).” To change that formulation, many think, is to attack the very nature of God and to lead people away from the “true” God. Besides the fact that God does not need protecting, on which I hope we would all agree, then what is in need of protection is a tenet of faith – a dogma – a way of understanding God. The way in which we speak of God does not change who and what God is. The tenacity with which people hold onto specific images prompts us to ask, “What is really at stake?”
I think, for what that’s worth, that the gender of God has a lot to do with how we envision God’s interaction with the world. The more we see God as controlling, vengeful and vanquishing, the more likely we are to see male genering as critical. The more we see God as loving, guiding and caring for creation, the less that gender will hold significant importance. And, just as I’ve said that, I will confound myself and the reader. You see, while I disagree, I can accept that a masculine God is necessary for pre-millenialist Christian – I can accept it and respect it because the image is consistent with the theology. Where I have difficulty is with folks who are, in virtually all other respects liberal, but who are wrapped tightly in male imagery for God. There is an inconsistency here that cries out to be inspected.
Does that mean pre-millenialists are off the hook? Oh, yeah – you see they were never on it. I doubt they would have gotten this far before deciding I was a charlatan. I’m not seeking to change minds, but simply encouraging opening them up, dusting them off and daring to question the validity and consistency of what is entombed therein.
Why then, if we do not picture God’s actions in terms of stereotypical male behavior (vengeful, violent, controlling, angry, etc), do we so adamantly hang on to this picture of a male God? Now, before you go claiming that it’s tradition, read some of the previous parts of this essay again. Tradition does not explain it, at least not religious tradition. There are myriad traditions, Jewish and Christian alike that emphasize that God is either genderless or both genders.
Something else is at play, but I do not think it as as associated with religious tradition as it is with social tradition and mores. What is really at stake is the way our culture is, and has been, arranged around male dominance. A male image of God strengthens the cultural rule of power residing with males – a rule that most men and women have learned to function in a way that garners them the most benefit. It is unltimately about social power, prestige and position, or the challenge to them, that makes a male God-image so essential. Challenge that, and the structure of society begins to look suspiciously corrupt and unbalanced.
That would mean, however, that we are using God to keep our society comfortably predictable. Yes, it would – and that is, in any sense you look at it, using God’s name in vain pursuits. I would argue that God is unbound by the characteristics of God’s own creation – namely gender, ethnicity, dis/ability, and any other trait we would pick. God is above creation, not created as part of it, so to worship a god who is rigidly defined by an aspect of creation is to also commit idolatry. To love this image, over and above any other, is to love the idol more than the God the idol represents. One, two, three – the first three commandments have been broken by the simple act of requiring that the God we worship be male.
Of course, the same commandments would be broken if we exclusively used female imagery for God. The exclusive use of an image is what creates idolatry. Being fluid and humble enough to acknowledge that the reality of God is unknowable for us, and that we know of God comes only through what God has created, scripture included, requires that we set aside rigid absolutes of any kind. The most definitive statement we can make, and it is still a statement of faith as opposed to knowledge, is that, “God is.” This mirrors God’s response to Moses when asked for an identity, “I am who I am!” Beyond that, any characterization of God along any lines, limitations or traits runs the risk of affirming that God is who we say God is – that God is part of our creation. I’m not inclined to do that.
I may not be finished with section, but will begin the next and revisit this one at a later time.