Friday, May 21, 2010

God as a Woman?


28 days: Day 6

Psychologists and theologians tell us that our first impression of God is our (human) father. This is especially true in monotheistic traditions, where God is depicted as male. The question, one often ignored, is whether or not this is a good thing.

The problem with the 'father' association is especially poignant in abusive homes, where many children grow up with an image of God that is harsh and cruel. No wonder those individuals have difficulty believing in a loving Creator. Frankly, I've never understood why certain Christians insist on the maleness of God. Their insistence that God, in both the Old Testament and New Testament, chose to be known as male, seems both patriarchal and self-serving. It's here that we see one of the many logistical holes when we take the Bible literally, how we actually diminish Scripture by insisting on a meaning without cultural context. For one thing, Israel's concept of God was radically different than our own, particularly expressed by the idea that Yahweh was 'kadosh', or Holy Other. The Creator was Holy Other than humanity. For the Israelites, YHWH could never be compared to their human father.

In Forerunner, the Creator's identity is primarily feminine. The characters always refer to "Her." After so many months of living in this world, it has become increasingly natural for me. Now for most believers, we understand intellectually that God is neither male nor female, that it is merely a reference point (and yes, I know Jesus was a man) but the implications of our association have been, in many cases, highly destructive. What if we thought of God as our Mother? It neither changes the character or substance of God if we do, and yet it completely alters how we think about God, doesn't it?. If we thought of God as Mother, would we be able to so easily justify the religious wars and violence as we have throughout our history? If we thought of God as Mother, would our first instinct, the instinct of fundamentalists, be to remind people that they are sinners and that God is holy and righteous and wrathful?

The process of writing this novel has altered my ideas about God, and how our perception can be so easily changed by simply changing the gender reference point that we have all grown accustomed to.

Consider this: Studies have shown that complimentarianism, the dominant view of the family throughout the history of the church, leads to more family violence than any other worldview. The patriarchal ideals, the ones preached by men like John Piper and James Dobson, are responsible for widespread abuse, abuse that makes it difficult for many people to reconcile the idea of a loving God with such a nasty father. And yet, those same individuals and churches would be the ones least likely to consider altering our reference point by referring to the Creator as "she". (For the record, I would never use the word 'goddess', which is a misogynistic term that immediately implies 'the female version of the real (male) version'. It's the same reason I refuse to use the term 'actress.')

And yet, after saying all that, it's only through the writing of this book that I have become comfortable with addressing God as 'she'. It just goes to show you, no matter how much we talk about change, it's still uncomfortable, if only because it forces us to address things we thought we'd already worked out.