Comments: opinion

Enjoyed Miranda's article. Feminist discourse and method offers great tools and ways of approaching the narratives of religion.

One of my favourite books by a Christian feminist was 'She Who Is' by Elizabeth Johnson. Don't know if any here have read it?

Along with the things Miranda mentioned, I think feminism is particularly good where it seeks out the voices that are marginalised by privilege.

We live in a world (and its Anglican expression) where the platform is so often occupied and crowded out by male voice and the assumption that these voices are the central voices to be listened to.

What I like about feminist method is where it doesn't simply create generalisations about some kind of universal woman (or human, to take Miranda's point) but seeks out the voices and experiences of people right along the margins, whose lives nevertheless are unique and authentically real.

Meanwhile, within the church, and in governments around the world, the boardrooms and offices of power are still full of predominantly men.

Patriarchy is the context within which the great religious texts were generated.

The de-construction of narratives... using feminist critical technique... seems to me part of a process of liberating ourselves (female and male) from domination by voices of privilege and men whose 'right to be heard' is assumed by default.

The elderly woman in the back pew, perhaps from an ethnic minority, who has a lifetime of experience and faith, also has a voice.

Whole hierarchies of power demand their voices are heard, their authority understood.

Feminism strives to assert there are other voices that privilege too often drowns and crowds out.

Elizabeth Johnson rightly addresses the way these religious hierarchies have framed the concept of God as 'male' with the consequent diminution that has often brought about for the concept of 'woman'. If God is not also Goddess, then woman is somehow, not as representative of the divine as man.

Then female priests and bishops... not to mention ordinary women all lover the world... become somehow subordinate to this reification of maleness.

Posted by Susannah at Sunday, 28 October 2012 at 12:49pm GMT

God is sexless. The attribution of male or female characteristics are simply anthropomorphisms.

The reader should elicit the vital quality of these literary metaphors while recognising that ANY such attributions (male, female, mother, father, lion, tree, rock) are launching points of understanding. They will never fully convey the completeness of the God who reveals Himself fully in Christ and transcends all without contradicting the message of His prophets.

Posted by David Shepherd at Monday, 29 October 2012 at 3:45pm GMT

David,

I agree that God transcends gender, and I agree that most of God is way beyond our understanding. As a Carmelite in my personal spirituality, the via negativa is really important to me. Unknowing is mostly more helpful than thinking we know.

Having said that, I'm not sure I'd say God was sexless, because I believe God probably feels and knows and understands male physical and psychological gender and sex; and feels and knows and understands female physical and psychological sex... from inside who God actually is.

We are conceived and created, male and female, from aspects of God's own mind and image. So I feel God can be acutely sexual, female as well as male, while also in vast extent transcending those gender divides.

Elizabeth Johnson, in her excellent book, draws attention to the cultural and historic fact that the word 'God' has been associated with male gender. The term "He" is used, for example, but you hardly ever hear "She". If gender doesn't matter, they should be interchangeable.

But in fact, if the female equivalent - "Goddess" - is even whispered, it causes dismay and offence... as if there's something negative and bad about God being expressed in female rather than traditional male terms.

(continued...)

Posted by Susannah at Monday, 29 October 2012 at 11:03pm GMT

(...continuing)

While you assert that God is sexless, there is a whole liturgy and scripture and church adoption of God being referred to as "He". And this is then codified by the argument that Paul sees a natural order that reads God >> man >> woman. With a natural order that subordinates woman to the gender thats more closely aligned to God.

It's basically patriarchal.

But to me, Godde is as often a laughing girl who playfully shines on me in the Maytime, or like a female neighbour, who comes in through my open back door, and sits at the table, drinking coffee and chatting.

I write Godde - because if you really want a term that transcends historic gender associations - then Godde is sort of that way through the middle between 'God' and 'Goddess' - able to be both, yet transcending both as well.

I think God is very sensual, very sexy if you like, or can be. But not only male, but female, and intimately able to relate to women as woman, while always reclusive and unknown as well in the dark loveliness of the numinous and the vast consciousness like unknown continents, undiscovered worlds.

Posted by Susannah at Monday, 29 October 2012 at 11:05pm GMT

Susannah:

While it is true that God made mankind in his own image, there are female anthropomorphisms too: '"Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!' (Is. 49:15)

Although a human comparison is used, the characteristic actually conveyed is faithfulness, which actually asexual. These metaphors should be mined for the underlying traits that they convey.

Nevertheless, there is a danger in making God in man's image: a self-styled re-invention of what we like best in humanity, while dismissing any aspect that we find unpalatable as a typical flaw of one sex or the other.

Metaphors are like mirrors. A mirror (however well-polished) still cannot reflect the full dimensions of the visual source. As Paul said: 'For now we see in a mirror, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know fully even as also I was fully known' (1 Cor. 13:12)

So, all metaphors should be grounded in those qualities that God has revealed through the history of His salvation, rather than uncritically mirroring idealised stereotypes of male or female behaviour that we may conjure up.

Posted by David Shepherd at Wednesday, 31 October 2012 at 11:45am GMT

It's an interesting conversation, David, and thank you for your considered and thoughtful reply.

It could of course be that the mother text is relevant because God is *more* like a mother than earthly mothers, not less like a mother, and that 'face to face' would be us finally seeing the whole of what true motherhood is in the person of Godde, in whose image all earthly mothers are made.

After all, through the long millions of years of the universe's formation, God has been pregnant with the knowledge of the children She bears, children who would one day spring into being in this world, children She knows, so deep;y, and cherishes, and holds.

In a way, it is not that God is like a mother, but that mothers can be like God, with those motherly attributes of God... though, importantly, motherhood is simply one expression of womanhood, not even granted to all.

May God who knows you and loves you and has carried you so long in Her heart, bless you and keep you, and may the light of Her face shine upon you.

I like you. Even in quite earnest debate, you feel decent and fair, and that's sadly not always the case in religious debates.

Susannah

Posted by Susannah at Thursday, 1 November 2012 at 12:04am GMT
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