Food For Thought -
Articles Submitted by Parishioners
The following pieces are quoted from the last two editions (Nov 18/May 19) of PASTORAL RENEWAL EXCHANGE published from St Joseph's, Dinnington, South Yorkshire
THE GENDER OF GOD
All mysticism and theology works off the premise that while God can be known, God can never be thought of, nor spoken of in any adequate way. This is also true regarding God’s gender. All gender terms we apply to God (‘father’, ‘mother’, ‘he’ ‘she’) are likewise highly inadequate. God is neither a male nor a female. Nor is God genderless, an ‘it’. Masculinity and femininity both reflect God and thus, although we cannot ever find either concepts or words to capture this, God is somehow both male and female. How? We don’t know. All concepts and language are inadequate here. There is no way to imagine, nor speak of God’s gender.
Yet we must think about God and speak about God in terms of gender. Up to now, with only a handful of exceptions, we have handled this by applying masculine concepts to God. God was male, at least in terms of language, even if vaguely we kept somewhere in mind the qualification: ‘This is just a metaphor’. Feminism is right in saying that this must change, that it is unfair, unhealthy, that language strongly helps shape our thought and that as long as we keep referring to God in purely masculine terms we will continue to think of God as exclusively male. That situation, God conceived of as purely male, is neither true nor healthy. Hence we must risk new ways of thinking and speaking about God in terms of gender.
However, while I agree with the feminist critique that our language about God, vis-à-vis gender, must change, I am far less in agreement with what many feminists, and many others, today propose and practise as a remedy, namely, the elimination of all gender reference to God in terms of language. What passes today for inclusive language is, in fact, an even more exclusive language. It no longer includes any reference to gender whatsoever, female or male. God is spoken of in cosmic, impersonal, and genderless terms.
I remember a feminist friend of mine once humorously commenting on the classical Trinitarian formula, ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’. ‘What you have here,’ she stated, ‘are two men and a bird!’ She intended no disrespect. It was simply a statement of phenomenology. However, the suggestion that we change the formula to something like, ‘Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier’, in my view, helps little. We now have two cosmic forces and a bird! What is missing is person, gender, feeling and any kind of word that might stir an emotion inside us.
We must begin to use inclusive language, but that language must, precisely, be inclusive of both genders. My own suggestion is that rather than trying to avoid all reference to gender, as we are now doing in those places where there is sensitivity to this issue, we try for a language that is truly inclusive. Simply put, we begin to refer to God, alternatively, in terms both female and male and we apply both pronouns, she and he, to God. Thus, we might sometimes say ‘Our Father and sometimes ‘Our Mother’. Likewise, sometimes we could refer to God as ‘he’ and sometimes as ‘she’.
Initially, of course, there would be opposition and ridicule. That is to be understood, and accepted, as a part of any change of this kind. Eventually, however, comfort would return and we would come to think about and speak of God and be comfortable with either gender. We would then be imagining God less inadequately and our faith and our lives would be the better for it.
The problem, in my view, with present attempts to use inclusive language by eliminating all reference to gender is that, at best, these efforts impersonalize God and leave us with a vague cosmic force which no longer has any emotional connection to us. Words such as ‘creator’, ‘redeemer’, ‘sanctifier’ have no emotional content. Conversely, words such as ‘father’ and ‘mother’ do. Positively or negatively, we feel something around gender laden words. Moreover, some attempts at inclusive language slander the archetypal masculine by demonizing what is male. No health can result from this and even fewer men will relate to the churches if this persists - just as fewer women will relate to the churches if we do not move towards inclusive language.
We must risk inclusive language. The long-range health of the churches is what is at stake here. But genderless language, by definition, excludes everyone, female and male.
(Against an Infinite Horizon, Ronald Rolheiser, Hodder & Stoughton)
For further details about Pastoral Renewal Exchange please contact Bill Horrocks (bill @ tinatraining.co.uk)