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4.11.02

Lately I've been reading a lot of stuff about Goddess spirituality, since I'm writing a paper about the myth of the Neolithic Mother Goddess among modern feminists. One of the persistent themes that the authors bring up is that women can't relate to the Judeo-Christian God, because he's male. Therefore, women need to find or construct a female divinity.

This line of reasoning never quite sat right with me, because I never really conceived of the Christian God as being particularly male. I'm not denying the church's continuing history of sexism, or ignoring that plenty of women have felt alienated from the Christian God due to their gender (though I also know many who haven't had a problem with it). But my personal experience, in a church that was neither particularly liberal nor particularly conservative, was of a being who had aquired a veneer of maleness only due to our language's lack of a gender-neutral/indeterminate pronoun that can apply to a person (which tempts me to adopt the Finnish hän, which does just that). There was nothing intrinsically male about God's attributes. Any resemblance of male social roles to God was due to ascribing God's characteristics to men, not giving men's characteristics to God.

The Goddess worshippers I've been reading clearly didn't see it that way. But instead of searching for a gender-neutral God, they chose to adopt one that was specifically female. In some ways the Goddess is simply a mirror image of how they saw God working -- it's just that the qualities they saw as being crucial to divinity were also ones they considered essentially feminine. But they went farther than that and suggested that the Goddess, rather than being appropriate for only women the way God was a strictly male affair, could encompass all of humanity. They proposed that holism -- which integrates everything -- is fundamentally female. And that femininity by its nature incorporates masculinity because a woman can give birth to a son, but a man can't give birth to anyone.

But this still leaves me wondering why God needs a gender. On the one hand, it seems like hän needs one inasmuch as religion is a human enterprise. Whether or not the divine exists, religion is a human construct. Religious beliefs, stories, and rituals represent ideas about how humans conceive of themselves and their place in the world. And gender is one of the major features that impact people's lives -- even the most egalitarian societies still have to confront the biological demands of reproductive systems. So it makes a certain kind of sense that, in order to speak to a human characteristic, the divine would need to participate in it. This means, of course, that God would also need a race, class, etc. -- and a rejection of the Judeo-Christian God similar to the Goddess worshippers' has occurred among people such as some Native Americans (who see him as too white) and practitioners of Asatru (who see him, with his Semitic roots, as not as white as the Norse pantheon).

At the same time, though, it seems like an important function of God is to link the worshipper to the larger world. And that world is, for the most part, not gendered. Sex (I'm blurring the sex/gender distinction here because both Goddess and God traditions tend to naturalize gender roles as deriving from biology) is an adaptation of a small portion of the animal and plant kingdoms to enable mixing of genes. So a gendered deity would be necessarily parochial, patterning the ultimate reality after a reproductive strategy that's irrelevant to rocks and walls and atoms. And it's that kind of an ecological God that I'm interested in.

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