Thursday, February 23, 2012

Conversations on God as Woman

This past Sunday Melissa Harris-Perry had a very interesting segment on her new show with Selene Jones, president of Union Theological Seminary, on women as religious leaders and as images of the divine. This is not the type of discussion I have commonly seen outside of liberal religious circles. This is an important conversation and I hope it continues.

Since I don’t believe in a god, you might wonder why I care how we envision him/her/it/them. But I do care. Non-theists are a small minority in America, and we are affected by the policies enacted by and attitudes prevalent among the majority of Americans who are theists. So it is important to me that, culturally, we do not limit our vision of the divine to white maleness. Our perception of what is good and worthy should not automatically make half of the population “other”. When we picture the divine we shape what we think is of value, and we all need to be able to participate in being valuable and seeing others as so.

Even personally, I care about how we picture the divine. I have found a lot of value in some pagan practices. Sometimes I wonder if it is even fair to participate in rituals since my beliefs are out of line with most Pagans, but picturing divine females helps me to deal with aspects of myself. As a Christian, I never felt like I was related to God, but working with goddesses is connecting to parts of myself. They are not other; they are me. Even as I feel my connection to Paganism slipping, I remember learning that reverence for goddess could be a real and deeply experienced religion, and how both welcoming and shocking that was.

It only requires a quick look at recent headlines to see that allowing patriarchy to dominate all discussions of religious faith is a bad idea and does not serve any of us well. Being an atheist does not shield me from its effects. I hope that going forward we have more public discussions of a more rounded view of divinity and religion.


  1. Thank you for this post. I've actually been thinking about this topic lately. That everyone has a stake in how images of the divine, definitions of religion,etc. are handled in our society. I wonder where we would be at,socially, if progressives/liberals hadn't stepped back from public religious discourse. Fundamentalists rush in where liberals fear to tread.

  2. I heard one of the famous atheists say "I don't believe in God but I believe in the transcendent." I find that there is value in using God language for the transcendent and the mysterious because of the cultural heritage of poetry by great thinkers on the subject of the numinous using the name "God."

    I have long thought that the problem with the question of belief in God is that we have allowed God to be narrowly defined. If the question "Do you believe in God?" means "Do you believe in a big man in the sky?" Or "a human mind in Heaven who is judging and sorting the good from the bad?" Then I don't believe in that either. A lot of atheists and theists are working with the same definition of God.

    Was reading Marcus Borg arguing for a panentheistic model. A great quote on the God and gender issue for me was:

    “I overheard a meeting of the worship committee in an Episcopal church. They were talking about the need to introduce more inclusive language into the Sunday services. All agreed that the exclusive use of male pronouns for God needed to be changed, but they were perplexed about how to do it. Suggestions to replace “he” with “she” or to alternate “he” and “she” were rejected as inappropriate or awkward. Then someone said, “Well, whatever we do, we can’t use ‘it,’ for whatever God is, God is not an ‘it.’” A thought suddenly occurred to me: the problem isn’t really whether to use “he,” “she,” or “it”; rather, the problem is using third-person language for God. When do we use third-person language to talk about somebody? When she or he isn’t there. Third-person language implies absence. But if we take seriously that God is present, the most appropriate language for God is second-person language—God as “You.” God is “the you” in our midst, who knows us already and who yearns to be known by us.”