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.