All of our Christian culture has been constructed from the image of a masculine God which establishes the creation of man from above and outside.
HAVANA TIMES – I perfectly remember where I was a dozen years ago when I opened up a newsletter from the World Council of Churches and read that heading: “Where God is a Man, Men think they are Gods”.
You don’t just convert by falling off a horse on your way to some Damascus… I didn’t fall out of my seat at that time and I continued in the same place I had always been, but that heading was like a revelation. It made me become aware of something key. Holding onto this idea, I began walking along a path that I haven’t stopped walking since then.
Under this title were the words of protestant minister Judith Van Osdol at a regional meeting of women that was held in Buenos Aires.
“Churches which imagine or represent God as a man have to take responsibility for this image that was created as heresy. Because where God is a man, man is God…”
When I read those two sentences, I felt like I was touching the most ancient roots of discrimination, scorn, hate and violence against women… I have continued to reflect upon this since then, examining how this ancient root was planted.
If every religion consists of making a God nobody has ever since visible, in words, in stories, in pictures, it’s obvious that Christian religion, with Jewish origins, has used prayers, praise, paintings, hymns, sculptures and symbols, all of which are masculine, to make God “visible”. Only a few biblical references have feminine nuances. Today, holy language has incorporated the term “God, our Father and Mother”… Is that enough?
Drawing from our cultural heritage, we can affirm that even though God doesn’t have a sex, it has had a gender for many thousands of years: masculine.
We know that sex is a biological characteristic and that gender is a cultural construct. That’s why, even though God is present in both feminine and masculine expressions of Life, in Judeo-Christian culture, in biblical culture, in Christian, Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant traditions, in 4000 year old written scripts, in Judaism’s texts, in the 2000 years of Christianity, and Islam too, God has a gender and he is masculine. That means that God is imagined, thought of, conceived, prayed to, sang to, praised or rejected… as a man. How can you then not think that this millennial generic and cultural identification of God with the masculine has had consequences on human society?
Because gender is a cultural construct it can also be changed, because everything that is constructed can be de-constructed to be reconstructed again. I believe that this is what we have to do: reconstruct God’s face in the feminine too; which isn’t a simple task, that would important consequences for ethics and spirituality.
As a result of cultural anthropology, we know that God was “born” in the human mind as a feminine being in the beginning and the idea of God was born and linked to the feminine. For millenia, Humanity, amazed by woman’s capacity to recreate the miracle of life in her body, venerated the Mother God, seeing the Divine Image in the female body. For millenia, everyone on Earth thought about God as a mother.
Many millennia later, the agricultural revolution brought the storing of grains, land and animals with it… and also brought about the need to defend these with weapons, farms, lands and livestock. During this time, the Mother God was gradually put to the side and masculine and warmongering gods, who declared war and demanded bloody sacrifices, were gradually established in every civilization on Earth.
Masculine gods dominated the cultures of the Ancient World and were established since then in all of the religions we know today. They also replaced the Mother God in the Bible and finally, Yahweh, God in the Bible was established in the Hebrew people’s imagination. This is the origin of what we call “religious patriarchal culture”.
In Christian iconography, in the images we have seen ever since we were children, God is an old man with a beard. He is also a King with a crown and scepter sitting in a throne. He is an unappealable Judge, who makes inscrutable decisions. He is also the God of Armies. He is always a masculine authority.
Christological dogmas tell us that this Father God has a Son, who is also God, who “became” a man, which would suggest that his previous essence before “becoming” human was also masculine. The third person in this “divine family”, is the Holy Spirit. In spite of the word “spirit” being feminine in Hebrew, “ruaj”, God’s vital and creating force which gets everything moving and gives everything life, teaches us that it was the Spirit who made Maria pregnant, which leads us to think that the Spirit is a masculine principle of life.
Even in much later, popular and liberating religious expressions, like the ones we have in the Misa Campesina Nicaraguense, God is a man. We sing to him as a “craftsman, carpenter, builder and welder.” No feminine jobs, not even the street seller, which is such a mass profession, has this God. And we “see” him at gas stations checking tires on a truck, patrolling the highways, shining shoes in the park, always in men’s work. We don’t see him washing or cooking or sewing, much less breastfeeding. He is a God of the poor, he is poor and popular, but… he is a man. The God of Liberation Theology continued to be a Man.
Jesus of Nazareth was raised in his parents’ religion. In Judaism, God was always thought to be masculine. Jesus presented him to us as a kind Father and he called him “Abba”, not “Imma”. However, Jesus approached women in the same way he approached men, which went against his religion. And there are values attributed to feminine culture in Jesus’ ethics: care, passion and compassion, non-violence, closeness, empathy, intuition, spontaneity…
And there is also an interesting clue in one of his parables. Maybe it was this man from Nazareth’s intuition? Jesus made women the protagonists in his comparisons with God and God’s actions.
In the Parable of the Leaven, he spoke about what happens in God’s Kingdom: just a pinch of leaven ferments all of the dough and it was women who used to make bread, who used to get this process going. He also spoke about God looking after all of his children, comparing God with a shepherd who looks for one lost sheep in his hundred-fold flock no matter what the cost. The Master from Nazareth immediately “feminized” this comparison and said that God also resembles a woman who anxiously looks for one of the ten coins in her dowry when she lost it…
His audience had to find these comparisons shocking, as they had been raised in a religious culture where God had a masculine gender and where women were completely discriminated against in religious ceremonies, rites and symbols. When comparing God’s feelings of joy with those of the shepherd who finds his sheep and the woman who finds her coin, Jesus broadened the image of God, he spoke about a God who nobody had seen, but that both men and women embody and manifest when they care for life.
However, in our Christian religion, whether that’s the Catholic or Evangelical version, we must admit, and maybe look over the fact that we have been followers of the Pharisee Paul the Apostle more than of master Jesus of Nazareth. The contradictions which exist between Paul and Jesus are huge and we haven’t been taught to keep them in mind. Where Jesus dignified women, Paul ordered them to be quiet and sentenced that a woman’s “head” is a man, later ruling that “man came first and woman comes from man”, based on the Adam and Eve myth.
Paul even went on to say that women could only save themselves “through motherhood”. The masculine image of God, which Paul reinforced, is also the image of an angry God with a bloody salvation plan where his son, “the second Adam” needs to meet by suffering and ultimately dying… When will we stop saying that everything Paul said is “the word of God” in religious circles and places of worship?
Until that day comes, (which I hope comes), we need to seriously reflect upon how grave the consequences have been of having a masculine image of God, so deeply rooted in our minds which we live with without even thinking about it.
Isn’t the most obvious consequence of this the deduction that if God is seen to be a man, then men will also see themselves as gods? And if God is also seen as a man who orders, establishes his own law and judges, won’t men, who see themselves as gods, who also order, establish their laws and judge? Isn’t this the oldest and most hidden root that justifies and legitimizes the supremacy of men and, as a result, the inequality between men and women? Doesn’t a deeply buried explanation for man’s discrimination and violence against women also lie here? Aren’t we all, men and women, anesthetized to its consequences as the root of this problem has been hidden so much and has been untouched for so long?
All of our Christian culture has been constructed from the image of a masculine God which establishes the creation of man from above and outside. The Mother God brought all living beings together, humans, animals and plants, as they are all creations. The result of the historic imbalance which replaced Her in order to establish Him, which put the masculine and feminine into conflict and this conflict was then transferred to God’s image, has influenced how we have built the world and how we live within this world.