Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Is God Masculine? Part One (The Overview)

Sometimes the biggest cans of worms are opened with the simplest-sounding questions.

What follows is extremely "beta" and perhaps "alpha" in quality as far as being in any sense "finished" or "authoritative." (The latter term to me is not a very useful one anyway.)

Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen can be blamed for the most recent gyrations I've been making re women, men, male, female, feminine, masculine, and many related subjects. Her use of one term -- "gender essentialism" -- flipped tumblers that further clarified some things for me as I've continued reading on what it is and means. But it also opened doors to new questions, many of those more for other egalitarians than for the so-called "complementarians" (whom I prefer to call what they are: male hierarchalists).

So here's the question that I think lies behind many of the other questions:

Is God Masculine?

Well... on one hand he is called "Father" and "He" the majority of the time in Scripture. And most of us, when picturing God in our minds, have either Jesus' face or an oversized, bearded male's body (Michaelangelo's "Creation of Adam" is one example). That mix of apparent biblical evidence and traditional cultural detritus stops many faithful folk from considering the question any further. They would answer, "Yes, of course God is Masculine!"

But what they have not figured on is that even hierarchalist theologians (or at least the thoughtful ones) know that masculinity and maleness are not the same thing. God is NOT male, despite Michaelangelo's depictions of him being so. Rather, as Jesus says, "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:24, NRSV).

It is inevitable that we anthropomorphize God. We can hardly help ourselves. And God seems more than willing to allow us, as the very finite creatures we are, to do this within certain boundaries. The Word does it, often in analogy and allegory, in order to aid us in comprehending the otherwise incomprehensible Holy Infinitude of God Almighty. Does God walk around with a giant penis (or vagina)? No. He doesn't even have a body!

So what exactly do we mean by even asking if God is masculine? What do we mean by the word "masculine" in the context of Spirit?


Invariably, we fall back on using ourselves (esp. if we're male!) to extrapolate what masculinity is. Testosterone? God hasn't got it. That's a biological, thus body, thing. Strength. Well, God doesn't have muscles, because that's a body thing. He certainly does have strength -- an infinitude of power able to merely speak and bring creation into existence. But is this strength really "masculine"?

And when considering God being masculine, we also have to consider God NOT being feminine. That is part of where this word "essentialism" comes into play. Let's trace some of the potential theological pitfalls.

As Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen powerfully showed via her talks at the Cornerstone 2007 Festival this summer, a Christian luminary no less than C. S. Lewis fell into a series of errors rooted not in Scripture, but rather Greek thought, by his promoting gender essentialism.

In a nutshell, and these are my definitions (not to be blamed on M. S. V.), "gender essentialism" assumes that all creation is gendered in one way or another. Further, it is gendered precisely because it mirrors God's own Nature, which is in the west almost always assumed to be Masculine. (Some would say "primarily" masculine, but that doesn't really help.) Further discombobulating things, it is assumed that since a Masculine God created man first and woman second, and that Eve (as created in man's image rather than God's, as Adam was) caused the fall, God also created a male-ordered hierarchy wherein the masculine (God) leads and initiates over the feminine (the spiritually and mentally and physically weaker sex).

Now of course the above has been ameolorated somewhat by hierarchalists trying to keep up with women's forward movement in our modernist culture. A woman did not officially run the Boston Marathon until 1984, and the story of women in athletics is one almost entirely creditable to the feminists most Christians love to hate. Yet the proof that women's bodies are capable of stupendous athleticism, and womens' minds are capable (potentially even moreso as far as multi-tasking than mens'?), and that women can lead, work, and achieve in the public sphere every bit as well as their male counterparts, forces thinking hierarchalists to recalibrate their rhetoric.

Yet among evangelicals, the idea of "roles" "functions" and all the old hoary myths rooted in the gender hierarchy myth, itself rooted in the Masculine God idea, continue. In some cases, such as that of the Southern Baptist denomination, they have actually been strengthened in order to disenfranchise women back to their "proper God-given roles."

As an egalitarian (not my favorite word) or a mutualist (better), I and many other bible-rooted Christians reject the hiearchical view of God as Masculine. But as we'll see in my next post, that doesn't solve things and doesn't even really (even from a mutualist viewpoint) answer the question, or the additional questions the original spawns. Such as:

What is masculine?
What is feminine?
Who says these things (is there any biblical evidence for such definitions?)
If masculinity and femininity are only human constructions, what does that do to the concept of "male" and "female"? (In short, are we falling into a sort of androgynous gender fog?)
Egalitarians-only question: Is God neither masculine nor feminine, or both masculine and feminine?
And so on...

I don't promise to answer all or any of these questions. But I will try to explore them a little so others can start asking further questions and maybe helping us collectively come up with a few answers...

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Anonymous said...

i think GOD is a spirit,,,nor masculine or feminine!! i m middle eastern and know from our ancients and our generations!! he is spirit, and the word spirit, known to be a masculine word, not feminine!
We dpmt meed tp make research of this its logical since its said in the bible!! its the most sure source of information!!

thanks Sue

truthdivide said...

In truth (Truth if you will), God is neither masculine or feminine given that He transcends any question of gender as we would understand it.

However, He is charactarized as male in scripture as a kind of an anthropomorphism. That simply means that HE attributes to 'himself' human charactaristics as an aid to our understanding of 'him.'

Truth be told, though, He is neither for He is Spirit, as Sue has accurately pointed out above.

Anonymous said...

When I was first introduced to the egalitarian viewpoint I was so delighted to see God as not only masculine but feminine too. I picked out all of His "feminine" characteristics. But I knew that to be totally fair, God was also fifty percent masculine. So I began looking for His masculine characterists. But what I found was that every "masculine" characteristic that could be applied to God could also be seen in certain women - many were in me in fact. Then I looked at my list of feminine characteristics and I knew a lot of men with those attributes.

The more I studied other peoples opinions on being masculine and feminine the more I heard the sentence "of course this is not strictly true of all men (or women) but in general..." So what of these men and women (which included me) that did not fit perfectly into the gender cut? Were we some third gender? Absurd! If a woman is aggressive (by nature), then that cannot be a masculine trait. If a man is sensitive by nature, then that cannot be a feminine trait.

I have finally come to believe one of two things about masculinity and femininity: either it does not exist and it is strictly a human invention or it does not consist of "traits" but is an aura strictly attached to its respective gender. Meaning that all men are masculine and women feminine no matter what they do. I am leaning toward the latter, because it does seem that masculinity and feminity can be intentionally imitated by the opposite gender (in the case of homosexuals). However, a man or woman must INTENTIONALLY imitate the oposite gender.

As far as whether God is both or one or the other, He is neither because He is neither male nor female. God does exhibit human traits (or more accurately, humans exhibit divine traits since we are made in the image of God). But "traits" are genderless and God has placed the same traits in both men and women.