I Do Not Call God "She"
of my seminary students recently asked me if I would mind occasionally
referring to God as "she" and not just "he" all the time. I would like to
address that issue here as well, since I do not refer to God as "she" in
my sermons or my columns either, and some might want to know why. It is
not because I am more conservative theologically than you. Quite the
Indeed I believe that the whole business of "inclusive language" referring
to the deity represents a compromise with conservatism and even with
phallocentrist ideology. Those who think that calling God "she" somehow
gives women their due are blithely contenting themselves with a crumb
tossed them by the patriarchal establishment. Here's why.
one thing, it seems to me absolutely clear that the biblical "God" (Elohim,
Yahweh) is a male. He had a consort, Asherah, as most of Israel
always knew. Asherah reigned beside Yahweh in the Jerusalem temple for
over half the years it stood. She was periodically driven out, along with
the rest of the Israelite pantheon, by the Cromwellian zeal of the
this mythology is simply borrowed lock, stock, and barrel from Canaanite
religion anyway, and there it is equally clear that El is a male, Asherah
is his wife, and Baal is his son, Anath being Baal's wife, etc.
would be anachronistic to refer to this God as "she" since he is a
literary character like Zeus, a male figure. One would never make Ares or
Hercules or Thor or Krishna a woman. Thus I refer to God in my discussion
of the biblical stories, including the implicit narratives of Pauline and
Johannine theology ("God sent forth his Son..."), as "he."
same holds true for the discussion of theologies of the past. It
would be grossly anachronistic in discussing Calvin's or Aquinas's
theologies of the male God to start calling him "she," no less absurd than
calling Calvin or Aquinas "she."
what about our own modern endeavors to do creative theology? Should we
call God "she" in this context at least? I think not. It is important to
see that the very notion of a single divine monarch issuing commands is a
patriarchal notion, a phallocentric doctrine. It is to exalt the one over
the many ("king of the hill"), and to choose as the main image of divine
influence that of coercion.
move toward monotheism, with Elohim as the only God, represented a
"cornering of the market" by one faction of priests, a symbolic tool to
impose the totalistic rule of the human monarch through the agency of a
single priesthood. All other power centers, divine or human, were driven
out. Popular religion, polytheism, was crushed by the Temple elite, the
dominant faction. Monotheism perpetuates this, as does the doctrine that
there can be only one true religion.
the same way, to attribute uniqueness or authority to Jesus Christ as the
Son of God and as
Lord simply reflects the phallogocentrism of the old Canaanite
mythology. He "rules the nations with the rod of iron." This sceptre is
the phallus of the Logos. Male authority has been made the "logos," the
governing rationale or meaning of the cosmos. In short, reality has been
defined in male terms when you say the male "Son" is the Logos of God
through whom the world was made.
Thus for us to call the biblical/Christian God "she" (or to call Jesus the
"Child" of God) to try to eliminate gender bias is grossly premature. It
leaves in place the patriarchalist presupposition of monarchial
monotheism. We still have the vertical rule of a transcendent monarch over
the servile many. We still have essentially male rule over the system of
belief. The cosmetic change of a couple of words does not change that.
see two consistent alternatives. One is to reintroduce polytheism into
Christianity, as David Miller once suggested, and as is being done in the
Pagan wing of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. If you want a divine
She, let it be Asherah (or the consort of Jesus who raised him from the
dead, Anastasis); why send God to Sweden for a sex change operation unless
you buy the arbitrary assumption that there can only be one deity?
Indeed, it is quite clear that ancient Israel was not monotheistic in its
theology, despite the monotheistic convictions of the final editors of the
canon. I doubt that earliest Christianity was monotheistic either. The
emergence of the doctrine of the Trinity is perhaps best viewed as a late
make Christianity monotheistic after the fact, just as Hindu
trinitarianism sought to forge three distinct deities (Brahama, Visnu,
Siva) into one.
other alternative is to do away with the transcendent monarch altogether
and proclaim the death of God, the emptying out of transcendence into
immanence, the location of Nirvana in Samsara, as Nietzschean and
Deconstructionist theologians do.
own alternative is the latter. But the two approaches are not finally
incompatible, since Deconstruction, like polytheism, rejects the
exaltation of the One over the Many (because of Derrida's principle of
differance). Likewise, neo-Paganism tends to view the various deities
more as archetypal enabling powers immanent in the human psyche than as
external transcendent beings. No "transcendental signified," after all. In
either case, I find no occasion to speak of God as "she." And in my
practice I am being not less but more "politically correct" than thou.
Robert M. Price