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Why I Do Not Call God "She"

One 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 contrary.

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. 

For 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 Deuteronomic School. 

All 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. 

It 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." 

The 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." 

But 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. 

The 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. 

In 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. 

I 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 attempt to make Christianity monotheistic after the fact, just as Hindu trinitarianism sought to forge three distinct deities (Brahama, Visnu, Siva) into one. 

The 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. 

My 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

 

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