Wednesday, January 31, 2007

God Gender and Language, Part II

(If you have not read Part one, go here LEK)

Idolatry, in part, is being stuck in a feed back loop, which at best only offers us ourselves for contemplation in the name of the divine or sacred. Must we be bound by the narrowness of our concepts and language or can our language become a way through? Is not so being bound the same as simply admitting that we can only have our idols and never God? If we say we are simply bound by concepts and language, we can only have a less oppressive idol or concept, not a concept that allows us to see through to what is beyond the concept. Thus rejecting the possibility that God language always explodes a concept or image if understood correctly we then are left with being stuck in our concepts. We then will find that either ourselves are simply reflected back to us in the concept, or find the reflected self of an oppressive other. Either way we are stuck in idolatry.

I am coming to conclude that we have failed to take seriously the language and the themes of the prophets. In the prophets injustice and oppression are bound up and intertwined with idolatry. We seem to forget that if in our Scriptures and our language there is some justification for the concept of God as male or masculine, it is so because of pre-Hebraic and pre-Christian polytheism, and that Scripture continues to use some of the old imagery. However, it is the various polytheistic systems that gender the divine, that have the male sky god and the female earth deity, or which have a pantheon of male and female deities, gods and goddesses who play off each other. Granted one claim is that what happened is that Judaism and Christianity and Islam simply opted for the masculine pole of divinity. Yet this is a polytheistic interpretation of what happened not a monotheistic interpretation. We have within Scriptures and the tradition the interpretation and critique of these gendered idols, but we must accept this connection between idolatry and injustice and oppression. We must accept that we whether oppressor or oppressed have a tendency to replace God with too narrow concepts based on our language of God. We'd rather not struggle with our idolatrous nature. We'd rather not take revelation and find ourselves drawn beyond our language and concepts but reform revelation as if it was simply our own idol to form as we see fit and as our culture commands of us.

We are not the first to be troubled by these overly masculine and also violent images in our Scriptures. Our time is not the only time to have raised these sorts of issues about traditional language and concepts, but the church refused to throw out the Hebrew Scriptures, it held to them, and (re)interpreted them, believing them to be God's revelation (All evidence points to Jesus also holding this opinion of the Hebrew Scriptures, since afterall he was a Jew).

When we point out the oppressive nature of God as male or masculine we point out a truth, but it is a truth that is as much about failing to truly worship and encounter God as it is about an oppressive patriarchy. The patriarchy is oppressive because it paints itself as divine. Those who use "He" "Father", "Son" to make god Male, masculine or simply the divine man (theos-aner) create an idol. But this language as Revelation is not idolatrous. If you are seeking to escape this narrow interpretation of "Father", or "Lord", or "Son", and if "He" conjures up in your mind some masculine image, you are not only struggling against oppression but idolatry. We need to name this fully for what it is.

However, saying "she" will not rescue us from this idolatry unless it is accompanied by a sense that our concepts of God are always already simultaneously overdetermined and underdetermined. We can both make too much and too little of our language and concepts of God. Imaging God as a woman, or as feminine or female when worshiping God is as oppressive, unjust and idolatrous as imagining God as a man or conceiving of God as masculine or male.

One might say that I am coming close to blaming the victim here. Rather, I am simply pointing out in this specific instance what Paulo Freire points out as occurring in all oppressive systems: to some degree greater or lesser depending on where one is situated in the system, even the oppressed cooperate in someway with that oppression. Part of the pedagogy that Freire advocated was the bringing to awareness of the ways in which the oppressed bind themselves as well as being bound to the system. So, I feel that the language of idolatry in this instance allows for those oppressed by gendered images to see how men in our context "White Males" have distorted Revelation by fashioning the language of God into an idol. There is the need in these conversations to point out the danger that reforming the language rather than ones approach to language and concepts is to simply replacing one idol for another. This action will perhaps free oneself and others from masculine imagery but this will not necessarily liberate from a narrow and idolatrous use of language and concepts, which is the source and ultimate cause of the oppression.