Thursday, February 08, 2007

God Gender and Language, Part III

If you have not read them,take time to read Part I and Part II
I had initially planned this post to evaluate possible solutions, however, in rereading my previous posts, it seemed redundant. I will simply say that placing the issue in the context of idolatry pretty much problematizes most solutions, the least problematic being replacing "He" with God, and "Himself" with "God's self". It gets clunky as I have said. Though, I only have a minor issue in terms of translation of using she instead of he in say the Psalms or the Creed. However, if people envision a female or something feminine when they are saying "She" in place of "He" I hardly see how we have solved the problem from the perspective I have taken.

Granted, there is the issue that women and men do apparently conceive of God as male. And I understand how this is a troubling issue especially for women, and for anyone concerned for justice. Ultimately, then we have an issue with the naming of the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This leads some to claim that we have an all male Trinity. I appeal to the witness of Gregory of Nyssa, who I understand as representing in this instance the catholic and orthodox faith, saying that to say such is idolatrous. "Father" does not mean male. Father shows us a relation to the Second person of the Trinity, the Son, (also not intended to indicate Gender, though admittedly this gets complicated given that Jesus Christ is male). The Holy Spirit if following a certain linguistic logic might be conceived of as feminine, but that could be idolatrous as well. If we take the tradition seriously we should accept its witness that if we are conceiving of Father Son and Holy Spirit as masculine we are misconstruing the language. Common use is not theological use of language, Christian faith upsets our common understanding. Sometimes we need to sit with what has been received as Revelation. Of course this line of thinking has lead such 20th century philosophers as Wittgenstein to advise silence in the realm of the theological, understanding this "theological" use of language as well as much philosophical use of language as abuse of language. I would argue that language is more dynamic than Wittgenstein admitted, and that he advised silence because he couldn't see how to translate between language systems within even a single language like English. However, translation is always a problem, language is a problem that is unsolvable,and simply needs to be lived with.

But one may say even if all this about language and theological language is true, we still have people who use this language to assert the masculine nature of Christian faith and the Christian God. We have women who simply hear masculine language and feel excluded from the worship life of the church and distanced from a God that seemingly has no room for them. There are those large figures like Aquinas who have carried over from fallen cultures and philosophies the idea of the inherent inferiority of women, who interpret the mythology of the Fall as laying all the blame for Sin in the world at women's feet. And I agree this is a problem it is why although it is playing a little loose with translation, I supported when the RSV came out its translation of such words as adelphos, "brother", as "brother and sister". I do not believe that Paul or the Scriptures intended to exclude women by this masculine language. However, I would say such things are different from the way Jesus uses Father, and its use in the Name, Father Son and Holy Spirit.

I fully agree that a god as conceived as all male or masculine is deeply troubling and problematic, and even isn't an orthodox or catholic conception of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit. I think we have our current problem in part because Protestantism tends to be nominalist in its understanding of Theological language and rejected the analogical understanding perhaps most fully developed in Aquinas but found throughout the long tradition of the church. I have to admit that I have trouble giving an account for this understanding of theological language even though I recognize that this is how I have always understood theological language. Christianity in its orthodox and catholic forms has not claimed God as male or masculine, again Gregory of Nyssa is my primary exhibit concerning this claim. Julian of Norwich and a whole slew of mystics could probably be also brought to bear.

So I claim we don't need to change the language we use of God we need to change our understanding of language. Language is a complex business, our culture tends to be reductionist about language, it tends to be reduce meaning to singularities rather than multiplicities. However, language so conceived will always fail us, a language dominated by psychological and scientific models fails the spiritual reality of humanity. Our cultures love of science and understanding along objective lines tends towards the idolatrous. We need to reform our ways of conceiving language when it is used theologically and liturgically not reform our theological and liturgical language. Properly understood the theological language of the tradition and the liturgy and creeds opens us up to the mystical reality of our the analogical relationship of God to humanity and creation. God is not like us and yet the very center and source of our being, even as male and female. To image God though does not mean that God is or ever was gendered like us,nor even some combination of our sexed and gendered selves. I have argued that Revelation and tradition being faithful to that revelation has used "Father" and "Father Son and Holy Spirit" in pronouncing the Name has never meant that God was male or masculine, we do though need to recover what that meaning was for it is clear to me that it has been lost to our detriment.

I say this because either "Father" and "Father Son and Holy Spirit" are and always have been idolatrous or the weren't and are not. Obviously from these posts one knows that I do not view those usages as idolatrous.

The question then is how do we get women and men to see beyond gender in the Name, Father Son and Holy Spirit. I admit that seems a tricky, enterprise but not impossible, or so my own genderless image of God as one who has always known God as Father, and spoken the Name Father Son and Holy Spirit.

I am at a loss though, for I never made the journey I seem to be asking everyone else to make, from hearing in Father Son and Holy Spirit, an all male deity, to encounter something else in Father Son and Holy Spirit, something beyond gender, beyond conception beyond knowledge, beyond human experience.