Putting God’s Name on Our Prejudices
Many women, both within Christianity and outside of the Christian faith have the vague sense that something is missing from traditional views of God or Goodness.
Christianity has its roots in patriarchal desert societies, in the traditions of the ancient Hebrews, which in turn have their roots in Akkadian and Sumerian epics and culture. In survival-oriented, food-scarce, warring traditions like these, God is generally thought of as male. But what, exactly, does that mean?
Here are some things we can say with confidence about how male humans on the average differ from females: more physical strength, higher aggression, more focus on difference rather than similarities, more mathematical ability, less verbal ability, more self focus, more independence, and lower empathy. Together these qualities lead men on the average to be dominant, to innovate more, and to nurture and cooperate less.
These differences are advantages in some situations, not in others. Either way, they don’t have much to do with what makes a deity worthy of worship: love, power, truth-honoring, mercy, justice, life-giving, nurturing, healing, compassion, creation, wisdom. In fact, some of the virtues that we attribute to God are qualities that we most typically associate with the feminine dimensions of the human psyche.
Dan Brown’s fast-paced tale, The Da Vinci Code, has stirred public attention and controversy for a variety of reasons. Not the least of these is the questions it raises about the Sacred Feminine. Was Jesus married to Mary Magdalene? Who knows. Although it may be fascinating to build a case on one side of this question or the other, we should be wary, very wary, of anyone who presumes to speak with certainty on such matters.
Christians have spent centuries arguing this point. In fact, the central authorities of Christendom have been willing to kill to eradicate this and other "heresies," which consequently were handed down through secret codes, symbols and rituals among some sects of Christians. (Hence the entertaining conspiracy theories of The Da Vinci Code.)
The orthodox authorities now have different tools at their disposal: the media savvy and vast distribution network of Catholic and Evangelical presses and mega-churches. But neither swords nor media savvy can turn the fog of history into a tidy landscape of certainties.
Ironically, in the arguments about whether we should imagine Jesus of Nazareth as a married rabbi with children, both sides reinforce traditionalist views of women: that the glory of women is marriage and childbearing. But from the very beginning, some forms of Christianity have made room for alternatives.
Even in the first century, women took on leadership positions, and uncomfortable traditionalists pushed back. Ancient stories tell of Paul’s indomitable disciple, Thecla, and within the New Testament itself we get glimpses of the debate over females in leadership positions. Linguists who analyze ancient texts now widely believe that the misogynist verses in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus — "Let a woman learn in silence in full submission. I do not allow a woman to teach or to exercise authority . . . but she will be saved through bearing children," — were not actually written by Paul but were penned later in his name.
Perhaps it is time to challenge those who put God’s name on their own prejudices and to challenge ourselves when we are tempted to do the same.
May 15, 2006