Thursday, 14 August 2014

Does God Really Have a Gender?

         I think that I have always known that, somewhere along the way, I was going to have to confront the problem of God. Until now I have accepted this inner Presence, which I experience from time to time as a manifestation, or an emergent property, of God, but have considered any intellectual or analytical approach to God to be too fraught with difficulties. My tentative approach to the problem of God is going to be what might be considered as somewhat negative in that I will try to determine what God is not. Only then, hopefully from what is left, may I gain some idea in which direction I need to travel in order to reach my desired goal of knowing something of what God is. There are no guarantees of course, but at least the opening steps are clear enough. To find God one must seek inside oneself.
         The question I would like to address here is whether or not the christian God is male. Now God, and please stay with me because this has implications far beyond religion, has traditionally been called the Father. He might just as easily have been called God the Mother, if his origins had not been rooted in the Jewish religion but in a matriarchal belief system. It was considered that the notion of fatherhood, drawn from the rural world of the ancient Near East, was an apt analogy for the description of the experience of God. But an analogy it always was, and an analogy is what it remains. Somewhere along the centuries, the boundaries of analogy and perceived truth have become blurred to the extent that the one has become totally identified with the other. In other words the analogy is the truth. Incidentally, a similar argument can be applied to the idea of Jesus being the Son of God.
         In her "Models of God", Sallie McFague says,

"God as mother does does not mean that God is mother (or father). We imagine God as both mother and father, but we realize how inadequate these and other metaphors are to express the creative love of God....... Nevertheless, we speak of this love in language that is familiar and dear to us......"

         Now the analogy of father (or mother) may be useful for people who were raised in a loving, caring family, but what of those who were raised under different circumstances? I would suggest that such an analogy lacks a certain authenticity which cannot be overcome simply by citing the experiences of others. In short, the language of loving parenthood is neither familiar nor dear. Whether or not God can love, creatively or otherwise, is a subject which I will pass over for possible future discussion.
         If I can assume to have successfully disposed of the idea that God is Father, I must add that there is one aspect of the male/female analogy that is universally useful, and that is the use of the words male and female in the strictly biological sense, as used for example in engineering. Where two matching components come together to form a joint or union, those components are described as being male or female, depending on whether they are inserted into or fitted around the other component. Pipe fittings would be one example of this. And here is the crux of the matter, that the two are united to form the one, analogously an inner union of the soul, the ground of our being, and some 'otherness' which may be called God. When that mystical union takes place, there follows a new sense of balance and completion, the uniting of the Bride and the Groom, yet another analogy.
         Lest it be assumed that some form of gender analogy is required to describe the idea of union, (assumed always to be of a loving and caring variety), please consider another analogy which in the end may be closer to reality that one using gender, as well as being free of emotive issues. When two (or more, but not let us complicate matters) chemical elements are brought together chemically, a new substance or compound is created. I stress the point that the elements come into chemical union, a process which follows strict rules. The result of physical union produces a mixture (which obeys no rules) in which the components retain their identity. The chosen elements may be very different from each other, for example sodium (symbol Na) a silvery, reactive metal, and chlorine (symbol Cl) a pungent, yellowy-green gas, will combine to form common salt (symbol NaCl). In this compound these two elements combine strictly in the ratio of 1:1.
         What I like about the chemical analogy is that one can experience the apparent paradox of combining elements of opposite (or at least dissimilar) nature to produce a compound whose properties are completely different from its constituent elements. Furthermore, some chemical reactions can take place only in the presence of a catalyst, a substance which allows the reaction to take place without being a chemical part of that reaction. Thus one might introduce the Holy Spirit, or some other concept, into the reckoning of personal experience.
         I would like to conclude by reiterating that the notions of God as Father or Mother are only analogies based on what seemed in the past to be meaningful, family relationships. Those notions never were other than analogies, and are no more than that now. There are other ways of trying to put into words the ineffable, such as the chemical analogy, which avoids the family concept. And it must be remembered that at some point all analogies break down. If the analogy of fatherhood and the principle it had attempted to model had not become confused over the centuries, we might by now be much closer to a greater understanding of the fundamentals of our psycho-spirituality. And there is much to be understood.
         It may be argued that I have set out on a fool's errand to discover the nature of God, if such a nature can be said to exist. That may well be the case, but I will never know until I at least try to seek answers to my interminable questions.


  1. Fascinating topic and so well put to this point Tom. My thoughts at this point would add nothing and in fact might muddy these crystal waters. So, a nod and a smile will have to suffice. Looking forward to part two and beyond.

  2. Tom, I'm very much in tune with this post and with your use of analogies derived from chemistry and mechanics rather than myth and religious doctrine. I've always felt that we could understand more about God if we gaze intuitively at the laws of nature and the cosmos rather than limit our search to the language of religions. Alchemy was an attempt to talk about spiritual transformation using material processes as symbols but looking for God in any ancient arcane, magical belief systems and practices wouldn't, in my view, be of any more help than deconstructing the Bible and other sacred scriptures. The problem is how to step aside from our habitual ways of thinking and interpreting and enter, at least temporarily, a state of receptive innocence. Because, whatever God is,surely God's language is not understandable to our 'normal'thought processes, however intelligent, learned or wise we may be. A different kind of 'intelligence' is required. Maybe we need to look more closely at how how young children and animals think and at the logic of flowers, trees and clouds.

  3. I suspect much western reference to God's gender comes from the language of scripture. Aramaic has masculine and feminine nouns and modifiers --much like Spanish-- as does Latin. Spiritus, for instance, is masculine whether it refers to the spirit of a man or a woman. I doubt God has much use for a personal gender.

  4. My God is biologically genderless but, I am used to say he/him.

  5. The analogy you've made that God might better be described as a chemical compound rather than as a parent immediately reminded me of a book I got some years ago, namely The Chymical Wedding of Christian Rosenkreutz. In Spiritual Alchemy, the prime material is the human soul, and the furnace is the physical body and the subtle bodies. The laboratory itself is human existence during which the soul can learn to perfect itself.

  6. Well, as usual, friend Tom, you're tacklin' the big ones. Being an atheist, as I purport to be, my problems with this god thing are linguistic, rather than philosophical. I mean, I still at times feel the need to say "Thank God" or "Dear God" or something like that but only in the sense of emphasis. But since I profess not to believe in a supreme being, I feel phony if I don't muddle it up by saying "thank gawd" or "dear gawd" or some such hillbilly usage.

    Then there's the male/female problem. Along with the "cross" of atheism on my shoulders, I have been blessed/plagued with a plethora of female liberalism in my direct family and extended family (friends) who insist on referring to their God as She. What is a poor man to do?

    Be that as it may, I will leave you to your much more intellectual explorations, Tom. But you might consider extending them one little stitch further . . to the problem of . . "Is Santa Claus white?"

  7. Fascinating, Tom, inclusing the comments!

  8. I don’t think the idea of gender is compatible with a belief in a creator God, but I do think one can pose the question of the likelihood of interactivity between chance, necessity and fertility in an evolving universe.
    What springs to mind with fertility is the birth and death of stars and the combination of chemicals and molecules that form our life, since we are creations from that star dust. In that regard I don’t accept either pantheism nor naturalism, or any notion of an omnipotent and omniscient God –which in itself a contradiction of terms. But rather it seems to me the universe cannot exist without GOD, but I separate but respond, as in crudely analogised in the embrace and encouragement of a child by its loving parents.
    Best wishes

  9. Thank you all for your comments.

    Halle; Somehow I rather thought you would enjoy this post. Work had begun on the next theological episode.

    Natalie: I am in complete agreement with you here. However we may perceive the universe around us, and our impressions of reality or otherwise, it seems to me to be foolish (if not arrogant) not to use analogies from the material universe that can carry a degree of proof with them. The theosophical doctrine of "as above, so below" can be a powerful tool in spiritual investigation. The problem with the deconstruction of Holy Writ is that there is no bedrock on which to base one's thinking. I am not, per se, against reinterpreting the Bible, but one does need to be extremely careful. Better by far to seek analogies in the material world, even as seen through the eyes of children, and unsentimental animals.

    Geo; There may be some truth in your comment. However, when we first moved to France and talked about language and gender to our neighbours and friends, they said that gender had nothing to do with physical reality. It was the words that carried gender. So although I would not claim that people's thinking is unaffected by the gender of words (particularly for people whose language is not gender-ruled) I am uncertain as to the possible extent other people are thus affected.

    Ellena; I usually try to avoid using the personal pronouns 'he' and 'him'. The use of 'she' and 'her' I find to be something of an affectation. But I agree with you that if the personal pronoun does arise, I use the masculine forms out of custom and convenience.

    Susan; The moment I began to read your comment I asked myself why I haven't finished reading that book. It is sitting on my bookself (well one of them!). There is much to be gained from 'pipework' and 'chemical' analogies, as also from radar and television analogies. But we must avoid confusion generated by the multi-use of material systems. Mmmmm! Systems analysis.....that might be useful as well...... :)

    Bruce; And now we come to the really weighty stuff! So straight in at the deep end. It is my impression that Santa Claus is as white as the driven snow, possibly as a result of his recently developed predisposition towards getting stranded in snow drifts, resulting from climate change. When I finally caught up with him, losing that blue-white tinge so beloved of soap powder manufacturers, and posed your weighty, philosophical question, he answered in his usual frustrating manner by asking another question. "Is Bruce Taylor white?" he asked.

    Marja Leena; Thank you, and yes, the comments are very interesting.

    Lindsay; I am uncertain as to the link between gender and a belief in a creator God. The two ideas have been linked in mythology for as long as humankind as considered such matters. I do agree wholeheartedly with what you seem to be implying, that there is much
    more to be gained from a more scientifically orthodox approach than from any other.
    This is, of course, a massive subject, and too big to entered into in depth in this comment box. I would say, however, that I do belief in a God that is in a process of becoming, a God that is linked to us more closely than we may care to admit. As for omnipotence, I agree for God too must work within scientific law, even if those laws are not quite how they are currently formulated. A capricious God is unacceptable, unless 'he' is a metaphor for the Ego.

  10. From Genesis 27:
    So God created man in his own image,
    in the image of God he created him;
    male and female he created them

    This would seem to indicate a belief that God was two, a combination of both the female and male spirit.

  11. Halle; When I read elsewhere in the Old Testament, there are numerous occasions when one would be forgiven for thinking that God (or Jahweh) was simply Ego writ large across the cosmos. If the depiction of God in the OT is that of ego, then of course gender would be included. I have to say that I do not believe in the idea of a Creator God, except when I'm looking for someone to blame for human design faults. And I doubt He-She is that concerned about my annoyed rantings.

    1. To me, what we discover in the writings of the old testament is an indication of the beliefs of that time and people, who wrote what they did with motive unknown. As you suggest, different sections reveal different motives, often ego based. .
      "I am that I am" comes closer to my own gleaning.
      No matter though, my God is personal, gender free and of the spirit.

  12. Halle; Can't say fairer than that.