The Way We Talk About God
By: Caitlyn Beatty
(Side note: It may be the case that masculinity in other religions is also quite prevalent and/or problematic. However, as I am a Methodist, Christianity is the only religion I feel I can draw experience from).
I was raised in the Methodist Church.
I was raised to be and am still a firm believer in the “Father, Son and the Holy Spirit”. I have had an excellent experience in the church. It has given me a supportive and loving family, instilled in me an ethos that prioritized service and self-sacrifice above all.
But let’s stop and think about that phrase for a second: The Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. I’d like to think about the ways I—and the church I was raised in (as a Christian)—talk about God. In a discussion, I casually refer to God as “He.”
When I was writing this article I had to erase “Him” and write “God” multiple times. I once had a youth pastor who would end prayers with: “I’ll talk to you later, Dad.” The scriptures, The Holy Bible, do it as well—“Sing to God, sing praises to HIS name, extol HIM who rides the clouds… a father to the fatherless,” (Psalms 68:4-5).
Why is it the Father? Why do Christians view God—the Supreme Being, creator of the human race—as a father? Why not as a mother? Why do we attach any gender at all to a spirit, a numinous, a creator that no man has ever actually seen?
I believe the answer is a historical accident that, in my opinion, has serious problems for those in the Christian tradition and those who are looking for a loving religion to call home. I think the idea of viewing God as a parent to the parentless is a beautiful and comforting sentiment. But when we think of God through the male perspective, we lose important attributes that are traditionally ascribed to mothers and we bring in notions of sexuality that need not exist.
So why Father?
There are certain gender characteristics that we have attached to fatherhood (disciplinarian, wise, just, strong, protective) and motherhood (nurturing, loving, creative). The feminist movement has long sought to tear down any distinctions in personality based upon gender. There are mothers who are fiercely protective, fathers who show extraordinary gentleness to their children. There are mothers who are physically stronger than their children’s fathers. These gender-based personality and parental role distinctions are not natural, and that claim has been disproven. Regardless, such distinctions exist, and I think talking about God as a father limits our understanding of God.
If God is the creator of man, why not view God as a mother? The business of growing life is motherhood. Nurturing growth and looking out for our daily safety and routine are all attributes usually prescribed to mothers. I think this view of God could be very refreshing, healing, and relatable to many people. But the constant use of masculine pronouns and understanding God as a powerful father restricts this understanding and accessibility to God.
Perhaps it is because the scriptures reference God as male that we have just continued this practice. Perhaps it comes from the idea that God created man in his image, that we project ourselves onto Him. But there are dangerous consequences to viewing God as male. The Bible was written by men, so it makes sense that God is portrayed as a man, but that does not mean that is true. Viewing God as a man reinforces patriarchal structures in governments, in religious organizations and in the family structure.
Sexualization of a Deity?
I am not sure that you can attach gender to something without adding a degree of sexualization to it. Regardless of male or female gender assignments, ascribing a sex identification to God brings in a notion of sexuality that neither exists nor needs to exists. If we view God as a male or female, it leads to some question of sexual partners (we see this with Jesus and the concept of a royal bloodline) but I do not think we need to be introducing a sexual component to God. Sexual relationships include dominating and political components that are social constructs.These social constructs need not exist, but are inherently added when we view God as female/male.
An Androgynous God
Reshaping our understanding of God is not easy. So many of our practices, teachings, and even the solace we find in God are often tied to viewing God as a parent. I think that viewing God as a parent can be a great way to relate God. But when this concept of parenthood makes a gender distinction, we lose important concepts of God. Uniting both male and female notions of parenthood to God creates a figure that can embody all important characteristics. An androgynous God can be nurturing and strong, comforting and protective, playful and just. Gendered notions of parenthood do not make sense when projected onto human parents, but they make even less sense when projected on God, a spirit that is and should remain above gender.