We will consider both sets of texts in a moment, but first a more general point. The Bible speaks of God in a variety of ways-some more anthropomorphic than others, but none making rigorously philosophical distinctions.
Nowhere, for example, does Scripture systematically distinguish God in himself from the human language we employ to speak about him. The biblical writers appear to know that of their language about God is metaphorical-no one supposes, for example, the Psalmist's comment about the shadow of God's "wings" is taken literally by its author Ps ; At the same time, some images for God are so common and integral to biblical revelation that the biblical writers seem to take them literally, or at least these images function for the biblical writers as if they were literally true.
Masculine language about God as appears to be of this sort, as we shall see. In other words, the biblical writers are aware God is not male in the crude, bodily sense; and yet they see him as fundamentally masculine especially in relation to creation and to Israel, his Bride. They speak of God as if he male.
To be properly understood, then, feminine metaphors applied to God must be interpreted with this in view. We consider now the first set of texts-passages which deny that God is human and therefore supposedly imply that, being beyond gender in himself, God must be spoken of in either male or female language or without gender-specific language altogether. Let's consider three key texts frequently used to make this point: Numbers , 1 Samuel and Hosea Numbers and 1 Samuel are similar passages. Numbers says, "God is not a man that he should speak falsely, nor human that he should change his mind.
Is he one to speak and not act, to decree and not fulfill?
Both of these texts stress the absolute veracity of Yahweh as someone true to his word. Yahweh is not human, hence not prone to acting contrary to what he has said or changing his mind as humans do.
God’s Gender: A Traditionalist View
Neither text states or even implies, however, that because Yahweh is not human, he is not masculine or isn't to be spoken of in exclusively masculine language. In fact, while asserting that Yahweh is not human, the biblical writers themselves apply masculine pronouns to God. Nothing in the texts suggest the biblical writers think Yahweh may rightly be spoken of in female as well as male language. Another commonly cited text, Hosea , reads: "I will not give vent to my blazing anger, I will not destroy Ephraim again; For I am God and not man, the Holy One present among you; I will not let the flames consume you.
Again, Yahweh's way of acting-in this case his expressions of mercy and holiness-contrasts with human behavior. But this text doesn't require us to believe that since the biblical writers think of Yahweh as superior to humans, they necessarily hold him to be entirely beyond gender description or that we should apply male and female language equally to him. The notion that divinities could be both superior to man and yet still sexually differentiated was common in the Ancient Near East. Having disposed of our first set of passages, we turn now to our second group-texts which attribute feminine characteristics or activities to God.
A number of passages are commonly cited here: Dt.
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Let's look at them. Deuteronomy refers to "the Rock that begot you To you I was committed at birth, from my mother's womb you are my God.
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Psalm says, "I have stilled and quieted my soul like a weaned child. Like a weaned child on its mother's lap [so is my soul within me. Especially rich in its use of maternal imagery is the second part of Isaiah. Isaiah depicts Yahweh as saying, "I cry out as a woman in labor, gasping and panting. Even should she forget, I will never forget you. How are we to understand these passages, given the fact that the vast majority of references to God in Scripture clearly envision him in exclusively masculine terms? Are we to see here the beginnings of that "de-patriarchalizing" principle for which some feminists claim biblical warrant?
To the last question, the answer is clearly "no. And even when feminine images or similes for God are employed, it is still very much a masculine Yahweh to whom they are applied. This is clear from the consistent use of the masculine pronoun "he" for God. Yahweh is never "she" or "her," even when feminine imagery is invoked. Miller puts it:.
On the contrary, gender usage throughout clearly specifies that the root metaphor is masculine father. None of the texts considered requires us to think that feminine characteristics are ascribed to God in a fashion any different from how such traits may be ascribed to human males. A case in point here is Numbers , where Moses asks, "Have I given birth to this people? Similarly, in the New Testament, both Jesus Matthew and Luke and Paul Galatians are likened to a mother, though they are men.
Some might think that Genesis , where man and woman are said to be created in the image of God, is an exception to the idea that the "root-metaphor" for God in the Bible is, as John Miller says, a masculine-father image. One might argue that, since both men and women are the image of God, the biblical author rejects the idea of a divinity thought of in exclusively masculine terms. How could both man woman be made in God's image if God is understood only in masculine categories? The answer depends on what it means to be made in God's image.
For the biblical author, being made in the "image of God" appears in context to mean at least two things. First, that humans exercise a delegated dominion over creation similar to but less than the sovereign authority of the Creator "Let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air Second, that humans are capable of fellowship with God. Common sense also confirms that there is no necessary conflict between thinking of God as masculine and holding that both men and women are made in his image. Daughters as well as sons can be "spittin' images" of their fathers, without denying the unique sexual identity of fathers as fathers and daughters and daughters.
To summarize, our survey of the relevant biblical texts has shown that even in those relatively rare instances when feminine metaphors are employed for God, these are clearly applied to what is regarded by the biblical authors as a "masculine" deity. Consequently, this use of metaphor provides no more justification for using feminine language with reference to God than it does for using such language for human males. Of course, to say the biblical authors see God as "masculine" doesn't mean they see him as male in the full biological, bodily sense of the term.
Obviously God is not a male human being, and if the biblical writers positively affirmed that he is, they would teach erroneously about God-something which the divine inspiration of Scripture precludes. The biblical writers know that God is not a male human being yet they insist he be spoken of as masculine. But they lack the theological and philosophical instruments to account for this apparent contradiction. As noted earlier, the biblical authors don't engage in systematic philosophical analysis of the divine nature or how we predicate things of God.
It is anachronistic, then, to read back into their writings a philosophically rigorous distinction between strict literal and purely symbolic language or even a thorough-going philosophical distinction between the material and immaterial. What is at stake is the symbolic language used to speak of God.
In this respect two questions present themselves. First, is there something in the divine nature and its relation to us which bestows on the masculine symbol a priority in language about God, even though men and women are equal as human beings? Second, to what extent may we alter what is the central "root metaphor" for God in biblical revelation without altering that revelation? Strictly speaking, these are not questions the Bible alone, apart from Christian tradition and theological reflection, can answer- although neither can the Bible's witness to the divine nature be ignored or dismissed as purely "culturally conditioned.
And these presuppositions are, to say the least, hard to reconcile with Christianity. Trying to "balance" masculine and feminine language for God or to eliminate such gender language altogether from Christian discourse, is a post-biblical phenomenon with no justification in Scripture itself.
As we have seen, the biblical writers understood God in essentially masculine terms. To do justice to their texts, we must not project back onto them contemporary feminist theologizing and certainly we must not think the biblical authors initiated a "depatriarchalizing" project. To do so is to engage in a feminist form of biblical fundamentalism the only purpose of which is to bolster a dubious ideological agenda, not to discover how the biblical writers themselves viewed things. It is eisegesis masquerading as exegesis, pure and simple.
The different rhetorical strategies and cultural contexts of these two gynocentric philosophers sometimes conceal the similarity of their philosophies of religion. Both Daly and Irigaray urge nothing less than an overturning of the symbolic order and of language itself. Both are first and foremost philosophers of the passions, seeking to encompass the elements of earth, air, fire, and water within their visions. Each in her own way has helped to forge a radical feminist consensus that spirituality is to be exalted above doctrine, and that patriarchal conceptions of God as any kind of objective reality must be deconstructed so that female subjectivity might become more expansive and free.
Both reject reformist moves in the philosophy of religion as remaining inscribed within a phallocentric economy that evokes a god whose self-giving love is only accessible through fathers and sons and their representatives. The early Daly carved out a philosophy of religion largely consonant with the position cited in 4.
In these terms, Daly provides an ontological analysis of the urge toward transcendence, or participation in be-ing. Here the urge to transcendence is raised to the cosmic scale, and the vision of peace, justice, and ecological harmony that Daly projects bears a close resemblance to prophetic biblical texts. Daly says that Quintessence.
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The quest for Quintessence is the most Desperate response I know to the call of the Wild. She analyzes Quintessence as the highest essence, above the four elements of fire, air, water, and earth; it is what permeates all nature, the Spirit that gives life and vitality to the whole universe. Although it can be blocked or partly destroyed by violence and pornography, poverty, racism, medical and scientific exploitation, and the threat of ecological and nuclear destruction, its apparent invincibility imparts an important measure of transcendence. Here the dialectic shifts subtly from the earlier balance maintained between immanence and transcendence, and tips in favor of a divine that is purely immanent within the female Self.
Revisiting Mary Daly: Towards a quadripartite theological and philosophical paradigm
Rather than being the divine milieu within which the self lives, the divine is only alive within the self. Can they do justice to differences that figure in discussions of race, class, ethnic origins, and so forth? Do they reinstall sexual difference with old stereotypes left intact, trapping women once more within the parameters of their sexuality and physicality? Have they romanticized difference rather than theorizing it? Meister Eckhart could write:.
I have said that at times there is a power in the soul which alone is free….
God beyond gender : feminist Christian God-language
It is free from all names, and altogether unimpeded, untrammelled, and free from all modes, as God is free and untrammelled in Himself. For the radical medieval mystic like Eckhart the knowledge revealed in the experience of this divine spark is utterly self-authenticating. Therefore, it need not be subjected to the judgment of an institutional church. He insists that now ca.
Feuerbach takes up this same motif and makes it the dominant theme of his whole critique of religion. She explicitly expanded it to include women. Then she performed a reversal, and restricted it to women—although this reversal, too, has deep roots in the Western tradition, specifically, Iranian and biblical apocalypticism. At the same time, Daly could be rapturously optimistic about those women who do escape male power and begin to search and spin.
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Both a philosopher and a psychoanalyst, Irigaray aims to recuperate the repressed feminine.