Friday, August 06, 2004

God & Gender language

Edgar Foster: I know you'll disagree, but I find instances in the OT especially, of God relating to us in ways that highlight His "feminine" side. In short, I believe that the metaphors in Scripture depicting God as feminine and/or masculine are just that. Terence Fretheim and George Caird have both produced excellent works dealing with the metaphorical imagery contained in Holy Writ. I think that is what we have going on when we read texts referring to God as Father or as a caring mother.

Philip Blosser: Perhaps one source of the difference between us on this score is that your [Jehovah's Witness] theology has no divine Incarnation in Jesus. If I were a unitarian, I might also feel inclined to say, with the contemporary feminists and others, that all of this in the Bible is mere "metaphor." But Jesus was/is a MAN, and that ain't no "metaphor." And while the OT says that God is LIKE a mother, I'm not sure it says that God IS a mother, in the way that it says that God IS a Father. But that's secondary. I think the whole scenario which describes our language of God as "anthropomorphic" is absolutely upside down. Who do we think WE are, anyway, making ourselves the "archetype" by which to describe God?! Rather, I think the human language of the Bible is "theomorphic," in that God is, as Calvin says, "lisping" to us as infants, using language that we may have some 'pale' understanding of, but that the "Fatherhood" of God in Himself is something that far exceeds our human capacity to fathom. But He IS certainly FATHER, despite the occasional feminine similie by which we say he may be "like" a mother (much in the way we describe some fathers a "gentle"); but he IS not a mother.

Foster: The incarnation is an issue that I have purposely tried to avoid in this discussion. Granted, if Christ was really God incarnate, then I think you would have a point about the masculine issue. However, I do not affirm the incarnation and, what is more, yours truly does not believe that Christ (the Messiah) had to be a man. If the Edenic Fall had transpired differently, it is quite plausible that Messiah could have been a woman. There certainly is no functional or ontological reason why God's anointed could not have been a woman. This is my opinion and does not represent the official view of the JW organization.

Blosser: I suppose it's hypothetically possible that God could have saved the world without an Incarnation or Messiah at all, or that he Messiah could have been a particularly intelligent frog. But in the order of divine Providence, the Almighty has chosen to mirror His own nature in His plan of redemption, so that the whole cosmic mystery of creation and redemption is mirrored in the pale echtype of our gendered relationship to one another as human men and women.

Foster: As for the holy spirit, I've always found it interesting that Scripture uses masculine, feminine and neuter pronouns to refer to "it."

Blosser: Even in English, one could refer to the Godhead as "it," though it wouldn't eviscerate God's "personal" nature.

Foster: I'll check out Leon Podles' book soon, The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity. But I must confess that I do not understand what you mean when you say that religion is losing its "manly" nature. Why should religion be exclusively or primarily manly? What is wrong with a little muliebrity in religion?

Blosser: It's become soft and feminine in a disgusting, touchy-feely sort of way. It's not that the masculine cannot be compassionate or merciful. Rather, it's what many religious groups have been shying away from confrontational issues such as truth, sin, apologetics, asceticism, repentance, sanctification, etc., and concentrating, instead, on such things as "inclusiveness," "fellowship," "belonging," "self-esteem," "self-empowerment," "overcoming depression," "self-acceptance," etc. Kneeling on a hard marble floor has been replaced by sitting on soft padded pews, and gregorian chant has been replaced by guitar-strumming 'feel-good' ditties. This is the kind of thing I mean.

Foster: I am not comfortable with calling the Judaic or Christian account of God's dealings a "myth" or "fable." Yes, one could define MUQOS in a way that vitiates the pejorative connotations often associated with MUQOI. However, I feel much safer following the lead of the apostles, who went to great lengths showing that Christianity is neither a myth nor is it based on myths or fables. Story may be better, though NT Wright's NTPG illustrates difficulties, I think, that may result from this usage. There may be a place for mythology in the life of the Christian. I just do not think that a Christian should categorize the Christian account of Jesus Christ as a true myth. According to Mayhan and Campbell, myths are true anyway!

Blosser: I agree, as a matter of tactical prudence, that using "myth" or "fable" is fraught with hazards. But I think that part of your hesitation may also stem from what I mentioned before, namely an inclination to see
truth as conveyed only through raw empirical description, a preference for historiography over poetry, etc.

Foster: Granted, there are stories (myths) that serve as indirect testimony to the truth revealed through Christ Jesus and the OT prophets. But why spend a lot of time with imperfect images of the truth when one can have the real thing?

Blosser: Perhaps this was what I was trying to say about philosophy. Why spend a lot of time with Heidy and Hegelly when one can have Augustine, Thomas, the Bible, and the Magisterium? ;-) Don't get me wrong. You know I don't regret spending my life studying apostate philosophy!! Someone's got to take out the garbage. ;-)

Foster: . . . Besides, the Christian and Judaic God cannot die or rise again. He is incapable of dying, being the immortal and self-existent one (Hab 1:12).

Blosser: That's the SCANDALON of Christ crucified, ain't it!

Foster: Mutatis mutandis, I would say that you've hit the nail on the head. I do believe that prose (in general) more reliably and profoundly communicates truth. I am not so trusting of myths.

Blosser: This is where I disagree, and may seem to be more inclined towards K, thought that doesn't mean mere "subjectivism," as I've tried to make clear above. I think prose is good for communicating some things. But not others. Bringing your wife a bouquet of 12 red Roses surrounded by Baby's Breath says something than no number of repeated "I love you's" can communicate. Further, if what you said were true, there'd never be any need to make love to your wife. You could simply exchange "I love you's." In fact, if you've exchanged the words ONCE, there'd really be no need to ever repeat yourself. If your wife said to you tomorrow, "Edgar, I love you," you might reply, "What? You've already told me that back when we were first dating. Whazzamatta? You think I don't TRUST you or somethin'?" But such "prosaic truths" don't cut it. It's not that propositions aren't "true." They are. But what they communicate is something shadowy and etherial, confined to the tangle of abstractions we call ideas in our minds. Something far deeper than that is communicated by Jesus submitting to death on the tree ("He loved us and He gave Himself for us," we say; but our SAYING it only skims the surface), or by Jesus handing a bit of bread to us and saying, "Take, eat this is my Body, given for you."

The rationalistic positivist would doubtless see this as a potentially confusing gesture capable of being clarified and crystalized in a well-formed proposition; whereas, in fact, IMHO, he's just pinning a superficial label to something whose reality his intellect can't begin to fathom, though his soul, if opened to the reality, might "know" something here of the profundity in a way analogous to the manner after which Adam "knew" his wife Eve, fruitfully.

Foster: I don't find the "he or she" usage awkward at all. If one finds this usage awkward, just use "she."

Blosser: That's even more awkward, as anyone who stumbles across the Plantinga-type usage at first senses. It sounds 'affected.'

Besides, it soon creates other problems. I once tried to illustrate this by submitting an article in which I alternately used "he" and "she" in different
paragraphs, but pointed out that feminists would hardly be satisfied with this if I used "he" to refer to all those individuals who were virtuous and "she" to refer to all those who were vicious.

Foster: Traditionally, Bible translators including the NWTTC, have utilized the generic pronoun "he" without the faithful imputing chauvinism to the OT or NT writers.

Blosser: The English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church first was rendered by a 'pc' group in "inclusive" language, but rejected by the Vatican. The current translation uses the traditional "he." The Church's
reason for insisting upon this is that it claims that the change in gender language represents more often than not also an illicit change in theology.

Foster: Yes, some have accused the Bible of patriarchalism. But one does not necessary have to conclude that the Bible or Shakespeare are prime examples of male dominance literature. On the other hand, a bunch of literature that preceded us has been guilty of relegating women and other groups to the margins of society.

Blosser: I'm skeptical about this as a blanket assertion. I don't think that the literature has "relegated women" and "other groups" to the margins of society. I think it simply reflected the state of affairs at those times. And while you may not like this, I'm not willing to insist that everything about women's traditional roles as, say, "homemakers," as opposed to, say, "corporate executives," was a bad thing. I think some of the problems we have in society today may be due to confusions about roles of men and women in society, whch reflect, in turn, confusions about our 'being' as gendered creatures. I do not think that we're doing anyone a tremendous and praise-worthy favor by tossing a few more feminine pronouns into our language. In fact, I'd be willing to argue that we're confusing the order
of things.

Foster: JWs, whether they perfectly live by these words, often
talk about the importance of being "reasonable" or "yielding." See Phil 4:5; James 3:17. The point I wish to make here is that while the consequences that you are referring to COULD come about as a result of the "he or she" usage, it does not necessarily follow that one who employs "she or he" or "she" and those who are exposed to this usage, will become anti-traditional, anti-Christian or anti-Jewish.

Blosser: I agree. And a diet of violent TV won't necessarily
make one violent.

Foster: . . . What we need here is the JW notion of being "reasonable." Without reasonableness, a feminine entity would take offense at being called a "woman," "female" or "human being." And if you remember, even Heidegger avoids the term "human being." He only speaks of being-in-the-world sans the "human" part.

Blosser: Yeah, "Da-sein." "Being there." Which reminds me of the fantastic Peter Sellers movie by that name, "Being There." It's a wonderful parody of Heideggarianism gone to seed with Shirley McLaine.