Saturday, 8 February 2014

Does God Have Cojones?

A nice quote from Tim Bulkeley.
Two men and a bird
In my first lecture I set out to underline that God is beyond gender. This is one of those truths that every theologically literate person affirms, but which many fail to actually state in their teaching, so that in churches and classrooms people do not understand/believe it. Some Conservative teaching about gender roles in church and home also seems to deny it... The extent of this reticence to accept a core Christian idea... suggests that we have a BIG education job to undertake. (Read the full post)
Yup, very big! I'd like to suggest that while the language of our Bibles and liturgies - not to mention the imagery and art of our foundational myths - remains uncompromisingly rooted in the Sky Father/Odin/Zeus mould, it's going to continue to be an uphill battle. The question is, is this perception so systemic that it cannot be excised without killing the patient? Can any re-education programme succeed without unravelling another "core Christian idea" which proclaims God as "two men and a bird".

These concerns are hardly restricted to the wacky conservative fringe.

Sadly the popularity of poor quality, reactionary Bible translations like the ESV (which touts itself as 'scholarly') merely push the barrow further back down the slope.


  1. "God is beyond gender"? This is interesting. One of the three persons who comprise God, as blessed orthodoxy teaches us, is a man. So, speaking orthodoxically (as I do), the claim would be that God is not beyond sex, but is beyond gender. This would seem to be the result of attempting to speak orthodoxically about God as well as making the fairly modern attempt to speak of Him/Her in gender-inclusive terms or, perhaps, in terms which dispense with gender altogether ("the divinity", etc). While still acknowledging some female-talk about God in the Bible, in pre-twentieth-century Christian or Jewish tradition, etc, this dislodgement of God from gendered terminology is - I think as most would acknowledge - a concern that has become somewhat widespread only in recent decades. So we might ask: what contemporary mythic purpose or purposes is this God-of-male-sex-but-no-male-gender (i.e., one penis in three genderless persons) serving? Doesn't this de-gendered God, at the very least, provide a powerful origin myth along the lines that Judith Butler articulated, that is, the establishment of sex as "prediscursive", or “as the radically unconstructed”? And is this not problematic?

  2. Deane, "speaking orthodoxically" do you not make a distinction between the Second Person of the Trinity, logos endiathetos, and the incarnate Jesus, logos ensarkos? I wonder also how you can think of Jerome and others around his time as from "recent decades"? Seems a funny definition of "recent" to me!

    1. Of course I understand the distinction. But God is now made incarnate in one of his eternal persons (speaking orthodoxically). So in what sense can God be "beyond gender"? I mused that we might conceive (orthodoxically) of God being beyond gender (the social construct of certain roles, identites, etc), but that it would be unorthodox - in light of the event of the logos ensarkos (which will not be reversed) - to say that God is beyond sex (that God has biologically male bits). Don't you agree that God has male sex in one of his persons?

      And I did not mention Jerome, so obviously I did not date him, either. If you think I'm making funny definitions, then I can only say that your reasoning is a bit funny. What I said is that, while there were some attempts to speak of God in female terms, or in gender-neutral terms, before the twentieth century, the widespread concern with these matters has become widespread only in recent decades. If you really think that Jerome made gender-inclusive language dominant within Christendom 1600 years ago, or something like that, then I would imagine that many people would be very interested in the evidence for such a claim. Got some?

    2. You seemed to be claiming (not merely that a concern for gender inclusive language was modern but) that the claim that God is beyond gender is modern. Thus my mention of Jerome who probably put the claim more clearly and succinctly than other "Fathers" in Latin the quotation reads: "In divinitate enim nullus est sexus" in Jerome, Commentariorum in Esaiam libri I-XI (Corpus Christianorum Series Latina 73) M. Adriaen (ed.) Turnhout: Brepols, 1963, 459, 1.82-83. Gregory of Nyssa who wrote "God is neither male nor female" in Greek the quotation reads: "epeide gar oute arren, oute thelu to theion esti", is another of these "modern fathers" Migne P.G. 44, 916B. Gregory of Nyssa, Homily VII In Cantica Canticorum.

      By contrast you appear to be wanting to claim differently, it seems to me that this puts you at odds with the "orthodoxicality" you wish to assert for your view.

    3. No - I don't think that the claim that God is beyond gender is modern. It was quite widespread before Augustine, whose suspicion of sexuality ironically resulted in introducing sexuality to resurrection bodies, and affirmed the male body of the resurrected Jesus. You are right - Jerome thought differently. Yet, this was not my point. Rather, I was noting that the concern about gendered language and God has only become widespread among theologians in recent decades. And this is the direct result of modern feminism. Incidental remarks in Church Fathers do not negate this.

      I remain orthodoxically yours, etc.

    4. Deane, I'm delighted to hear this as it was not quite what your first comment seemed to be saying!