Gender of God
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The gender of God can be viewed as a literal or as an allegorical aspect of a deity. In polytheistic religions, gods are more likely to have literal sexual genders which would enable them to interact with each other, and even with humans, in a sexual way.
In most monotheistic religions, one cannot apply a gender to God in the usual sense, as God's attributes cannot be compared to those of any other being. Thus, the idea of a "divine gender" is ultimately considered an analogy, used by humans in order to better relate to the concept of God, with no sexual connotation.
Although God is an intangible spirit in many religions and therefore is thought to have no gender, debate over their "actual" sex nevertheless has passionately raged in recent decades. The preponderance of references to God in both the Old and New Testaments are in the context of a masculine reference, often "Father". However, there are a significant number of feminine allegorical references to God, most often in some maternal role.
What is understood by words for God varies across cultures and has sometimes changed dramatically at various times. Buddhism challenged various ideas in Vedic religion, the monotheism of Judaism challenged its polytheistic neighbours, and in European history, the Roman Empire officially adopted Christianity under Constantine I, later becoming the center of the Christian religion, but having this centrality challenged during the Reformation.
A simple view of the history of religion as an evolutionary process was proposed in the 19th century—from animism to polytheism to monotheism, with some believing theism, atheism or agnosticism to be the most advanced approach. Such views are no longer widely current in the study of religion. Comparative religion notes distinctive idiosyncrasies across major religions that are better explained by close historical scrutiny, rather than appeal to a simplistic theory.
Role of language
Nonetheless, a hegemonic Western conception of metaphysics influenced strongly by Judaism and Christianity is identifiable in European literature from Greek and Roman authors through to the present, such that English language betrays an inherent bias towards monotheistic thought. Where animist languages may not even have words for personal deities, but rather a nuanced vocabulary of spiritualism, and polytheistic cultures have lexis suited to articulating relationships between deities in a pantheon, some modern English speakers only recognize alternatives such as God, gods or no God, being unfamiliar with Buddhism and animism.
When considering the literature of the world's religions and metaphysical philosophies, the diversity of the underlying conceptions of the spiritual realm is foundational to appreciating any points of comparison. Comparison of views of the gender of spiritual entities is no exception. Each religion or philosophy needs to be understood in its historical, social, linguistic and philosophical context. Thus, matters of gender do apply to animism, but not in the foundational way they do in polytheism and monotheism. Additionally, since animism is largely associated with oral societies, we are dependent on the ethnographies of cultural anthropologists rather than documented scriptures and later commentary. Shinto is a notable exception.
In the Hebrew and Christian Bible
God is usually figuratively imagined in male terms in Biblical sources, with female analogy in Genesis 1:26-27, Psalm 123:2-3, and Luke 15:8-10; a mother in Deuteronomy 32:18, Isaiah 66:13, Isaiah 49:15, Isaiah 42:14, Psalm 131:2; and a mother hen in Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34.
Although God is referred to in the Hebrew Bible with masculine imagery and grammatical forms, Jewish philosophy does not attribute to God either sex or gender. At times, Jewish aggadic literature and Jewish mysticism do treat God as gendered, though these are not uniformly masculine or feminine.
God the Son (Jesus Christ), having been incarnated as a human man, is clearly masculine. Classical western philosophy believes that God lacks a literal sex because it would be impossible for God to have a body (a prerequisite for sex). However, Classical western philosophy states that God should be referred to (in most contexts) as masculine by analogy. It justifies this by pointing to God's relationship with the world as begetter of the world and revelation (i.e. analogous to an active instead of receptive role in sexual intercourse). Others interpret God as neither male nor female.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church #239 specifically states that "God is neither man nor woman: he is God".
In contrast to most other Christian denominations, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) teaches that God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit are physically distinct while being one in purpose. The LDS Church also teaches that God the Father is married to a divine woman, referred to as "Heavenly Mother". Humans are considered to be spirit children of these heavenly parents.
Gender of the Holy Spirit
The New Testament also refers to the Holy Spirit as masculine in a number of places, where the masculine Greek word "Paraclete" occurs, for "Comforter", most clearly in the Gospel of John, chapters 14 to 16. These texts were particularly significant when Christians were debating whether the New Testament teaches that the Holy Spirit is a fully divine person, or some kind of "force". All major English Bible translations have retained the masculine pronoun for the Spirit, as in John 16:13. Although it has been noted that in the original Greek, in some parts of John's Gospel, the neuter Greek word for "it" is also used for the Spirit.
The oneness of God is of primary importance in the Qur'an and Islam. In Qur'an, Allah is most often referred to with the pronouns Hu or Huwa, and although these are commonly translated as him, they can also be translated gender-neutrally, as them. This is also true of the feminine equivalent, Hiya. Qur'an 112:3–4 states: "He begets not, nor is He begotten. And none is like Him [Them]." Other references include the first person pronoun, and the relative pronoun ma (that which), as in the phrase "the heavens and that which created them" (Qur'an 91:5).
The oldest of the Hindu scriptures is the Rigveda (2nd millennium BC). The first word of the Rigveda is the name Agni, the god of fire, to whom many of the vedic hymns are addressed, along with Indra the warrior. Agni and Indra are both male divinities.
The Rigveda refers to a creator (Hiranyagarbha or Prajapati), distinct from Agni and Indra. This creator is identified with Brahma (not to be confused with Brahman, the first cause), born of Vishnu's navel, in later scriptures. Hiranyagarbha and Prajapati are male divinities, as is Brahma (who has a female consort, Saraswati).
There are many other gods in the Rigveda. They are "not simple forces of nature", and possess "complex character and their own mythology". They include goddesses of water (Āpaḥ) and dawn (Uṣas), and the complementary pairing of Father Heaven and Mother Earth. However, they are all "subservient to the abstract, but active positive 'force of truth'" (Rta), "which pervades the universe and all actions of the gods and humans." This force is sometimes mediated or represented by moral gods (Āditya such as Varuṇa) or even Indra. The Āditya are male and Rta is personified as masculine in later scriptures (see also Dharma).
While many Hindus focus upon God in the neutral form, Brahman being of neuter gender grammatically, there are prominent Hindu traditions that conceive God as female, even as the source of the male form of God, such as the Shakta denomination. Hinduism, especially of the Samkhya school, views the creation of the cosmos as the result of the play of two radically distinct principles: the feminine matter (Prakriti) and the masculine spirit (Purusha). Prakriti is the primordial matter which is present before the cosmos becomes manifest. Prakriti is seen as being "the power of nature, both animate and inanimate. As such, nature is seen as dynamic energy" (Rae, 1994). Prakriti is originally passive, immobile and pure potentiality by nature . Only through her contact with the kinetic Purusha she unfolds into the diverse forms before us. The idea of Prakriti/Purusha leads to the concept of the Divine Consort. Almost every deva of the Hindu pantheon has a feminine consort (devi).
The Guru Granth consistently refers to God as "He" and "Father". However, it also says that God is indescribable. Thus, God in Sikhism has no gender. The Akal Purakh ("Timeless Being") is referred to as one of the gender, simply because the Granth is written in north Indian Indo-Aryan languages (mixture of Punjabi and dialects of Hindi) which have no neutral gender.
It is described as energy that prevails throughout the universe.
Animist religions are common among oral societies, many of which still exist in the 21st century. Typically, natural forces and shaman spiritual guides feature in these religions, rather than fully fledged personal divinities with established personalities. It is in polytheism that such deities are found. Animist religions often, but not always, attribute gender to spirits considered to permeate the world and its events. Polytheistic religions, however, almost always attribute gender to their gods, though a few notable divinities are associated with various forms of epicene characteristics—gods that manifest alternatingly as male and female, gods with one male and one female "face", and gods whose most distinctive characteristic is their unknown gender.
Carol P. Christ is the author of the widely reprinted essay "Why Women Need the Goddess", which argues in favor of the concept of there having been an ancient religion of a supreme goddess. This essay was presented as the keynote address to an audience of over 500 at the "Great Goddess Re-emerging" conference at the University of Santa Cruz in the spring of 1978, and was first published in Heresies: The Great Goddess Issue (1978), pgs. 8-13. Carol P. Christ also co-edited the classic feminist religion anthologies Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality (1989) and Womanspirit Rising (1979/1989); the latter included her essay Why Women Need the Goddess.
Notes and references
- "Before us lies a literature rich in profound insights and immense with carefully collected and tested facts: a wealth of resources beyond the imaginings of those 19th century scholars who gave attention to religious questions." Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge, A Theory of Religion, (Rutgers University Press, 1996), p. 12.
- "We try to specify in a relatively complete way why and how various aspects of religion occur and to do so through a structure of formal explanation." Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge, work cited, p. 11.
- "Available 'theories' of religion remain largely the product of 19th century social thought and the tradition of 'grand theory' associated with the founding fathers of social science. But, as already suggested, close scrutiny reveals that these theories are not so grand." Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge, work cited, p. 11.
- "These pose the opportunity to borrow some extremely powerful tools, and we have responded by ransacking the treasuries of economics, learning theory and cultural anthropology." Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge, work cited, p. 12.
- Elaine H. Pagels "What Became of God the Mother? Conflicting Images of God in Early Christianity" Signs, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Winter, 1976), pp. 293-303
- Coogan, Michael (October 2010). "6. Fire in Divine Loins: God's Wives in Myth and Metaphor". God and Sex. What the Bible Really Says (1st ed.). New York, Boston: Twelve. Hachette Book Group. p. 175. ISBN 978-0-446-54525-9. Retrieved May 5, 2011.
humans are modeled on elohim, specifically in their sexual differences.
- Coogan (2010:176)
- "G-d has no body, no genitalia, therefore the very idea that G-d is male or female is patently absurd. We refer to G-d using masculine terms simply for convenience's sake, because Hebrew has no neutral gender; G-d is no more male than a table is." Judaism 101. "The fact that we always refer to God as 'He' is also not meant to imply that the concept of sex or gender applies to God." Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, The Aryeh Kaplan Reader, Mesorah Publications (1983), p. 144
- Grudem, Wayne A. 1994. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press; Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. Page 226.
Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Person". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
- Aquinas, Thomas (1274). Summa Theologica. Part 1, Question 3, Article 1.
- of Hippo, Augustine (c. 397). Confessions. Book 7.
- Lang, David; Peter Kreeft (2002). Why Matter Matters: Philosophical and Scriptural Reflections on the Sacraments. Chapter Five: Why Male Priests?: Our Sunday Visitor. ISBN 978-1931709347.
- Achtemeier, P; Longstaff (1996). Harper Collins Bible Dictionary. Harper Collins. pp. 377–378. ISBN 0-06-060037-3.
- Wilson, H (January 2006). "Name and Gender of God". Retrieved 14 August 2009.
- David Bordwell, 2002, Catechism of the Catholic Church,Continuum International Publishing ISBN 978-0-86012-324-8 page 84
- "Deum humanam sexuum transcendere distinctionem. Ille nec vir est nec femina, Ille est Deus." From "Pater per Filium revelatus", Catechismus Catholicae Ecclesiae. (Citta del Vaticano: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1993): 1-2-1-1-2 ¶ 239. (Official English translation Archived 3 March 2013 at the Wayback Machine.)
- "Aaronic Priesthood Manual 3 – Lesson 1: The Godhead". LDS Church. 1995.
- Cannon, Donald Q.; Dahl, Larry; Welch, John (January 1989). "The Restoration of Major Doctrines through Joseph Smith: The Godhead, Mankind, and Creation". Ensign. LDS Church.
- Hinckley, Gordon B. (November 1991). "Daughters of God". Ensign. LDS Church.
- First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles (September 23, 1995). "Gospel Topics – The Family: A Proclamation to the World". LDS.org. LDS Church. Retrieved 11 December 2013. See also: The Family: A Proclamation to the World
- Nestle and others, Novum Testamentum Graece, 27th ed., (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgeselschaft, 1993)
- Michael Witzel, 'Autochthonous Aryans? The Evidence from Old Indian and Iranian Texts', Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies 7 (2001): 1–118.
- "Religious theism which is central to Hinduism." Robert Lawson Slater, Review of Philip H. Ashby History and Future of Religious Thought: Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 4 (1964): 117–118.
- The Concept of Shakti: Hinduism as a Liberating Force for Women
- "We are yet more strongly reminded by the two-fold nature of Phanes of the epicene god-heads, who occur frequently in the Babylonian pantheon." Gauranga Nath Banerjee, Hellenism in Ancient India, (Read Books, 2007), p. 304.
- "per Carol P Christ biography for Signs Out of Time Project".
- Berke, Matthew. 'God and Gender in Judaism'. First Things 64 (1996): 33–38.
- Dorff, Elliot N. Male and Female God Created Them: Equality with Distinction. University Papers. Los Angeles: University of Judaism, 1984, pp. 13–23.
- Eller, Vernard. The Language of Canaan and the Grammar of Feminism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982.
- Harlow, Jules. 'Feminist Linguistics and Jewish Liturgy'. Conservative Judaism 49 (1997): 3–25.
- Johnson, Elizabeth. 'The Incomprehensibility of God and the Image of God Male and Female'. Theological Studies 45 (1984): 441–465.
- Platinga, Alvin Carl. "God, Arguments for the Existence of". Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Routledge, 2000.
- Swinburne, Richard G. "God". In Ted Honderich (ed.). The Oxford Companion to Philosophy. Oxford University Press, 1995.
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