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Our Father Is No 'It' or Gal God

June 19, 2005|Dennis Prager | Dennis Prager's nationally syndicated radio show is heard daily in Los Angeles on KRLA-AM (870). He may be contacted through his website:

Father's Day provides a fine opportunity to talk about our Father in Heaven. Why do Judeo-Christian religions insist on God being a father and not a mother? Is it still important to use masculine images and vocabulary to describe God? Or is that all a vestige of sexist religion?

That is the charge of "progressives" within Christianity and Judaism. Because men and women are equal, their argument goes, describing God, the highest being, in male terms is pure sexism. It simply discriminates against women and places men in a superior position. These arguments have great appeal in an age that confuses equality with sameness. So it is worth briefly sketching some of the arguments for preserving male depictions of God.

To begin with, let us make it clear that nowhere in biblical thought is God a man in the sense of being a larger-than-life male with testes. The Bible that introduced this God to humanity depicts God as sexually neuter. In fact, the God of the Bible is the first god in history entirely devoid of sexual characteristics or sexual behavior. But the neuter pronoun, "it," cannot be used to describe the intensely personal God of the Bible. Here then are some of the reasons God was, and must continue to be, depicted in male rather than in female, or in male and female, terms.

First, God is the source of moral rules. As the feminist thinker Carole Gilligan argued years ago, men think more in terms of rules, and women think more in terms of feelings/compassion/ intuition. There is a great human need for both. But, first and foremost, the Judeo-Christian God is a moral ruler (giver of moral rules and moral judge of humanity), and neither men nor women want to be given rules or ruled by a woman. For both men and women, the masculine image carries an authority that the feminine one does not. Almost any mother can testify to the declining moral authority she has over her children as they get older and how much more authority a male has.

Second, every civilization must check and then channel the male propensity to violence. Men must be taught to embrace the values of compassion and love. By portraying the masculine God as loving and compassionate, love and compassion become masculine traits. Had these traits been identified with a female deity, men would not regard them as masculine.

Third, God must be completely desexualized. That can more easily be done to a male figure than a female one. For example, Christian depictions of Mary always refer to her as the Virgin Mary -- not only to stress the miraculous birth of Jesus but to desexualize her. Because we would hardly call a female god "the Virgin God," it would be almost impossible to desexualize a female god in the human consciousness. That is why goddess-based religions were also drenched in sacred sex.

Fourth, humans need to feel that God is their protector. Men instinctively want to protect women, not be protected by them. And women do not regard females as protectors.

Fifth, it is far more palatable for women to bow down to a male God than for men to bow down to a female god. Healthy men devote great psychic efforts to escape the female authority that accompanies their childhoods. Any image of God has to work for both sexes, and only a male image does that.

To those who counter that modern women are alienated by masculine depictions of God, one can only note that the fastest- growing houses of worship in the U.S. are those that depict God according to Judeo-Christian doctrine. That both men and women want religious authority to be masculine also applies to clergy. True, there are no compelling arguments against ordaining women in non-Catholic religious traditions. But women and men who regularly attend houses of worship (as opposed to the less religious who love experimenting with religion) overwhelmingly want male figures as their highest religious authority.

The current trend toward gender-neutral Bible translations and prayers ("Our parent who art in heaven") is not theologically serious -- it emanates from secular feminism, not from the book that gave us the Judeo-Christian God. Indeed, that book expended great efforts to liberate the human mind and soul from goddesses. Returning to a female god is therefore the antithesis of progressive.

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