Posted by: jennlay | February 22, 2009

The violence of “Father” God against women

The New Atheists draw on many images and ideas of God of which they then argue against the existence.  God as a super-human, super-intelligent reality who created all that exists in the universe is refuted by Dawkins.  Harris attacks the idea of both the Christian God of fundamentalists and the Muslim Allah of extremists.  One of the main fears expressed by the New Atheists is the violence which comes from those who profess a belief in God, or at least a very specific image of God.  If God is a favoritist and jealous God, then the believers of this God feel every justification in eliminating others who do not worship this same God, especially if they worship other “false” gods.  Not only do believers often feel justified, but also a sort of implication that this work of elimination is an imperative to pleasing their God.  The acts of violence stemming from religion and religious believers, mentioned by atheists, focus on violence between differing religious groups or violence against “non-believers,” but I think there is a very important issue of religious violence that the New Atheists ignore: violence against women within religious institutions and faith communities.  The absence of this topic in New Atheism is not all that surprising, given that all of the writers are men.

However there are a number of feminist theologians who have focused on this very topic, including Elizabeth Johnson in her book Quest for the Living God.  The violence inflicted against women when the only image permitted of God is that of an old, white man in the sky is very real and profound.  I know a number of women who have lost faith in “God” or the existence of God when God is limited to a man who creates a hierarchy of subordination with women at the bottom.  This God does not exist for me and many other men and women of faith.  In Chapter five of Johnson’s book, she talks about the reality of women and the importance (and historical support!) of naming God as woman or with traditionally female characteristics such as mother, comforter, nurturer, and life-giver.  Scripture is rich with images of mother bear, mother hen, a woman looking for a lost coin, and Sophia Wisdom.  There have been a number of women mystics and saints who recognized God as mother as well as father, wisdom, spirit, and life force.  Opening the mystery of God to a diversity of expression which can be reflected and related to the very real lives of humans who are diverse as the divine spirit from which we come is diverse, is incredibly important in generating an authentic faith and opening dialogue on who God is and how we are to relate to that God.

When images of God as Lord, King, and Ruler take precedence within a religion, that religion then builds its structure and beliefs around these limited idols of God. As Mary Daly has said, “If God is male, then the male is God.”  A Patriarchy is established with men as the rulers and women as subordinate to men and excluded from ministries that would have them act “in persona Christi” (in the person of Christ, who was a man). This subordination and exclusion of women is an act of violence against them as equally created beings of the divine image.  If the glory of God is the human person fully alive, than exclusively male images of God and patriarchy which oppresses women, especially within religious institutions which seek to reflect the divine will and image, actually prevent the full glory of God being realized.  This is serious issue for people of faith to concern themselves with if they want to continue growing in relationship with the divine mystery.

There are a number of great books on this topic.  Elizabeth Johnson has one called SHE WHO IS, Rosemary Radford Ruether has a book entitled Sexism and God Talk, and Ivone Gebara has a great book entitled Out of the Depths.

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