Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Him? Her? It.

Adam: And you're square with him?
Deacon: Her?
Adam: It. Whatever. You're square with God?
- American Virgin #9
by Steven T. Seagle and Becky Cloonan

Language is tricky. Language can have grave consequences. There's no way to measure the amount of damage that's been done throughout history by speaking of the Deity in strictly masculine terminology. Still, we continue to speak of God as a male, even though we know...um, he/she/it...is not male.

Why? Well, because as you just saw, it becomes tricky when we try to speak of God in a genderless way. It's a curse of our language. Sure, we could easily refer to God as "it," but that feels like it robs God of any distinctive personality and character traits. Speaking of God as an "it" sounds like we would speak as dispassionately about God as we would any inanimate object.

What we need is a 3rd person, singular pronoun that maintains an implication of anthropomorphized personality. Or something like that. Or we could just default to throwing everything in the bag and using "he/she/it" all the time, but that gets awkward and tiresome. So would eliminating all use of pronouns when talking about God and constantly refer to God only as God. But then it starts to sound like an annoying Seinfeld character that only speaks of himself in the 3rd person.

Of course, there's always the backlash that comes when people try to avoid talking about God with masculine language. "We've always talked about God as a male. He may not literally be a male, but it's the most reverential way to speak of him and it is tradition!"

It's tradition! That makes it okay. Well, it is tradition, but tradition changes. Elizabeth Johnson says that our language is rooted in our culture. This includes our language about God. Christianity was birthed and prospered in a patriarchal society. Speaking of God as a male was certainly a good way to affirm and perpetuate this societal organization.

But our culture has been progressing for awhile now towards a more egalitarian structure. Our way of communicating about God will reflect this. "As cultures shift, so too does the specificity of God-talk,”* says Johnson. God may be constant and unchanging, but the religion devoted to God clearly is not. The Reformation alone is evidence of this. Likewise, our language about God is open to change.

*Johnson, Elizabeth A. She Who Is: the Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse. New York: Crossroad, 1994, p.6.

No comments:

Post a Comment