Exploring the feminine and masculine impulses of Godde
review of Elizabeth Johnson's 'SHE WHO IS'
She Who Is : 3 Purposes of this Book
In her book 'She Who Is' Elizabeth Johnson, having articulated the way our language about Godde can influence our values and lives and society; and having pointed out the way the mystery of Godde is mediated and re-mediated through history; invites us to a new moment of the living tradition, where the woman's movement may come as a transforming grace for the whole church.
She then tries to explain the purposes of her book: to look critically at the contributions of classical theology and the traditional language of scripture, and the way they have offered both sustenance to women, but also complicity in their oppression.
In addition she identifies Christian feminist theology as a network of thinking which may help combat what she sees as persistent violation of women through sexism, which she regards as the "pervasive breaking of the basic commandment 'Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself'."
She acknowledges that in feminist theology there is immense diversity - by race, class, orientation, family structures, geography and culture - and that that diversity is indeed consciously prized as antithetical to monolithic (and often patriarchal) systems of domination.
And from the diverse streams and expressions of Christian feminist theology, she prioritises for her approach a liberation stream - the idea that the least privileged need liberation... those who are low in society, often marginalised, exploited, or abused... and yet who sustain almost every society in so many ways.
Faced with the prevalent sexism, both inside and outside patriarchal structures, ecclesial and civil, she calls on church and society to repent for their inadequate love of their neighbours, and be converted to renewed ways of thinking. While acknowledging the contribution to faith of classical theology, she regards it as profoundly ambiguous in what it has meant for female well-being (often, along with scripture, supporting patriarchy's view of its own rightness).
She sees the continuing exploration of Christian feminist theology as far from systematic - but prayed over, celebrated, articulated in diverse ways... sharing and consolidating, and preparing for further advance.
There will be opposition to these explorations. Although, as Mary Collins wrote, 'One of the best gifts for the critical mind and for a living tradition is the gift of a new question', nevertheless new questions will seem to threaten, and one must expect a hardening of the mind against unwanted wisdom.
There is a human and historical tendency to repress the emergence of unwanted insight. This happens not only to an individual in isolation but more especially to communities as a whole. In this sense, the group interest of established power structures can limit intelligence.
It can lead to the limiting of the definition of Godde to protect what people want to hold on to. As Juan Luis Segundo contended: 'Our falsified and inauthentic ways of dealing with our fellow human beings are allied to our falsification of the idea of God.'
The well-being of all people is not disassociated from the glory of Godde. If "the glory of Godde is man", then the glory of Godde is also woman - all women, every woman everywhere. Wherever women are violated, diminished, have their life drained away, there Godde is dishonoured. Therefore sexism is religiously unconscionable.
Conversely, fragmentary experiences of women's flourishing anticipate that new heaven and new earth, and the glory of Godde.
And so Elizabeth Johnson returns to the key issue of how we name Godde - how we talk about Godde - or towards Godde (as she prefers to say, reflecting upon the profound difficulty of describing the deep mystery... so we feel *towards* Godde with words).
And she explains that inherited Christian speech about Godde is now under fire, for its complicity in human oppression and its capacity to limit divine reality and its profound mystery. This effort at renewed speech about Godde is vitally significant for the church.
(This is why Elizabeth Johnson titles her book 'She Who Is' opting for a re-aligning slanted towards the marginalised gender; and why I use the word Godde, as an emerging expression of a holy one who transcends gender, equidistant to 'God' or 'Goddess' yet beyond them both. Because the way we express our thoughts of who Godde is, also impacts on our view of how Godde wants us to live, and the values that arise from our deepening understanding of the nature of Godde: a nature and identity implicit in the words we use, yet never exhausted by them.)
Links to my summary pages on 'She Who Is':