Exploring the feminine and masculine impulses of Godde
review of Elizabeth Johnson's 'SHE WHO IS'
She Who Is: 13 Theological Effects of Idolatry, resulting from Patriarchal Language for Godde
The analysis of many feminist theologians is that the tenacity with which the patriarchal symbol of 'God' is upheld results - in effect - in the creation of an idol.
An idol is not just a god or goddess in the shape of an animal. Whenever one image or concept of Godde expands to the horizon thus shutting out others, and whenever this exclusive symbol becomes literalised so that the distance between the image and the divine reality is collapsed, there an idol comes into being.
The effect of this patriarchal idol on human flourishing and growth can be harmful and destructive. The comprehensible image, rather than disclosing deeper mystery, is mistaken for the reality. Divine mystery becomes cramped into a fixed and petrified image - leading to inhibition of the growth of human beings, by boxing the idea of Godde in, and preventing further seeking and finding and opening up to mystery.
Through Jewish and Christian history, the propensity of the human heart to evade the living Godde, by taming the wildness of divine mystery, can be seen repeatedly... ideas of Godde that 'contain' religion and understanding, instead of releasing it. The human mind dares to conceive of Godde according to its own standards and limits.
In contrast, the prophetic impulse has often been to challenge people to escape from idols and break free toward the living Godde... speech about whom becomes in its own turn a candidate for critique whenever it's too tightly held. For the process never ends, as the divine mystery is fathomless.
C.S.Lewis wrote: "My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has been shattered time after time." What needs to be shattered, according to feminist theological critique, is the stranglehold on religious language of God-He. The shattering of this idol, this containment.
Normative imaging and conceptualization of Godde on the model of ruling men alone is theologically the equivalent of the graven image, a finite representation set up and worshipped as if it were the whole of divine reality. More solid than stone (which could be smashed) seems to be the ruling male substratum of the idea of 'God' cast in theological language and engraved in public and private prayer.
Elizabeth Johnson points out that this analysis of idolatry does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that - in a different context - traditional male symbols of Godde, key among them the image of father, could not function beneficently to point to the mystery of Godde.
But in the concrete situation of patriarchy, such symbols in fact do not function to emancipate women and help realize women's flourishing.
So she next turns to consider: how might the symbol of Godde be spoken anew? how might this discourse contribute spiritually and politically to women's flourishing, and theologically to advancing the idea of the mystery of Godde?
Links to my summary pages on 'She Who Is':