Exploring the feminine and masculine impulses of Godde
review of Elizabeth Johnson's 'SHE WHO IS'
She Who Is: 14 Whether to use the word God
A liability is attached to the word God - given the history of its use in androcentric theology, and the attendant effects of this theology on women's flourishing: the suffering in the past of independent women, the burning of witches, the historic and continuing injustice of subordination done to women in God's name.
Rosemary Radford Luether uses the experimental form 'God/ess' but this becomes difficult to represent in oral speech. Rebecca Chopp uses 'Word' but that gets complex because of the association of 'Word' with Jesus.
Elizabeth Johnson concludes that - given the long history of the term God and its deeply embedded use in everything from heartfelt worship to secular swearing - the word 'God' is maybe not so easily dropped.
Therefore, she says, as an interim strategy and until such time as a new word emerges, perhaps the word 'God' should continue to be used, but pointed in new directions through association with metaphors and values arising from women's experience. However mired in exclusive masculine connotations and the androcentric theology that has historically accompanied it, perhaps - Elizabeth Johnson suggests - the term God may yet be redeemed, if it can connect with people and community in their needs and points of care.
Perhaps, she wonders, this word can be restored to a sense more in line with its Greek etymology which was taken of old (as reported by Aquinas) to mean 'to cherish all things, to care for all things, burning all malice like a consuming fire.'
So Elizabeth Johnson confronts the question: to use or not to use the term 'God'. In my own usage, I have chosen to retain the oral expression of this word but with a part-feminised spelling which clearly indicates a Godde who is more than just masculine... a midway word and spelling... halfway between traditional male 'God' and traditional female 'Goddess'. A transgendered naming, acknowledging both male and female metaphors and their usefulness as symbols of Godde's nature, but pointing (down the middle and beyond) to that recognition that Godde transcends gender, transcends sex... and goes far beyond those specifics, while fully understanding and feeling what they are like and - indeed - creating both in Her, in His, own image.
In my use of the term 'Godde' I agree with those christian feminists who want the term to move on, to escape its deeply-embedded androcentric implications... but I also agree with Elizabeth Johnson over the extent of the public usage, the historic usage, and for that reason I favour a spelling and renewed term that retains the oral recognition of what people use, while pointing more effectively and dynamically to a more complete symbol and naming - a transgendered naming that repudiates exclusivity while endorsing both the 'God' and 'Goddess' in Godde.
The fact that I'm transgendered myself, and have learnt through experience that 'personhood' transcends gender and sex, while finding expression in them: does not mean that I'm trying to recreate Godde in my own image (as some people charge) but that I have experienced firsthand a truth and reality - that we are primarily people (with diverse gender and sexual expressions), and that (in Godde's image) we may seek to understand Godde as primarily transcending gender, while fruitfully expressing identity as either.
God << Godde >> Goddess is the appropriate way I have settled on, to express a profound theological point, which is neither anti-male nor anti-female, but understands a wholeness and deeper reality of the divine, which may also help us as human beings to reconcile gender differences and afford dignity to all in our communities... because, like Godde, their 'personhood' comes first - and gender should not limit, restrict, deny their gifts and abilities and sense of equal human worth.
The fact that my use of the term 'Godde' can invite powerful and hostile reactions is an indication both of the importance people attach to naming the divine - it is not a marginal, unimportant issue - and also the deep fear and resistance some christians have about allowing the feminine into the naming and understanding of the divine. This reveals the extent to which an androcentric and exclusively masculine image of Godde is embedded in some christian psyche, and how slanted towards the masculine the mindset is in its alarm and dismay when someone dares to suggest Godde can be Goddess as well as being God, but is truly, more fully both, and simply, beautifully, elegantly Godde.
Links to my summary pages on 'She Who Is':