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viewpoint

Is God a woman?

| Monday, February 3, 2020

“Wait … did you say ‘she’ earlier?”

I was walking down library quad last week when my best friend turned to ask me the question. We had been talking about his theology class and it naturally turned into a conversation about the attributes of God. At one point, I decided to refer to God with a new set of pronouns and apparently, he had noticed, asking the question to pivot us back to that moment.

“Yes! I did. That was my first time,” I said, smiling to myself as I looked up at the very large, very masculine representation of divinity plastered on the building ahead.

“I love that,” he replied, affirming my word choice and sending us into a deeper discussion of God’s gender. A typical Tuesday night conversation, really.

A few years ago, I was first introduced to the idea of calling God by gender neutral or female pronouns and I was deeply opposed. My scrupulous religiosity was entirely threatened by the idea that maybe, just maybe, God wasn’t the old, bearded man in the sky with a long list of rules, ready to rain down hellfire on those who disobeyed, like I had always pictured *him* to be. And if God wasn’t that guy, who even were they? It was infinitely easier, I thought, to just follow bearded God’s rules and regulations than to enter the spiritual rabbit hole of woman God.

Bearded God wasn’t broken. Why did all these people want to ‘fix’ him?

But as I grew older, I started to realize that bearded God was very broken. And that the way I engaged with him was breaking me. I followed his rules, but never because I loved him so fully that I wanted to perfectly align my will to his. I followed them because, if I didn’t, I thought I would be condemned. I allowed the rules to make me hyper-judgmental of myself and the people around me. Instead of using my relationship with God to become a more loving, compassionate person, I allowed it to harden me.

Eventually, I came to the realization that my “love for God” was making me miserable. Seriously, if I spent as much time practicing kindness for myself and my friends as I did writing “sin lists” for confession, my life would have been vastly different.

I’m not saying that recognizing God as female would have solved all my problems. Woman God could have been equally regulative and my relationship with her could have similarly harmed plenty of human relationships. But I think there’s something to be said for visibility and the way it increases our comfort.

I never saw myself in God.

Which raises a question, I guess, of whether that’s something humans should be able to do. I assume a lot of people would say no — we’re human and God is God and we shouldn’t be able to see ourselves in him at all because we’re not him. Okay, sure, we’re different, but I feel like there would be something beautiful about seeing ourselves in God, even if only a small piece. At the very least, maybe I would have seen God as more merciful and less scary. 

I’m in a class right now called “Faith and Feminism” and I’ve been thinking a lot about how I, a woman, could see myself more represented in the divine. Our professor told us in the first class about biblical imagery that addresses God as ‘mother,’ and I was shocked. I can recall multiple occurrences where, in high school theology class, a female student would ask why we still call God ‘father’ and use only masculine pronouns if we recognize that men and women are both made in the image and likeness of God. In response, teachers would usually grumble something about how we only have biblical and historical precedent for calling God ‘father,’ so even though yes, technically God transcends gender, it’s okay to defer to God as male.

After a bit more research, I found this article from U.S. Catholic, which points to several instances where God and Jesus are referenced with female imagery. The image these references paint is gentle and warm. Comforting and caring. Forgiving and loving. Not threatening and overbearing and demanding.

And it makes me wonder: If I had heard about this motherly God when I was a little girl, would I have had a vastly different experience of faith? Would it have led me to different conclusions about womanhood? Would it have led me to an entirely different experience of God?

I understood from a young age that women were somehow less than. I don’t think anyone ever explicitly told me, but I could just tell that there was something different about being a woman. On Sundays, stories about women were unheard of or optional. That meant that homilies (which are always delivered by men) never really addressed women. In eighth grade, our moral theology classes were separated by gender and the girls’ class spent the year learning about modesty and how to keep men safe from sins of the flesh. The boys said they spent a lot of time talking about football.

I don’t really know if I have much of a point this week, except that I called God ‘she’ the other day and I’ve been thinking about it a lot since. I don’t call God ‘he’ anymore except when I’m referring to bearded God, but bearded God isn’t actually God … he’s just some deeply distorted image of divinity that I created from the imagery I was given as a child. Instead, I usually opt to call God just that — God — in class. It almost feels like I would be drawing too much attention to myself if I said ‘she’ in class. Which is upsetting because it’s not radical at all to call God ‘he’ and we know that God is technically just as much ‘she’ as ‘he.’

But, anyway, I think my point is this: When we are creating spaces for people to belong, it is important to create spaces for them to see themselves. When I met God as a little girl, I immediately understood that there would always be a degree of separation between myself and God because of my femaleness. But, as I’ve been challenging my inability to find home in the Church, I’m realizing that a lot of my disconnection stems from the fact that I only recently came to understand that bearded God is a myth. I’m not asking that everyone starts calling God ‘she’ all of the sudden, but I think it’s fair to ask that we all be more conscious of what we’re really saying when we only call God ‘he.’

Ashton Weber is a sophomore with lots of opinions. She is majoring in econ and film, television and theatre with a JED minor. Making new friends is one of her favorite things, so feel free to contact her at [email protected] or @awebz01 on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Ashton Weber

Ashton is a current Sophomore majoring in Economics and FTT, and minoring in the Gallivan Journalism Program. She is originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, but now resides in Flaherty Hall. Feel free to contact her about anything... literally, anything. She is often bored.

Contact Ashton