In God’s Name

| 1/21/2008 5:21:06 PM

Tags: God, Christian, feminist, name, Elizabeth Johnson,

God the FatherThe gender-specific words “Father,” “King,” and “Lord” are often used in hymn and liturgy when referring to a Christian God. Feminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson, interviewed in U.S. Catholic magazine, is trying to change that. Johnson objects to more than the perception of God as a male (read: worldly and finite) being. She also takes issue with the paternalistic view of religion that the words instill. According to Johnson, the gendered language reinforces outdated perceptions of God that are straining the vital connection between people and spirituality.

This strain on people's spirituality, according to Johnson, runs through two common yet conflicting views of Christianity. Many Christians believe in God either as as a guiding parental force, or as a mysterious, supreme being. And both views are incomplete. Treating God as a parent or “Father,” with a give-and-take relationship based on maxims and obligations, can give people an accessible view of faith and duty. The problem is, according to Johnson, it reduces God to a mere idol. On the other hand, Johnson believes that worshipping a “theistic” God or “Lord,” whose involvement in our lives is minimal, is equally damaging.

A balanced view is of a God incarnate, who is present in every aspect of the world without being of it. That balance is difficult to find, Johnson concedes, but it’s necessary for a fulfilling religious existence.

Morgan Winters

2/1/2008 3:39:29 PM

I'm also torn on this subject because I have felt the exclusivity that comes with gendered language within the Catholic Church. As a woman it makes me feel like an outsider within my own community. Sure I could identify with Mary and many other female saints, but they are not God, the one and only. So I find it difficult to connect with and support literature that excludes women. But on the other hand, I grew up in the Catholic Church and love many of the traditions and practices. So, what can I do? It's an extremely difficult question that many women face today.

mathi lusch_3
1/26/2008 4:51:51 PM

Alana, Your view is more of a vast minority, and very George Lucas. It sounds like the Force and not God, or the other science fiction work known as Dianetics (i.e: scientology). Your view may work with you, however, since Christians, Jewish, and Islams (I refrain from Muslim since it means "followers of God") all believe in the God of Abraham, you are in a minority situation. Most people, even those without degrees in theology will disagree that God is a culmination of energy as it does not go in line with Scriptures (Hebrew Scriptures, NT, Koran, and even the Book of Mormon). If it works for you, good for you! But don't expect many to follow that path.

anne r. fitzgerald_1
1/24/2008 11:09:16 AM

After we sing hymns to Lord, God and King, I become aware that it is the communal spirit within us who/which has elevated us, that the nomenclature and antiquated vocabulary must be ignored if the hymn is to work as prayer. God is the immanent consciousness of the universe, to which we open ourselves when we sing/breathe together. I've tried rewriting the Catholic Mass to make it inclusive, and it comes out gobblydegook. Words, any words, just get in the way. In the end words are not important, and it is our longing, our opening ourselves, which does the tranformative work.

mathi lusch_2
1/24/2008 10:57:40 AM

Mary, The Hebrew Scriptures refers to wisdom as a she, and this in current translations. The attributes of wisdom has been used to describe the Holy Spirit but the Holy Spirit is referred to as a male in the original Greek language (along with God and Jesus). I do not have problems with inclusive language if the orignal text allows for it, such as the use of man or mankind when the text is referring to humanity. But we all know the Jesus was a man and called God Father so changing that one is a bit difficult. Johnson does give a good point and insight but I cannot fully support her views.

1/23/2008 9:16:04 PM

Ignatius Insight recently published an exellent refutation of the feminist argument. See: Why God is Father and not Mother at:

alana kay
1/23/2008 7:29:45 PM

I'm really suprised to hear this discussion because I thought that most people have come to understand that God is the quantum field. This is how "God" is in everything and this is how God is the force behind everything. As far as I am concerned, the days of trying to determine a sexual identity or reference for God should be long gone as most of us now understand that God is the culmination of all energy.

harold w. ard_5
1/23/2008 5:24:50 PM

Every individual is a spiritual entity, therefore one learns a relationship with God from those who express humility they have learned by living a life seeking a relationship with God they are trying to understand. The tainting of language will be of little value to a better understanding of God.

mary axford
1/23/2008 5:03:42 PM

Well, I'm not really an involved party, since I long ago became pagan in large part because I was hungry for the female divine. But I would like, at a minimum, to see the Bible translated correctly. I'm not a Bible scholar, and don't know Hebrew, but it is my understanding that in the Tanach the Holy Spirit is referred to as "she". Is there any translation that does this accurately? Mary A. Axford

mathi lusch_1
1/23/2008 4:52:50 PM

Problem with Johnson's thinking is that Jesus called God "Father." Little hard to change that no matter how you try to interpret it, even in the original context and language scripture was written in. Now, some liturgical parts could be changed to reflect her viewpoint (His, Him, etc to God). As long as she doesn't endorse the "Our Father and Mother..." or the even worse, "Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier..." I know a priest who did that and he had to do all the baptisms again since it was invalid! Matter, Form, Res et Sacramentum, Lex Orandi Lex Credendi, intentions of the church universal and presider all play a part in this.

steve thorngate_10
1/22/2008 11:24:04 AM

In practice, it can be hard for churches to omit God-as-parent language entirely, despite the very good points that Johnson makes here. For instance, in the traditional Christian figuring of God as trinity, God the father refers not to a paternalist relationship w/ us so much as with Jesus. Changing "father, son, and holy spirit" to "creator, Christ, and holy spirit" is, all things considered, a big improvement, but something is lost, too--the provocative and rich idea that God exists as a family unit. (And, while "parent" might somewhat defuse the gender problem, it retains the paternalism that Johnson names--along w/ sounding pretty stupid.)