I have long been a fan of the Virtual Church of the Blind Chihuahua. I’ve even got the tee-shirt, and it gets looks from the other PTA moms, let me tell you. The site, whose premise I adore, was the inspiration for the Virtual Church of Benevolent Deities, Inc (VirtuBene).
Scooper (heh-heh) recently posted on God and “inclusive language” – the scare quotes are to let you know that the title of the post is much more colorful. Go see.
I’m not afraid, just respectful. I can let the tradition bend. And yet, I get my back up when someone insists that I must use inclusive language. I know that the idea of God being masculine is God’s sop to the patriarchal tribal society of Hebrews in which God first planted ethical monotheism. And I know that many of us no longer need that sop. But must we wrench things the other way, cutting off God’s balls, as it were, in order to make God into an icon of gender-equality? Must God be treated like some kind of intellectual property, to be stretched in a tug-of-war between Fundamentalists and Feminists?
One hopes that God is above the boundaries of any such definition. Or maybe it’s just me.
I commented that my own workaround on this is to see all local metaphors (including gender) for God as shards of greater truth. We don’t have the words to describe God. The gender problem highlights that. Biblical examples: There is the God who is like a mother hen guarding her chicks, there is the ferocious war God, there is the God of Love, there are the multiple Elohim.
For me, it’s helpful to dwell with different kinds of imagery from time to time. We don’t know what is meant by the statement that we were created in God’s “image,” but we do know that idolatry was frowned upon.
Not everyone has enough religious flexibility to do this, but I see God in Kuan Yin and in Jesus, in the sky and the ocean, in the quiet thoughts of solitude, and in the ecstasies and negations of the mystics. Since all of our words and images of God fall short by definition, there is perhaps insight to be absorbed in the practice of switching out the metaphors. Any fixation on one, such as the old man on the cloud, runs the danger of becoming fixed as a claim to Truth.
Some have no trouble with the claim to Truth, but wise and insightful people throughout the ages have tried to warn us against hubris. What is have are methods that point toward truths of different kinds – we don’t own or possess the Truth. That way lies fanaticism.
Language can make us aware of all this. Traditions of language are always more comfortable – they exist to create a comfort zone for community stability. Nothing wrong with that, but the “traditions of men” (and women) have their limits.
Scooper said this reminded him of Orthodox Rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel, who wrote:
Religious thinking is in perpetual danger of giving primacy to concepts and dogmas and to forfeit the immediacy of insights, to forget that the known is but a reminder of God, that the dogma is a token of His will, the expression of the inexpressible at its minimum. Concepts, words must not become screens; they must be regarded as windows.
That’s a fantastic quotation.
I think sometimes of my former cat, who I could never teach to look where I was pointing. She looked at the pointing finger every time.
To me, that’s what words about God are like. They point, but we look at their fingers.
(Are you picturing words with fingers? I am. There’s a book title in there somewhere.)