The Revd Canon Rosie Harper has written a blog about toxic masculinity for the ViaMedia web site. Jayne Ozanne wonders whether Rosie’s blog should come with a health warning because it dares to question God as ‘he’. Rosie was experiencing a sort of despair in reaction to the appointment of Judge Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. Rosie took a deep breath to write that the reason for all this is that “God is male”.
I think Rosie’s blog raised four deeply controversial questions that provoke visceral reactions in the Church.
First is the idea that God‘s gender is male. This is an anthropomorphic, binary construct. God is pictured as being similar to a human being, just bigger and more powerful but equally capricious, favouring some and condemning others – and male. The God of the Christian Bible is a binary male figure and this construct is now an object of conflict.
Secondly is the idea that men have been and still are assumed to be superior in strength to women, more powerful and authoritative, with a divine right to rule and govern – like the male God of Scripture. Those opposed to the ordination of women base their defence of male supremacy on “the Bible says.”
Thirdly is the literalism with which the Bible is read and interpreted. Theology is infected with the assumption of male primacy, maintained by patriarchal norms and hierarchies in the Church. I’m not sure this will change with any rapidity even when women bishops achieve parity with men. The God of the Bible and the Church is a male construct and deconstructing the masculinity God will not happen easily.
The fourth deeply controversial question implicit in Rosie’s blog, following from this, is whether the Church can overcome its addiction to literalism and open minds to the deeper truths that are found in myth. Adam and Eve, the nativity stories, the resurrection, ascension and glorification stories in the Bible are all mythical stories revealing the most profound truth and reality.
The Christian Church hasn’t begun to come to terms with the nature of myth as the most powerful expression of sacred, holy truth about the divine. As a result, we live with false myths: the myth of a male God, the myth of male superiority, the myth of God Incarnate, and the myth of God is dead. It’s the male anthropomorphic God that is dead.
Conversation about the mythic male God and myth in the Bible should underpin every element of the work being undertaken in preparing the new House of Bishops definitive Teaching Document – but it won’t. Bishops are not going to open this can of worms, with the result that false myths about LGBTI+ people will endure.
The Church goes on performing the same rituals using the same language and images avoiding the deep, ultimate challenge – where does truth lie: in God, in the Church, and in each human person?
By chance I was reading Return to the Centre by Bede Griffiths this morning, published in 1976.
“Even the resurrection was given a mythical character. Yet the events of the resurrection were seen as historical events. The disciples were convinced they had seen and talked with Jesus after his death. Of course, the writers of the New Testament were fully aware of the stories’ ‘mythical’ character; they wrote as theologians but were no less concerned with the historic events. They were writing a theology of history, and if the history were not true the theology would be invalid. The reason why the truth of these events is doubted by people in the West today is that the Western mind is prejudiced against myth. It is the defect of the scientific mind. The whole bent of science is to withdraw everything from the sphere of myth, to create a sphere of ‘fact’ which can be observed and verified. This has its own value and is a necessary discipline of the mind. But it empties life of all meaning. It is myth that opens the mind to higher states of consciousness, while the scientist remains shut up in his little world of facts.”
I think the reverse might be more true today. Scientists are accomplished creators of myth, theories that account for elements that must exist even though they haven’t yet been observed. It’s the Church that remains shut up in its little world of facts.