GOD ON THE RUN
By GlenysLivingstone Ph.D.
This essay is an unedited paper as I presented it at the University of Western Sydney in June 1995. Hopefully some have come a little distance since then – I would write it differently now, and indeed I have, but it still seems to be useful as it is: the topic is current in some quarters and needs to be in others. In 1998 I began my doctoral research at the University of Western Sydney, which was entitled The female metaphor – virgin, mother, crone – of the dynamic cosmological unfolding : her embodiment in seasonal ritual as a catalyst for personal and cultural change. The doctoral thesis became the basis for my book PaGaian Cosmology: Re-inventing earth-based Goddess Religion.
An overt metaphor is a map, a description we may find useful or not, may accept or reject. A covert metaphor is an attempt to restructure our reality by leading us to accept the map as the territory without questioning where we are going or whose interests are being served. Starhawk Truth or Dare p.21.
Who or what is this “God” that everyone speaks of? “His” name on everyone’s lips: “for God’s sake!” and “O my God!” And it is a “he”, is it not? What image was conjured in your mind when you read the title “God on the Run”? Was it not an anthropomorphic form?
What did yours look like? Was it a female form? “God” is supposedly a neuter term; that’s what we keep being told. Does neuter have breasts? Does it menstruate? What does “neuter” mean? St. Augustine believed that amenorrhea was a sign of increasing holiness in women, that is, they were becoming more like men. Is that the neutering of women? Can the ministers and priests who pay lip service to “God” being “She” … “as well”, imagine that this “She-God” might menstruate? Is it acceptable for the female to be metaphor for Creator? According to the Rev. Dr. David Peterson, a member of the Liturgical Commission and lecturer in theology and worship at Moore Theological College, it is dangerous to cut down on the use of the male pronoun to refer to God. He said, “It becomes artificial and you are in danger of depersonalizing God …”[i]; as if there is no other choice, the Female is not a person. Even the national secretary for the Movement for the Ordination of Women, the Rev. Peta Sherlock admitted to still imagining God as a little old man sitting up on a cloud, though she offered that she was “not unhappy with God as a she.”[ii] It would appear that “Goddess-Creator” is a long way off the agenda for either of these “experts”!
The word “God” has a gender, no matter what anyone says. I concede that it is possible on occasion to get around it, but it does not usually last for long. The pronoun “He” usually pops out, just when you’ve relaxed and think you’ve made it. But then some people think that “He” has no gender. Is a phallus neuter? When will we stop trying to bend our brains around androcentric doublethink? Why not go straight to what it is that is being avoided? Why is “She” still veiled? Is Her autonomy still so frightening? … to women as well as to men?
It is often said, and almost always assumed that the gender of “God” has been evacuated. It has not been. It is a male name and effects the perceived sense of the sacred. It is said that the term “God” is like “actor” or “doctor”, but “God” is not a profession. It is a polarity of the mystery of being: there is Goddess and God, light and dark, sorrow and joy, birth and death and so on, whose dynamic interplay is the Art of Life. Is gender evacuation possible as long as an anthropomorphic term is used? Is it desirable? It is said that “God” is beyond “androgyny”, because “God” is beyond form. If “God” is beyond form, why does “It” still have an anthropomorphic label? The “God” is a myth, a metaphor, … why de-sex him, just put him in his place. He needs to be re-mythologized, brought down from the ether and back to partnership.
Even feminist theologians devote huge amounts of space time and effort to the enterprise of “God’s” bisexuality. He is called God the Mother. There is nothing radical about this. Zeus swallowed Metis, gave birth to Athena, Yahweh is maternal too. Who needs a Goddess?
God in drag, albeit cute or some kind of political statement, is not the same as Goddess. There is an apparent inability to address the sacred/divine/Ultimate Being as Goddess. Why is that? and what does it mean? How is Goddess different and why? How does naming it “God” effect what is understood as sacred, valid ultimate Being? Is female embodiment still unacceptable as an expression of the Being of the Universe?
Patriarchal religions are soaked through with male sexual metaphor of a dominant kind … which is not necessarily innate or the only possibility for male sexuality … but which perpetuates male dominance and “normality” on a deep unconscious level. Male sexual metaphor does have other possibilities – of partnership, sustenance, and pleasure. There is a place for a “God”, and perhaps it’s in the bedroom and the kitchen and the garden! And there is mythological precedent for this … pre-patriarchal. He too could be part of a “mere fertility cult”, a spirituality concerned with the life cycle, the reproduction of matter – trivial things like that.
Let it be clear that I am not of the opinion that there is a “Goddess” or a “God” as people are want to assume whenever these terms are used. I am using these terms as metaphors to speak of what is commonly described as a “metaphysical” reality, that actually is not a meta-physical reality but an intra-physical reality. … and by that I mean it is within the organism, it manifests in the innate drive of the organism to live, to be, to proliferate, to create. And my concern with the term “God” is that it normalizes the male as metaphor for this Awesome Essence. Female embodiment and her processes then remain “other”.
Kerry Carrington said in a Gender Studies lecture that “the next step was the deconstruction of sex as the basis for identity.” But I wish to affirm embodiment and gendered embodiment (light is not the same as dark, male not the same as female). I agree that gendered embodiment does not mean and is not limited to, what it has been culturally construed to mean (is the lioness who hunts for her food “feminine”? is the great she-eagle who soars the heights “feminine”?). Each gender is complete, not two halves of a whole; each contains the possibility of warrior, of nurturer, but each is also different and each certainly has a different cultural story. They do have different histories and experience. I am wary of any denial of sexual difference, and our different histories. Female embodiment is yet to be appreciated as a valid metaphor for the sacred, and male embodiment is yet to be re-earthed. “ She” has usually been put down as a mere fertility cult, “ He” is real religion, real spirituality. The distinction itself is based in dualism; is “real” spirituality not concerned with matter?
Does it make any difference to experience that one’s body menstruates, lactates, gives birth? Does it make any difference if one is in relationship to the child, and has been for millenia? Was this the primary dyad – the mother child? … long before the male-female partnership? What difference to social construction? to language? (Would we still equate the telling of the truth with “testifying” …. putting one’s balls on the line? Would we still equate creative real thinking with “seminars” … the penis being the font of creativity and knowledge?)
It is in the language. The exclusive use of the term “God” is but the primary example of the colonization of female Being. There can be no real dialogue across gender lines until the female is accepted as a possible “norm”. Gender can not really be evacuated or transcended until the full realm has been assented to, articulated, and understood. The naming of the sacred as Goddess with all the affirmation of female embodiment, of material existence that that entails is crucial to any possibility of real female-male partnership, even for those who think it isn’t, simply because they speak.
© Glenys Livingstone 1995
Starhawk. Truth or Dare. SF: Harper and Row, 1990.
Livingstone, Glenys. The Female Metaphor – Virgin, Mother, Crone – of the Dynamic Cosmological Unfolding: Her Embodiment in Seasonal Ritual as catalyst for Personal and Cultural Change. Ph.D. thesis, University of Western Sydney, 2002.