Church of England: Perhaps God is not a “he” after all

I mentioned this story to a female acquaintance yesterday who responded with a derisory snort of laughter: If God was a woman, she noted, and responsible for all of creation, then it becomes somewhat harder to explain periods, childbirth, and the existence of the mosquito, amongst other things. Hard to argue with that.

Or is it?

The Church of England is considering alternatives to referring to God as “he” after priests asked to be allowed to use gender-neutral terms instead.

The Church said it would launch a new project on the matter in the spring to decide whether to propose changes or not….

…..The Rt Rev Dr Michael Ipgrave, Bishop of Lichfield and vice-chair of the liturgical commission responsible for the matter, said the Church had been “exploring the use of gendered language in relation to God for several years”.

“After some dialogue between the two Commissions in this area, a new joint project on gendered language will begin this spring,” he said.

As a convinced agnostic (a contradiction in terms, but stay with me) I would generally take no view on the gender of the creator. However, it is worth noting that a basic read of the bible – the basic christian text – includes an answer right from the horse’s mouth to the question of what the divine pronouns are, right there in John 18:6:

“When Jesus said, ‘I am he,’ they drew back and fell to the ground.”

If only Jesus had possessed the divine foresight to say “I am he/him”, then every purple-haired rainbow warrior on the internet might have “John 18:6” in their social media bios.

If the Church of England must have this silly debate, though, then the evidence for the bible of God’s maleness is somewhat beyond dispute: Consider Genesis, where we are told that God made Adam, in his own image, before later discovering that Adam was somewhat lonely, and creating Eve to keep him company. Consider that we are told he sent a son, not a daughter. And then, when you’ve considered all those things, consider why on earth this is even a question.

It is not, after all, a question borne out of theology. There is no serious concern, of which this writer is aware, that generations of Christians have been causing grievous offence to God by misgendering her.

The concern here is a purely human one: That, apparently, some people might relate to God better if they could only consider God as female. This is where my own agnosticism comes back to the fore: If there is a God, and if it is essential to have a relationship with God, then doing so because you find God to have an acceptable gender identity seems to me to be the least rational position of all: It leaves open the possibility that one could believe in the existence of a creator of the universe, believe that one has an immortal soul, and yet choose to imperil that soul by turning away from God on the grounds that God has the wrong chromosomes. Atheism is objectively more sensible than making one’s belief in God more or less fervent on the grounds of whether the most important prayer in Christendom should begin “Our Father” or “Our Mother”.

In other words, if your religious belief is dependent on the gender of God, then it is not truly religious belief at all. It is sociology, not theology.

Or perhaps that is to misunderstand it: Watching, in recent years, the wholesale vandalization of the image in Ireland of St. Brigid – who is in the process of being transformed from Catholic Saint into neo-Pagan Goddess of Women – one wonders whether we are not in effect seeing the emergence of a kind of neo-pagan Christianity. One of the most sustained charges levelled at Christianity, after all, is that many of its feasts and images are allegedly re-branded versions of earlier pagan festivals – Halloween, a pagan harvest festival, becoming the feast of Holy Souls, and so on.

Certainly, in the case of Brigid, we are seeing a conscious effort to repurpose a Christian figure into a modern, only semi Christian, avatar of the new state religion: This new figure is a lesbian, and an abortionist, and a fierce feminist. The pattern fits with the idea of a new, female, Christian God. What is being presented as homage to Christian religion is, in both cases, actually an act of homage to modern society.

It’s the Mary McAleese-isation of religion. Not about salvation at all, but about providing a moral framework for a dominant political ideology. Everyone, it turns out, needs their own religion.

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