With Jenna Cocullo:
God transcends gender. God is not a woman and God is not a man. God is God.
This is reiterated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “God is neither man nor woman: he is God”. Yet in the latter part of that very sentence God is allocated a gender pronoun, despite the previous claim. I understand why we describe God as a “he”. We need to define God in terms we can easily comprehend, comparing God to something we know. Because of the limitations of language, it is easiest to understand God as a person.
We cannot call God “it”, that would diminish God to an impersonal force. We cannot refer to God as “they” because although there is merit to the argument that “they” can be used to denote a singular person, it would lead to ambiguities that assume the writer or speaker is referring to multiple religious deities. And to refer to God as God would simply be a clumsy mess for any literary writer.
We can all agree that to refer to God as “he” was not some patriarchal conspiracy unleashed in the 6th century B.C. with the hopes of contributing to the oppression of women. But with that being said it is important to note how the use of language, especially in the most influential book ever written, had an impact in perpetrating patriarchal views throughout the world.
No language is neutral. Language is essential in shaping our thinking and socialization into society. The choice to refer to God as “he” suggests a social pattern of thought; one in which we see males as the representative and authoritative members of our social groups.
There is no way of knowing how societies views on women would be different if God was referred to as “she” for the past two and a half millennia, but one can look to the pre-colonised Indigenous tribes of the Americas for clues. Before colonisation, Indigenous tribes were largely polytheistic, believing in multiple gods of both genders. Aboriginal women were respected for their spiritual and mental strength. Most societies were organised on a matriarchal basis in which women were the head of household and held political power in their communities.
Even in academic circle scholars began to notice the power language has over the subjugation of women. Philosophers now use the pronoun “she” when referring to generic individuals in their academic writing. For example, philosopher writing on the ethics of law would refer to hypothetical judges as “he” and recognised that this promotes a view that only men in society hold authoritative positions of power. Now they refer to their fictional characters as female in order to promote a worldview in which women are included as leaders in society.
This is the kind of rethinking we need to do about the pronouns denoted to God if we want to create a worldview in which women are seen as equals of men.
I am not suggesting that we refer to God as “she”but rather that we find a gender-neutral pronoun to refer to God. Outside of religion, many people have expressed a need for a singular, gender-neutral, third person pronoun to use when gender is unassigned to a subject. This occurs in the robotics industry, for fictional creatures in literature, and mainly in the transgender community.
The transgender community has advocated for the use of the pronoun ze (sometimes also spelt xe) to denote an individual that identifies as neither male nor female. Maybe this is how we should refer to God. Is that not the essence of God? To be a faceless spirit that transcends gender and race to be inclusive of all identities?
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