Two Feminist Views of Goddess and God

Like most feminist theologians, we have rejected the idea of God as an old white man with a long white beard who reigns over the world from a throne in heaven. The idea that a good and all-powerful God rules the world from outside it has been rendered implausible not only by the Holocaust but also by the long history of women’s oppression and the equally long history of slavery. As Nietzsche announced, and as theologians have increasingly recognized, the omnipotent and transcendent God of traditional theologies is dead.

Woman in a swimming pool

“In the midst of our ordinary lives, we can at moments glimpse a reality deeper and more fundamental,” Judith Plaskow writes. Swimming Pool by Janice Fried (janicefried.com).

For some, this is the end of the matter, but for those of us for whom spirituality remains important, the task is to reimagine and redefine God. We suggest that the God who is not dead is in the world, not beyond it—not totally transcendent of the world but also immanent in it. The power of a God in the world is not the power over of a dominating (male) other, but rather must be understood in more relational terms as power with, power within, and power of being.

With other feminist theologians, we have been arguing for many years that God cannot be understood as a dominating, totally transcendent, male other. The two of us agree that symbols matter, and we both seek alternatives to the traditional image of God as an old white man, including symbols of God She or Goddess and images of divinity drawn from nature. While, in our early work, neither of us had fully conceptualized an alternative to the traditional understanding of God, we assumed that as our views developed we would probably come to similar conclusions. To our great surprise (and it must be said, dismay), we did not.

Our conversations about the nature of God intensified when one of us (Carol) began to define Goddess as “the intelligent embodied love that is the power of all being” and the other (Judith) began to recognize that, for her, God is neither personal nor loving. As we argued about our differences and clarified our own positions, we articulated two different views of divinity that we believe will have resonance among feminist theologians and others who have rejected God the Father in Heaven.

For Carol, divinity is omnipresent, not omnipotent: Goddess is the love and understanding immanent in the joy and suffering of all individuals in the world, calling them to love and understand more deeply and more fully. Judith also rejects the omnipotent God of traditional theologies. For her, God is inclusive of good and evil, the power of creativity that undergirds all life processes; this God is not personal or solely good, but rather is the power undergirding everything. We suspect that many feminists and other reflective individuals who take the problem of evil seriously, yet in some sense believe in God, will gravitate toward one or the other of these views.

Statue of a goddess

“The symbol of Goddess is an affirmation of women’s power, bodies, will, and relationships with each other,” Carol P. Christ writes. This Minoan Snake Goddess figurine from Crete dates back to approximately 1600 BCE. Credit: Creative Commons/George Groutas.

Over the past decade neither of us has been able to persuade the other to change her view through rational argument. We have concluded that, while rational arguments have an important place in theological discussions, they must be situated in experience—both personal and historical. We are thus currently writing a book together, tentatively titled Goddess and God in Light of Feminism, in which we address the question of the nature of God and Goddess in the form of an embodied theological dialogue. In a similar spirit of dialogue, we have chosen to coauthor this contribution to Tikkun’s special issue on God, working together to present our two plausible—and for us compelling—alternatives to a traditional understanding of God.

Judith’s View: God Is the Creative Energy Underlying Everything

My understanding of God has changed dramatically in the course of my adult life. Throughout these changes, God’s relationship to evil has remained a central question for me. For many years, I held a traditional view of God as an omnipotent (male) person beyond and outside the world who had the power to intervene in human affairs. My stance toward this God was one of anger for what I saw as his betrayal of the Jewish people during the Holocaust and his wider failure to stop a host of other evils. When I became a feminist as a graduate student in theology at Yale, I began to question my prior notion of God and watched it gradually crumble in the face of both intellectual critique and new religious insights that came to me through feminism.

My current beliefs about God can be stated very simply: I see God as the creative energy that underlies, animates, and sustains all existence. God is the Ground of Being; the source of all that is; the power of life, death, and regeneration in the universe. God’s presence fills all creation, and creation simultaneously dwells in God.

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JUDITH PLASKOW, professor emerita at Manhattan College, is author of Standing Again at Sinai and The Coming of Lilith and a founding editor of the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. CAROL P. CHRIST leads Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete (goddessariadne.org), is author of Rebirth of the Goddess and She Who Changes, and contributes weekly to Feminism and Religion (feminismandreligion.com).
 

Source Citation

Plaskow, Judith and Carol P. Christ. 2014. Two Feminist Views of Goddess and God. Tikkun 29(3): 29.

tags: Gender & Sexuality, Rethinking Religion, Spirituality   
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3 Responses to Two Feminist Views of Goddess and God

  1. pattiemcd August 5, 2014 at 10:49 pm

    ~~~ My current beliefs about God can be stated very simply: I see God as the creative energy that underlies, animates, and sustains all existence. God is the Ground of Being; the source of all that is; the power of life, death, and regeneration in the universe. God’s presence fills all creation, and creation simultaneously dwells in God.

    As a woman who experiences G/god as the depth of our being. I’m exploring, experiencing the lives & experiences of other women in this world. Single lives. Reading Princess by Sasson.

    How can I/we help them? We have freedom.

    My husband now again might say: If you’d obeyed me, this wouldn’t have happened. Or, even from my gentle & enlightened & searching for wisdom husband: Shut up & listen.

    I know I am free.

    How do we help them now? Now.

    Peace will not come in my life time. I believe peace will come.

    Yet.

    Now.

    I am free. How can I help women who truly are still slaves?

  2. JoAnne Simson August 11, 2014 at 11:18 am

    I have approached this question from the point of view of a scientist who is deeply interested in the nature of spiritual experience. The book that came out of thirty years of meditations on this issue is “The God that Says I AM: http://www.amazon.com/God-that-Says-Scientists-Meditations/dp/1450549047/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1286802360&sr=1-2

  3. Rev David R Froemming September 17, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    Nice article. On the topic of the Holocaust. What do you make of Edwin Black’s work on “Ha’ Avara”?

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