Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Politics of God the Father

Linda Alcoff raises interesting questions for me with her philosophy of politics, power, and truth. First, she offers a definition of politics that is particularly empowering: “anything having to do with relationships of power and privilege between persons, and the way in which these relationships are maintained and reproduced or contested and transformed” (710). Christianity is one of the ways in which relationships in which men dominate women are maintained in many Christian families. That is to say that many Christian traditions teach a subversive role of woman that encourages her to raise children and control the household. Mary Daly, a favorite scholar of mine, resists this power struggle by completely removing herself from a religious epistemology ruled by men and questions the ways in which humans think about God.

Mary Daly notes that the “new wave of feminism desperately needs to be not only many-faceted but cosmic and ultimately religious in its vision. This means reaching outward and inward toward the God beyond and beneath the gods who have stolen our identity” (Beyond God the Father). The very notion of God shapes human action and interaction on many levels and is thus a powerful influence. An understanding of the relationship humans share with God through a feminist, philosophical approach reveals the traditional, patriarchal, androcentric notions of God and questions the cultural biases they create. It is useless working within the confines of normative Christianity, however, as Daly recognizes, because the Christian God, as a symbol, is useless because it is the epitome of maleness.

Mary Daly criticizes the concept of God by noting that “If God is male, then the male is God” (19). God is generally characterized by being strong, wise, immutable, dependable, and righteous, values also commonly attributed to men in society. In contrast, humanity is considered ignorant, sinful, and weak, characteristics generally given to women. The God imagined as a male facilitates the defining of men and the roles men are expected to participate in in society while simultaneously reinforcing the negative definition of what it means to be women, to essentially be inferior to normative man, and the roles women are expected to perform. Responses to this system are to to reject the transcendence of God and favor a totally immanent God, to replaced God with Goddess, to reconsider the linguistic structure by which we name a reality beyond ourselves as God, and reconceptulaizing the presupposition concerning the nature of reality in whole, whether as God or the world. Daly illustrates each of these four as she reflects on her own journey in dwelling with God but striving against sexism within Christianity.

Daly exposed the negative, patriarchal bias against women in the Christian church, which she asserts is against Christian doctrine and gospel in her first work, The Church and the Second Sex. Daly believes that there is an incredible inequality in the church, especially considering the concept of grace. She believes that the current model of God’s grace serves only men, so she offered suggestions for a radical change in the way individuals conceptualize God that supports equal opportunity among men and women of the church. It is within the “vague identifications of God with the male sex” that dominates Christian theology, despite the fact that God is sexless and above sexed categories. Daly asks, “What can ‘masculine’ mean if predicated of a Being in which there is no sex?” She suggests reconsidering notions of God, to begin with. We ought to question the status quo of what God is or is not. In The Church and the Second Sex she begins to reconsider God’s masculinity, immutability, providence, and omnipotence that are further developed in her later book, Beyond God the Father. While The Church and the Second Sex began to question the normative imagining of God, Daly did not yet understand the depth to which patriarchy had dictated the shape of the consciousness of the church and the powerful threat she posed to male privilege and power within the male-dominated business of God.

In Beyond God the Father, Daly fully attacks normative Christianity by reinterpreting Christian themes from a feminist lens and asking questions of “for whom” and “from whose perspective” that challenge the status quo and arouse feminine consciousness. In this work, Daly stands at a position on the edge of patriarchal Christianity so that she can work outside of the masculine system to problematize and deconstruct the way in which men have dictated the nature of the fall, sin, and redemption to meet their needs and bind women to supportive, subservient roles. Who wrote the texts that dictate that nature of these things? Daly highlights that fact that the canon was composed exclusively by men with an agenda who wielded universal pronouncements like weapons and supported their claims with Christian designed by them. Interestingly, Daly remains within the tradition, questioning the male dominated system in Christianity, and chooses to address the Christian categories already in place and redress them in feminist garb. Each of her interpretations of Christian categories resist current patriarchal categories, though for the purposes of this paper, I will look at her development of God as Verb1 in her work Beyond God the Father and later her shift out of Christianity in her work Gyn/Ecology.

By working with the framework of normative Christianity, Mary Daly succeeds in powerfully demanding a new concept of God that requires us to reconfigure thought patterns and society itself. Daly answers the patriarchal masculinization of God with de-reification, making God dynamic energy, ever unfolding, always drawing creation toward itself. God the verb is a transcendent God, no longer represented as being a governor over creation, but rather a movement before creation that transcends history by evoking new feminist history. In this sense, God the Verb encourages women to empower themselves in joining a call to Sisterhood in new communities. Daly worked with many ideologies of the contemporaries of her time such as Wolfhart Pannenberg’s notion of “God as the Power of the Future,” John Cob, Jr.’s notion of God as a dynamic becoming, and Paul Tillich's “on the boundary” all that dealt with a God who was the Group of Being and source of the “courage to be” in the face of existential anxiety. Daly weaves all of these to become more than the sum of the parts by integrating them into a framework that intones a shouted “No!” against sexism and oppression. Thus, there is a need for definite reconstruction of current thought patterns about God and a reconfiguration of society itself through redefinition its rhetorical grounding.

Daly completely detaches herself from Christianity in Gyn/Ecology, refusing to continue to dismantle the “Master’s House with the Master’s Tools.” The Christian God as trinity, for Daly, is described analogously through image of the atomic bomb. The Christian God is irredeemable because it is so innately male and, for a feminist, the epitome of evil. Thus, for Daly, her previous model of God as Verb becomes obsolete as she realizes the need for an Intransitive Verb that is no longer the God obove or the Unfolding Verb that draws individuals into the future. It is an Intertransitive Verb, rather, that is the Female Self. In place of Logos, or the Word become flesh, Daly shapes a God as Verb that is verbalized in radical metaphors in feminist writing, the source of which is the female Self of that psychic space outside of patriarchy called “the Background.” Daly has shifted from an ever-unfolding herald avant creation to an image of female Self, who is divine. The Verb is now wholly immanent, incarnate in women’s Background Selves and in the language that arises in this space. Thus, within Christian theology the transcendent God becomes present within history through incarnation, creating a human/divine personhood. For Daly, the Verb becomes the female Self, and the Self is both divine and human. She even counters the use of God with Goddess in order to emphasize the Goddess within women, naming woman’s experience in her own activity as be-ing, know-ing, unfold-ing, in discovery of herSelf.

I am quite satisfied with Daly's radical removal from Christianity and have to wonder if this is what it takes to truly challenge current models of truth and power. Constantly I try to be a good feminist and challenge the views of others, but often, no one wants to hear and certainly few want to relinquish power. Is this what it takes? If Daly left Christianity, how do I leave society?

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