Friday, August 15, 2008

God is genderless

God has no gender is a common idea, I think, for most of us progressives. Either you are an atheist and the non-existence of God mean that naturally something that doesn't exist doesn't have a gender or you are progressive enough and probably a feminist and see God as non-gendered. So this concept was not new to me, but it was still interesting to see this article about this idea. Apparently, a Reform Rabbi has been studying the name of God in Hebrew for the past 13 years and has discovered that if you spell it backwards than it would be the words for he-she in Hebrew. The name he is referring to is the Holy name of God in the Torah, it is the one that is unpronounceable. There are probably some caveats I should point out, first this is from a Reform Rabbi which for those of you who do not know, is the liberal arm of Judaism so this will still hold no weight with the Orthodox arm of Judaism. Two, you have to spell the name backwards to get this result and I guess the argument could be made that if you move letters around enough you can get any result you want, especially from the Torah where it is written without vowels, so you can put whatever vowels you want in a word and change the word entirely. But even so, this Rabbi believes and I would tend to have to agree that the concept of God to the ancient Israelites may not have been male, it may have been non or dual gendered.

As GG and I were talking about last night, the concept of God should transcend gender. As humans we give God a gender and anthropomorphize God so that it fits more easily into our concept. It is much more difficult for humans to conceptualize something that is beyond conceptualism and has no gender. We need God to have a gender so that we can identify with God much more easily. Also, by making god male, it also continues the empowerment of the male gender which is patriarchal societies is, of course, important. There has been a move toward more gender neutral language, I know within Reform Judaism as I grow up in that arm of Judaism and saw the changes for myself, but I am not sure that the same amount of gender neutral language has infiltrated too much farther into Judaism and I have no idea within Christianity of Islam whether the liberal arms of these religions have moved away from patriarchal language in prayer books. (As a sidenote to those who understand Hebrew, I really wanted to type siddur there as that just seems to be the right word for a prayer book for me.)

The comments, which I have not read this morning just last night when I first found this article, are almost as interesting as the article itself. There are quite a lot of people who are saying, of course god has no gender, God does not procreate and gender comes from the presence of sex organs and so no sex organs no gender. There are also plenty of people who are saying that this idea of a gender-less God is a really great idea. There are a number of them and I agree with this that point out that in the article repeatedly God is referred to as a hermaphrodite and that is probably not the best language that can and should be used in this instance. Then there are the trolls, which I find slightly entertaining here. There are the atheists who come on and say, there is no god so why are we arguing about this. That is nothing but trolling, you are not adding to the conversation and for you there is no God but for those who do believe in God this may be a valid argument. And then there are the ones who are vehement that God has to be male, it says so in the bible. It says God is a male and he sent his child to save us, that we are all sinners for even thinking that God is not a male. Hmmmmmmm... well I have to respond to this on my blog cause well it is my blog. The Bible comes from the Torah and the Torah was originally written in Aramaic and then translated to Hebrew and then translated to Greek and then translated to Latin and then onto all of the modern languages. And along with all of those translations, many of those translators didn't actually speak or read the language they were supposed to be translating, for example the translators from Hebrew to Greek didn't necessarily read or speak Hebrew. So assuming that based upon the fact that you know read the Bible in English means you have any idea what it says in Hebrew let alone the original Aramaic, is just ignorant. There are all kinds of weird language anomalies in the Torah, so I just laugh at people when they assume they are so smart cause they know that Jesus spoke English.


FranIAm said...

Boxer, you have rendered me speechless.

Let me begin by saying that I am always aware of and so admire your deep inner wisdom, the wisdom of your neshama. And I am inclined to see that GG possesses much of the same, based on everything I have read about or by her.

I am glad that you two found each other.

This is a most powerful and profound post Boxer. As you know, I am sort of your "Catholic frum" (hah!) reader. As you also know, I am deeply connected to not only my own personal Jewish roots, but to the Jewish roots of all Christianity.

Onto the matter at hand then... God is of course genderless, as I understand it. That is a difficult concept for people to understand for reasons you have well stated.

If we are made in God's image- then how can God not be genderless? I mean, right away it does not make any sense... Yet seeing God as male and Adam as in his image and then Eve nothing but a damn spare rib leads one down the early road to male domination and misogyny.

I think you would find, if you took a study, that people's view of God (if they are believers in God) pretty much syncs up with their own view.

The open minded, the compassionate and so forth tend to imagine a similar God. The fearful or domineering tend to imagine God like that and so forth.

Which would be why it would be a Reform Rabbi who would come up with this.

However, many Christian theologians have expressed similar thoughts.

Even in my own troubled Catholic church, there was and is a movement towards what is called "inclusive language" although it may be on the wane temporarily.

And many other Christian denominations are inclusive in this way.

Some churches want to make God female, which to me is not so much better than the male view. God is all of us - again we find genderless God.

You are also good to point out all of the many translation related issues and not the least of which, was that all of the Torah was originally an spoken tradition.

Anyway, this is a brilliant post and I just may find myself linking to it if I can find the time before I go away overnight.

Ultimately, we must find the openness and the courage not to make God small and in our own image, but to those of us who wish to know God, to have the courage to encounter him/her as s/he is.

Shalom to you dear Boxer and to GG too. Thank you for this.

Mauigirl said...

Very interesting. I'm sure if there is a God, that God is genderless. It is just easier for people to talk about Him/Her by assigning a gender (see how hard it is if you are trying to be inclusive?)

If God made us in "His" image, then "His" image must include everyone - men, women, all races and sexual orientations, all sizes and types of people. So God is in the image of all of us and is therefore genderless, colorless, etc.

Christy said...

Great Post!

I am a Christian married to a Conservative Jewish man and raising my kids jewishly (yes, we even went to the mikvah....I felt pretty at home there, being a former Baptist.)

I love the scholarly nature of the discussion, the idea of the translations.

I've often had er, discussions, with my Christian sisters and bros about the authors/timing of the gospels, the legitimacy of the dialogue, etc....

It is fun, for me. Not for them.

So I leave it alone, I mean I don't fight about it anymore.

I still call god a man, only because I was raised that way, but I don't care about others' opinions about that.

Sometimes I try on God as "her", is that shekinah? (I forget and I'm not nerdy enough to google it for a comment...LOL), but I think it just takes too much emotional effort and ruins it for me.

I now understand why my hubby would want to be conservative despite the problems it created for us and our kids, religiously (tho better than Orthodox).

He needed to get that "jolt" from the familiar.

I guess I'm the same with the God lingo.

I hope that doesn't make me a troll, although I am short...

Ooops! I'm sorry! Blog hijack....plz forgive the long comment....

Christy said...

I was reading Fran's comment about how fearful people view God as fearful, open people view God as open...

I realized that the early Christians had me pegged! They took the idea of Jesus as a deity to the pagans, Jesus as a savior, Jesus, the guy who would hold your hair when you were a vomiting drunk....

They gave us a sympathetic god in addition to God the father, the punisher....

And the ever so mysterious weird uncle in the attic, the Holy Spigot.

(Maybe not QUITE as many gods as we'd like, but hey, they were Jewish, really, and only used to ONE!)

I think Jesus never really intended to be deified. I think he just had really good press.

Now, *I* happen to believe he was divine, but I think he intended to reform Judaism.

And Judaism really believes (I think) in a genderless, amorphous (sp??? usage??) g-d.

So, despite everything I wrote above.

God is genderless.

(She hath spoken...LOL)

libhom said...

From the atheist perspective, "God" is a fictional character. Fictional characters usually do have genders.

The genders or genderless states given to fictional deities are a symbolic references for how people think the world should work.

Christy said...

Geez, libhom, I JUST sort of responded to a comment of yours on Fran's site!

I'd say there are many "characters" in literature that are entities, but not male or female.

Like "the city" in Sex and the City?

I think since the Hebrews were writing it, they made God a force, a spirit, a thing, almost.

Lots of Hindu gods/goddesses are hermaphrodites, etc....

I agree about the symbolism. I think the Hebrews thought an ultimate power shouldn't be so human (or animal) and have a face, a gender, sex--like some ancient Roman Gods.

Although.....they DID conjure up God with a temper, and God that gets even.....

What do you make of that?

Must muse...

Christy said...

Already regretting writing "hermaphrodite" instead of "intersexed".

G-damn PC police have invaded my head.....

Anonymous said...

Very interesting discussion.

The degree of including gender neutral verbage in modern Judaism prayers is present in Reform Judaism but I doubt that it is present in Conservative congregations that consider themselves "egalitarian" (yes they include women in minyans etc but the prayers are still male dominant) and we won;t even mention traditional Conservatism Orthodox, Chasidic, etc. where male dominance is mandatory.

I think it is healthy that we all have our own picture of G-d, some abstract essence of something! I taught 3rd grade Sunday School @ Reform congregation for several years when Boxer and younger brother were young. I tried to promote the students to think on their own and to be creative and discuss their ideas rather than learn rote material. One lesson that I thought was fascinating was to have the students discuss their image of G-d. Unfortunately many times the student elaborated on an old man w/ a flowing white beard (ugh) but there were some students who thought "outside of the box". The Rabbi's daughter said that she thought of G-d as a big smiley face. Oops, I do not remember what Boxer said in 3rd grade.

Be that as it may, G-d and organized religion is present as a security blanket and reminds us to be good people. yes, people can be good and considerate without religion but some people need extra nudging.

Boxer's mom

Christy said...

Beautiful Boxer's mom!