God the Hen

Let’s face it: Christians have a problem with life after death. Specifically, with the idea that our lives after death are about a God-sponsored party complete with pearly gates, gold-paved streets, and endless songs of praise (please, no, I’m pretty sure I’d rather be in hell). This future-oriented problem stems, of course, from the popular theology prevalent in many Christian circles: a conversion experience, especially one that provides a good narrative to share when the pastor asks people to testify on Sunday night before the church supper, nets each follower a free ticket to heaven.

This future-focus seems to me to be completely misplaced and recently I came across a blog that managed to put a rather fine point on one reason I find this theology to be so vapid.

Mary Kassian writes about how women should make themselves beautiful for their men with a further eye to how they can cultivate an inner beauty (spirituality) that will entice the King in the hereafter.

Ahem. Does no one see the how sexist this is?

Let me see if I get this right. Not only are women subject to the male gaze on earth and thus should always seek to make that gaze as delightful, and perhaps, sexual (as long as it doesn’t go too far) as possible. But, continuing along this line of thinking, a woman can look forward to a continuing existence based upon someone else’s desires for all of eternity.

Sounds like just the kind of party I’m looking for. Yes, I can imagine nothing more enticing than sprucing myself up inside and out, not only for as long as I’m alive but also for as long as the life hereafter may continue.

Such thinking while apparently wildly popular in some Christian circles reminds me of a statement made several years ago by Mary Daly. She said: “if God is male then male is God.” I wish her insight would be given the attention it deserves in churches today.

Instead, most churches continue to espouse thinking about God in masculine terms which consequently elevates male privilege. Kassian’s writing illustrates this problem quite clearly. When we use masculine language and images for God we create in our minds, whether we realize it or not, a God-figure who is thoroughly male. We cannot avoid this and to say we know God is beyond gender and yet continue to speak and think in male terms only solidifies that one truly doesn’t believe God is anything but mostly like men.

If God as we understand Him is male, it becomes perfectly reasonable to assume this God is interested in pursuing others as in Kassian’s claim that God wants to see His subjects as beautiful, wanting them to adore Him and be constantly clamoring for His attention. This God wants to be seduced by the alluring woman. This God is mostly absent, but He nevertheless has enough power—infinite power, actually—so that she should always seek to focus on him; be always mindful of his desires; be determined to make his wishes and his needs her own.

If people were to stop and wonder about what kind of God would actually desire this sort of relationship, wouldn’t they find such a figure unsatisfactory?

A feminist critique of Christianity has raised just this point. To what extend have our images of God simply reflected the desires of male theologians: to be all-powerful, all-knowing, always present?

To find Christians, maybe even specifically Christian women touting this notion of women always striving to be found acceptable in some way or another to a guy, whether a human or divine one, is terribly demeaning.

A fuller understanding of God emerges when we reject the notion of God as male and expand our biblical images.

The God I, and other feminists, find in the Bible is much different from this masculine image. Consider, for example, the God who watches over her chicks. She offers protection and sustenance. She is present, especially as the chicks are young. Over time, though, she allows the chicks to mature. They, in turn, become adults, themselves living into the need to provide for their young.

Our mother hen invites us into the mystery of life in all of its facets and seasons. How she related to us when we were young is different from how she relates to us as adults. She is with us in a myriad of different ways.

What She is not is some distant King just waiting for us to get all dressed up and beautiful even though our efforts will never be enough.