It is true that over time many women had begun to note their inferiority both within the church and in other spheres justified by church teachings (1). Thus Christian feminism attempts to advance the equality of men and women morally, socially, spiritually, and in leadership from a Christian based perspective. It is argued that to achieve equality in Christian circles women must also have a role to play and a voice in matters (2). Some Christian feminists argue that gender equality within the church cannot be achieved without rethinking the portrayal and understanding of God as a masculine being (3), although others claim that God is entirely gender-transcendent (4).
Beattie begins by noting that a gendered understanding of God has its roots in Greek philosophy, saying that “feminist theologians argue that a gendered understanding of God centered Christianity came through the doorway of Greek thought, so that biblical patriarchy was shored up by a range of sexual stereotypes associated not with the Bible but with Greek philosophy” (5). Much of this debate has its basis in the Genesis account, as seem in Genesis 1:27 which “has had a disastrous impact on the understanding of sexuality and gender in the Christian tradition. It is man, not woman, who has been understood to be made in the image of God.” This understanding of masculinity “has come to signify transcendence, divinity, reason and order” whereas, Beattie notes, femininity has come to signify “bodiliness, nature, passion and chaos.”
How has this impacted our modern gender associations? Beattie answers that “In their aspirations towards godliness, men must struggle to transcend the desire, sexuality, embodiment and mortality which they associate with the female flesh. This creates a culture of contempt for sexuality and the female body, and also for nature and the earth, which are construed as maternal and feminine in relation to the masculinity of the Father God. The struggle for order over chaos, transcendence over immanence, spirituality over the flesh, reason over passion, thus becomes a struggle of man against woman and culture against nature.”
This view has been influenced by masculine philosophy over time, “The associations between masculinity and divinity mean that Christian beliefs about God are influenced by masculine fantasies and projections. The nineteenth-century philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach (1804–72) argued that God is a projection of the highest inner aspirations and ideals of man.” Feminist scholars and theologians would argue that man, used in this sense, “is exclusive, not inclusive.”” God, claims Beattie, is a “projection modelled on the ideals of the Western man of reason.”
1. Capitani, D. 2003. “Imagining God in Our Ways: The Journals of Frances E. Willard” in Feminist Theology: The Journal of the Britain & Ireland School of Feminist Theology. p. 57-88.
2. Harrison, V. 2007. “Modern Women, Traditional Abrahamic Religions and Interpreting Sacred Texts” in Feminist Theology: The Journal of the Britain & Ireland School of Feminist Theology. p. 145-159.
3. Kim, G. 2001. “Revisioning Christ” in Feminist Theology: The Journal of the Britain & Ireland School of Feminist Theology. p. 82-91.
4. McIntosh, E. 2007. “The Possibility of a Gender-Transcendent God: Taking Macmurray Forward.” in Feminist Theology: The Journal of the Britain & Ireland School of Feminist Theology. p. 236-255.
5. Beattie, T. 2007. The New Atheists: The Twilight of Reason and the War on Religion. p. 160-161.