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Exploring the feminine and masculine impulses of Godde


review of Elizabeth Johnson's 'SHE WHO IS'





She Who Is: 12 Sociological and Psychological Effects of the Male Metaphors for 'God'


In her book 'She Who Is' Elizabeth Johnson emphasises the importance of the way we speak about Godde. For the symbol of Godde does not just passively float in the air, but since it is the focal point of the whole religious system, it functions for personal and common weal or woe.

Patriarchal 'God' symbolism functions to legitimate and reonforce patriarchal social structures in family, society, and church. The image of the father in heaven who rules over the world may be used to justify an order where the male religious leader rules over his flock, or where the husband exercises headship over his wife.

The dissonance sounded by the fact that this supposed similarity lies in sexual likeness, while Godde is taken to be beyond all physical characteristics, is not often noticed. Exclusive and literal imaging of the patriarchal 'God' thus contributes to, and may be taken to mandate, the continued subordination of women to men in significant civic and religious structures.

When Godde is envisioned in the image of one sex rather than both sexes... when the human reality used to point to Godde is always and everywhere male... then the patriarchal symbol of the divine may sculpt men into the role of 'God', portray trust in male power as salvific, project men as fully in "his" image and capable of representing "him", while women - thought to be only deficiently in the image of God (male) - play the role of dependants.

This state of affairs can have a profound impact on women's religious identity. For women, speech about Godde couched exclusively in male terms does not point to the equal participation of women and men in the divine ground.

A largely unconscious dynamic can alienate women from their own goodness and power at the same time that it reinforces dependency upon men and male authority. Speech about 'God' in the exclusive and literal terms of the patriarch is a tool of subtle conditioning that operates to debilitate women's sense of dignity, power, and self-esteem.

The symbol of Godde functions.

When the root metaphor for the divine is patriarchal, it inevitably sustains men's dominance over women. Sociologically it reinforces the rule of the fathers and male rule is given a sacred backing.

Psychologically, these exclusive patriarchal images for the divine function as a tool of symbolic violence against the full self-identity of female persons, blocking their identity as images of Godde. This psychological impact can be deep, subtle, invidious and harmful.

Conversely, persons fitting the patriarchal description may continue to relate to others in a superior way, and this may be a psychological stunting, and damaging barrier to growth and wholeness.

The symbol, the naming, the imagery create an aura of factuality and mandate for human equivalents, influencing the mood, the mind, the tendencies, the assumed values, and the structures of church and society.

Susannah Clark


Links to my summary pages on 'She Who Is':


She Who Is: My introductory comments on Elizabeth Johnson's book

She Who Is: 01 Right Ways to Speak of Godde

She Who Is: 02 Mediating the Mystery of Godde

She Who Is: 03 Purposes of this Book

She Who Is: 04 The Rationale behind Feminist Liberation Theology

She Who Is: 05 The Patriarchal 'God' of Classical Theism

She Who Is: 06 Feminist Theology and the Vantage Point of the Margins

She Who Is: 07 Analysis of Sexism

She Who Is: 08 Feminist Assessment of Sexism as a Paradigm for other Oppressions

She Who Is: 09 The Methodology and Response of Feminist Theology

She Who Is: 10 The Central Criterion of Human Flourishing, and Goal of Transforming Communities

She Who Is: 11 Critique of the Way People Speak about 'God'

She Who Is: 12 Sociological and Psychological Effects of the Male Metaphors for 'God'

She Who Is: 13 Theological Effects of Idolatry, resulting from Patriarchal Language for Godde

She Who Is: 14 Whether to use the word God




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