Tuesday, August 30, 2011

A Brief Essay on Theology and Grammar (With Pretty Pictures!)

Today I write in defense of the word, “He.” The usage I have in mind is generally upper-case, and somewhere in the surrounding sentences words commonly to be found are, “Almighty,” “Lord,” and “God.”

If you think I should back up for heaven’s sake and defend the word, “God”, well, that’s implicated too, but because it’s my blog and I get to say so, I am starting from the assumption that a divine being who created the universe as we experience it and loves us silly humans all to pieces does, in fact, exist.

To further draw a ring around what I am attempting to do and what I’m not attempting to do, I’ll stipulate further: I write in defense of the use of the masculine pronoun to refer to the Creator-God of Catholicism. I defend this use in theory, not in practice, because in practice it can all too easily become just as misogynistic as the theory is accused of being. And, perhaps, I don’t defend so much as attempt to explain, because I won’t consider my attempt a failure if at the end of this document you still think using “He” and “Him” always is stupid.
The Old Testament expression of this Creator-God has always been ‘Father.’ Why not ‘Mother’: the simplest explanation is that these records were translated at a time when the idea of a woman in any position of authority was about as acceptable as having a frog in a position of authority. It’s not only that simple, though. If you read the Old Testament, you’ll notice that this God behaves as a father-figure toward his Chosen People. He chooses them, rescues them as necessary, gives them laws to follow, and when they don’t follow them, he reprimands them pretty harshly, leaving them to the very painful consequences of their hubris time and time again. Is this a stereotypical view of fatherhood? Yes. It’s a stereotypical view of motherhood then to assume that mothers are always nurturing, comforting, and forgiving first and foremost.
God as “He” is further cemented when the Old Testament profits use the analogy of a married couple to express the relationship between God and ‘His’ people. Guess who the bride and who the groom is. Yep! God chooses his bride, the people of Israel, but they turn from Him and are unfaithful, breaking his heart. And yet, He will never forsake them, always ready to take them back when they repent.
So we have a Father, and we have a Groom, and we are the children and the bride in that equation…isn’t something missing? In the beginning of the Gospel according to Luke, the Angel Gabriel appears to a young woman and says, “Do not be afraid, Holy Mary. The Lord is with thee!” I imagine she was pretty afraid just the same, particularly when the angel announced to this roughly 13-year-old Virgin that the Holy Spirit was going to conceive God’s child in her womb, and she would give birth to the Son of God! Holy Shit!
Mary is not only the mother of the second person of the Trinity; 34 years later or so, at the foot of the cross, her son gives her to all of us as our Mother, completing a metaphor began thousands of years ago.
In fact, with this amazing Divine intervention in human history, we can dispense with all the Old Testament evidence, because just having Mary as the mother of the Son of God requires that God be the Father of the Son of God. If you’d like to dispute the legitimacy of this whole story because why would our Creator do something that so clearly depicted him in a Masculine way when women were already so disadvantaged, consider this: If instead an angel had appeared to a young man and explained he had found favor with God and was therefor to ejaculate into this Holy Dixie Cup…alright, I’m being facetious, but you get the point. It would have been a good deal more complicated. How would this Heaven-side birth ever end in a human child on Earth?
Obviously our Father-God is only one facet of the Divine, Loving Creative Force, but it feels like a slight against our Mother Mary to take her job and hand it over to someone who already has so much going for Him. Mary was assumed into Heave and crowned Queen of Heaven, deified to some degree, although according to Catholic theology she is not a Goddess, and we do not worship her. We can always pray to her with our concerns.
She has appeared on Earth to offer comfort and guidance to her children many times throughout the ages, which by the way God only did once and He had his Spirit impregnate a teen so His Son could do it (again I’m being facetious), and Mary has promised to intercede for us, helping us to find eternal salvation in spite of our faults and sinful tendencies, samskaras, if you prefer. She’s a great Mother. Do we need a Mother-God as well, or can we let God fill in the blanks? He acts as the sterner influence; the one that says, ‘Yes, this is the more difficult path but it is the better one and it is the one I’m demanding of you if you want to call me your God and Father.’ Tough, man, but would we change our lives at all if God was more prone to hug us and make it all better when we messed up? Which is not to say God doesn't do his fair share of hugging and making it better.
To sum up and clarify, God is not limited to masculine attributes. He is not actually a He anymore than He is a She. He is unlimited and beyond our dualistic world with two genders, and various other opposites. Many Christian mystics connected strongly to the feminine and maternal aspects of God, and if those facets of God are more helpful in your quest to connect to Him, they are accessible to you. Call Him Her; it’s alright with me. Because God gave us a mother in Mary however, we can accept that God offers Himself to us primarily through the vehicle of masculine traits and fatherhood in general, without letting that be sullied by our human knowledge of human failings that caused, and allowed, men to place themselves over women for thousands of years, and without falling into the trap of believing this narrow facet of God is all the God there is.

Yes? Yes. Or maybe not. Just give it some thought. Perhaps you’ll feel a bit more empathetic to the Catholic understanding of God afterward.

Live Omily,

Besides, it's such a grammatical mess to keep God completely gender-neutral in our writing and speech! We're only human, right?


  1. all pictures from monty python :P you know how much work i had to go through just to put this up o my god making me work

  2. Only the first one. The rest are from art history, FYI.

  3. but they are used throughout their movies in their little shorts just saying i think its creates humor for it which isnt bad

  4. I do recall the Angel Grabrial from Angelico's Annunciation flapping around...