How do we make sense of loss, great loss, and everyday disappointment? Some would tell us that “everything has a purpose” or that whatever happens “must be the will of God.” I have found that these answers to questions raised by life as we know it often do more harm than good. Yet they have a sticking power–we hear them all the time, sometimes even from other feminist seekers.
From the beginning feminists in religion rejected “the God out there” who rules the world from a throne in heaven. Most of us have insisted that “God” is more “in” the world than “beyond” or “outside it.” However we have not always been consistent in our convictions. When feminists are confronted with untimely death or great evil or just not getting what we think we want, we can sometimes be overheard to wonder, “Why did God (or Goddess) let that happen?” This question is based in the assumption that God or Goddess is omnipotent and rules the world from outside it. This is the theological idea I intend to question today.
The “zero fallacy” is a term philosopher Charles Hartshorne used to explain the “theological mistake” known as divine omnipotence. Hartshorne pointed out that if God is omnipotent, then God has “all” or “100%” of the power. If this is so, then human beings and all other beings have “zero” power. But if we have zero power, then do we even exist? It is hard to imagine what “existence” means if it is a quality attributed to beings with zero power to affect the world. In fact, if God has 100% of the power, then no being other than the divine being can be said to exist. This is what Hindus may mean when they say that the world is “maya” or illusion.
Yet feminism is about nothing if it is not about affirming the “female power” and women’s ability to “change the world.”
Hartshorne continues. If beings other than God have some power, then God does not have all the power. From this it follows that everything that happens in the world—whether it be the life or death of a child or the beginning or ending of a war—should not be attributed to God or to Goddess. If beings other than God or Goddess have some of the power, then many of the events that happen in the world must be attributed to the choices and failures to make choices of beings other than God.
If for example, my dog runs into the street after a cat and is run over by a car, this death should not be attributed to “the will or God.” The choice of my dog to run after the cat (and not to look both ways before crossing the street) should be taken into account. Chance also comes into it because my dog may have run into the street a hundred or more times without being hit. We might ask if I was diligent in taking care that my dog not be allowed to put herself in danger. We should ask whether or not the driver was driving carefully. If she was, yet she ran over my dog anyway, we must attribute her part in this misfortune to “chance.” The driver simply happened to be coming down the road when my dog ran into the street.
In a world where there are a multiplicity of wills and a multiplicity of factors influencing every event, it makes no sense to attribute everything that happens in the world to the will of God and then to ask why God or Goddess lets certain things happen. Some things happen because of conscious choices individuals make, and many things happen through a combination of many individual choices and chance.
What then is the power of Goddess or God in the world? Does the recognition that beings other than the divine being have the power to create and destroy mean that God has “no” or “zero” power? This question too is rooted in the theological mistake known as divine omnipotence. The notion that either God has all the power or God has no power at all is a false dichotomy. What kind of power can a God who does not have all the power have?
What if Goddess is “in” the world and feels the feelings of the world with infinite care and compassion? What if the power of Goddess is power with not power over, the power to inspire but not to control or compel? Then what we do really does make all the difference in the world. Isn’t this the kind of God feminists were seeking all along–when we rejected the God out there of traditional theologies?
Hartshorne said the idea of an omnipotent God is modeled on the “tyrant ideal” of absolute power over. Should such a God have any place in feminist theology?
Carol P. Christ created a new new website for the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete which she leads through Ariadne Institute. Early bird special for the spring pilgrimage extended for those who join now. Carol can be heard on a WATER Teleconference. Carol’s books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions.