WHY DON’T FEMINISTS EXPRESS ANGER AT GOD? by Carol P. Christ


 My relationship to God changed when I accused “Him” of everything I thought “He” had done or let be done to women—from allowing us to be beaten and raped and sold into slavery, to not sending us female prophets and saviors, to allowing “Himself” to be portrayed as a “man of war.”

In the silence that followed my outpouring of anger, I heard a still small voice within me say: In God is a woman like yourself. She too has been silenced and had her history stolen from her. Until that moment God had been an “Other” to me. “He” sometimes appeared as a dominating and judgmental Other, and at other times as a loving and supportive Other, but “He” was always an “Other.” I as a woman in my female mind-body definitely was not in “His” image. 

After I expressed my anger to God, God transformed from an Other into what Whitehead once described as “a fellow [or should I say female] sufferer who understands.”  Although I had already been searching for a “God in my image” or “in whose image I could be,” I had yet to find Her. In the quiet after the storm, I came to believe that I would.  

I have written extensively about the importance of that moment and the need for women to express our anger at God.*  However, it is fair to say that feminists have not exactly embraced this suggestion.  I have often wondered why.  I have wondered how feminists can continue to participate in worship services with traditional God language and readings from the Bible without getting angry.

When I was still a Christian, anger rose up from my belly and caused my shoulders to tense with every “He” and “Him” and multiplied when God was portrayed as the author of violence, as for example in Exodus and the prophets, or in Christian visions of the last judgment.  Do my feminist friends simply avoid going to Church or Synagogue, do they shut down their bodies, do they close their ears—or all of the above at different times?  I have never been sure how they manage it, because so few write about their experiences of God.

Sometimes I think that the notion that “God is a liberator of the oppressed,” which Christian and some Jewish feminists repeat like a mantra, functions to close their minds to what the Bible and liturgies are actually saying about God. It takes very selective reading to extract the God who is a liberator of the oppressed from the dominant and warlike imagery through which God is understood in Exodus and the prophets and even in some of the images of the “kingdom” of God proclaimed by Jesus—not to mention in images of eternal punishment in hell or of “onward Christian soldiers marching as to war with the cross of Jesus going on before.”

Sarah Sentilles wrote about her “love affair with God” and her subsequent “breaking up” with Him. I resonated to her words, because like me she had a passionate engagement with God.  Sometimes I wonder if the failure of other feminists to get angry with God pushes “Him” out of their experience altogether. What would happen if we all got angry with God? Would the world split open?**

 

 

 

*In early essays in The Jewish Woman and in Anima, as well as in Laughter of Aphrodite, Rebirth of the Goddess, and She Who Changes.

**With thanks to Muriel Rukeyser for the poem in which she wrote:  “What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? / The world would split open.”

 

Carol P. Christ is a founding mother in the fields of women and religion and feminist theology. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and the widely used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions.  One of her great joys is leading Goddess Pilgrimages to Crete through Ariadne Institute.



Categories: Feminism, Feminist Awakenings, General, God-talk, Thealogy, Theology

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

28 replies

  1. Thank you, Carol for putting into words the experience I am going through right now. I recently walked out of church (on Mother’s Day) with such a negative visceral reaction to the “worship the King” theme in the program. It wasnt totally out of the blue (for a while I had been increasingly jarred by our masculinization of God) but what felt new was this sense of despair that our whole tradition is so saturated with patriarchy that we cannot see how imbalanced is our “Father/He/King” imagery of God that we not only diminish the female image-bearers in the congregation but also God Him/Herself.

    I had just been to a global women’s conference in Istanbul and the link between the world’s grim misogyny and patriarchal religious values which diminish the full humanity/agency of women was on the forefront of my mind. An image of a woman i saw a few times walking around a hip retail sectioinner our hotel in a full burka covered over by a veil that even covered her eyes lingered in my mind as a picture of the sad social and human consequences of religious patriarchy.

    On my lonely yet liberating walk around town that morning after my church exodus, I felt/heard God very tenderly saying, “I know, I know, I understand”. I felt Her solidarity with that woman in the double burka. She has for centuries watched as the Church has reduced God to a masculine fetish. I felt Her solidarity with me, the wayward pilgrim, too. While others i knew would just see me as making a big deal about semantics, I felt Her reassuring maternal presence and deep understanding. We walked in silence together enjoying each other and the feminine fragrances and colors of Spring.

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  2. It’s comforting to read my experience back in your words. As a theologystudent, I just finished my dissertation on the possibilities of using female God-language in my churchdenomination. It became increasingly difficult, as I worked on this project, to participate in churchservices where God was so exclusively male. Indeed, even during the service on Mother’s day, the pastor only mentioned twice that God is ‘besides a father also like a mother’. The rest of the service was about children and how they relate to God. It was telling that in the examples all the children and adults were boys and men.
    The next service was about how good it was that Moses showed initiative when murdering the Egyptian man. And that God seemed absent in the first 80 years of Moses’ live, but wasn’t really absent. He was ofcourse working secretly in the Egyptian court to let Moses keep his faith and thankfully Moses finally encountered his father in law, the priest of Midjan.
    You’ll probably be familiair enough with this story to understand why I was grinding my teeth the whole time.
    And ofcourse God was He/Him/Lord/King etcetera, etcetera. Quite exausting after a while.

    I eventually finished my dissertation and gave my pastor a copy for his own. He called me last week to say it was interesting and that he’d like to discuss it with me after the summer break.
    Sometimes I’m fed up with my church and sometimes I see rays of hope. The same goes for my relationship with God. Sometimes I feel angry and abondoned (couldn’t ‘He’ have done more for women? Couldn’t ‘He’ be more explicit in his ‘Word’ about the equality of women?). But if I learned one thing from my dissertation (and feminist literature) it’s that God is female like I am and my battle is her battle. If I’m angry at my church, I’m fueled by the anger of my God.

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  3. She is here. She always has been.

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  4. Brava! I wonder if perhaps some feminists are buying into the mainstream metaphysical idea of “Mother-Father God,” which I think is ridiculous. Yes, there are hints of a female aspect to the standard-brand god in Proverbs, and Hildegard of Bingen and others addressed a Mother God, but if we listen to almost any famous pastor or preacher today, all we get is that angry Father God that they say talks to them personally and tells them to put women back in the 1950s. Some fathers are very, very good fathers; why can’t their god be a good father and not a warrior?

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  5. Carol, this so totally resonates with my experience. I wrote in a personal blog once that I finally told God to fuck off. And immediately I felt SHE was smiling at me with pride and in that moment I realized the God I rejected, the God I was angry with was the God you describe here–the Other, sometimes loving, sometimes judging male God. When I “broke up” with him, a new divine space emmerged. One in which I was free and so was Divine Being. I have also written about how I finally found God/dess and Love in my anger. Not in self-sacrifice or in suffering as in many Christian theologies, but in my rage and becoming. For a time before I left my most recent church, I would go to worship services and change the pronouns as I sang from masculine to feminine or neutral. Then when that wasn’t enough to alleviate my frustration, I simply sat in the service and read Mary Daly while the crowd around me stood and worshiped “the King.” I expressed my anger about this language to the pastors of the church, who did not recieve it well. When I raised the connection to intimate partner violence and asked if I could post flyers for the National Domestic Violence Hotline in the ladies room, I was told that this community does “not usually advertise for outside organizations.” !?!? Eventually, I left. I currently have plans to construct a witch tent on my porch, where I can mix postions and read tarot. This will make my Southern Baptist family extremely happy no doubt. :) It is sad, that they cannot understand that these practices are a deeper more complete intimacy with the Love I have been enchanted with since childhood.

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  6. There was so much vitriol and venom in the Christian churches I had to attend with family when I was a child, all the loud, angry pastors, that I turned away as soon as I left home and found my solace in Gaia/Goddess, within her mountains and forests and streams. Now when anger rises, I smile and just let it go deep into the elements for transformation so that Love walks hand-in-hand with me and Anger gets a make-over. :-)

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  7. Carol, Thanks for your thought-provoking post. Anger at the inflated puppet boy/man image held up in the Abrahamic religions as “God” is natural, but to stop there depletes our energy and creativity when we stew too long in that anger (as I once did). I left the last Christian church I briefly attended (a progressive, Methodist church) after counting over 60 references to God as Lord, King, etc. (when I complained to the pastor, he said he agreed with me but “this congregation is not ready for female language.” ) I have heard that cop-out from two other ministers as well, including that of a mega-church near Chicago which prides itself on progressive thinking. I felt this anger at the Catholic funeral mass of my best friend who died suddenly three years ago. The officiating priest intoned that she was now “born again in Christ” and that we should celebrate this “fact” (her sudden death left her only daughter at three months’ into her first pregnancy, a tragedy in my book). I was the only other person allowed to speak at the mass, and took the opportunity to highlight my friend’s independent thinking and feminist spirituality, and read Alice Walker’s poem, “The Earth is Our Mother, Her Blue Body Everythihg We Know.” By gathering courage, from one another and from written sources including your books, we can challenge those who claim that the withered and barren god of male monotheism suffices to represent God/dess, Who is so much greater. We can educate ourselves and spread knowledge about suppressed imagery, especially about Asherah, who was worshipped as the spouse of YHWH during most of the first temple period in ancient Israel and Judah, and whose existence, importance (and elimination) remains unknown to most current believers.

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  8. I love attending services at an Episcopal Convent where the wording has been changed. The entire worship services are gender neutral, giving me the space to identify with the Holy. After worshiping there, I found it incredibly difficult returning to our local parish. I would even change some words as I recited prayers, but even this was not satisfying. Some say the church is entering into the age of Woman. I can’t wait to see it!

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  9. What a wonderful post and what wonderful responses. Like Carol, I got so angry at the patriarchal God of my childhood that I left the church in the mid-1960s, felt a hole in my heart for almost 10 years, and then found the Goddess Movement. What a joy! It felt like a homecoming.

    I wanted to ask Fleurdeleah if she has read _Proverbs of Ashes _ by Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Parker. Parker’s part of the book is about how the central Christian story of God “giving his only-begotten son” to the world is an example of child abuse. It’s a great book.

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    • I have not read that specific book but I did read an essay by her in another volume about that topic. I found it very compelling.

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    • It is now 25 February 2013, so I am not sure if my reply to these July 2012 comments will be posted. I will leave it anyway, just in case:

      I was struck by Nancy Vedder-Shults’ comment on Rebecca Parker’s focus on God’s “child abuse.” For me, that has long been the central issue of Christianity. Of *course* it’s child abuse!! Why is no one noticing?!

      I remember as a child in the 1940’s looking up at a gory, horrific, half-naked, crucified Christ in our local St. Mary’s Catholic church. I asked my father who that was. He said it was Jesus, the Son of God. But what is he doing there? I asked. My father said it was God’s will that he suffer and die for our sins.

      Young as I was, I knew that such a God was not someone I could ever trust, not after what He was doing to His own kid!

      I am now 73 and am still appalled that few seem to be connecting the dots. How could a deity subject his son to such horror? What kind of message does such child abuse send to the rest of us? Why do Christians celebrate such gruesome abuse every Good Friday? What is wrong with such people?

      The example of Jesus’ crucifixion has to be a major contributing factor to our endlessly cruel wars and oppressive measures against the most vulnerable. Did what happened to Jesus harden our hearts against other victims down through the centuries? The only possible answer is “yes” — and it was indeed based on child abuse. Never mind that Jesus was a grown man — the child abuse trajectory had been in place ever since his birth in a cave. The gift-bearing magi were just show biz “razzle-dazzle.” The frightful reality was already in play. That poor infant, that Son of God, was born only to be abused.

      Over the years, I have at times made peace with these issues, arguing with myself that Jesus had an entirely different POV and so did his Father. It was a POV that I, as a mere mortal, could not possibly comprehend. Often, I found this argument satisfying and even once considered becoming a cloistered nun in a Dominican hermitage in California.

      Now, however, as a crone, such excuses no longer work. Jesus was God’s kid. You do not crucify your own kid, I don’t care what the reasons might be. If you’re a God, you fuckin’ find another way!

      I am on many lists and cannot find this particular quote but here is my memory of it:
      “On a planet where the insane are quarantined, there is an inmate calling himself Yahweh who claims to have created the universe.”.

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      • Kathleen, thank you for your comment and the wisdom you bring here – it makes so much sense to me. And yes, we do still read these. Your contribution is most welcome!

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  10. Sometimes I feel very, very glad that I came to the Goddess on my own, without the prior trappings of a Christian identification. I’m actually a fourth generation “non-religious” person, with no one in my family back to my great-grandparents (possibly great-great grandparents) having attended a church or identified as Christian (or as anything else). I feel grateful that I don’t have to reconcile or negotiate with old conceptions of God the Father as I find my way on this Goddess path. I did, however, grow up as an agnostic homeschooler in the midst of fundamentalist Christian friends–and, specifically because of the things they seemed to believe about women, I concluded that Christianity made no sense to me and I didn’t want a part of it. I got the clear message at the time that religion and feminism were incompatible and I chose feminism, hands down. It was much later that I finally realized that there is such a thing as feminist thealogy (and theology); That there is a women’s spirituality movement distinct from Wicca; and that the Goddess is alive and always has been.

    I love your posts! This is one of my favorite blogs to follow :)

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  11. Oh, and that Rukeyser quote is one of my favorites. I use it when I teach a class about Families (not goddess related, a regular college course in the human services program).

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  12. I also think there are other times and places where anger at God/dess is appropriate and actually even welcomed by our deeper/higher Self. One that comes immediately to mind is when we’re stuck and need to experience anger (_rajas_ in the Hindu tradition) in order to escape depression, which is really cutting ourselves off from God/dess.

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    • Nancy, I’m drawn by your reference to Rajas. My understanding on the teachings about Rajas is that, yes, when anger rises, it is Rajas ‘out of balance’ and that in order to regain our balance, the anger is transformed into a powerful passion so that our actions come from strength and a powerful kinetic energy toward change rather than solely from the flare of instinctual anger that results in burning our souls rather than assisting in deep, grounded change. What are your thoughts on this?

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      • My understanding of rajas is that it is an active tendency towards restlessness. When we’re depressed we’re experiencing _tamas_, the tendency towards confusion, heaviness, or inertia. And the only way out of it is to move into rajas. When depressed, the only way to _sattva_ , the positive, uplifting energy, is through rajas. Once you’re experiencing rajas, then you can move towards the balance, peace, and calm that sattva can bring.
        The way this works for me is similar to what Carol said below: anger is energy that offsets the inertia of depression, and also a useful message to DO something about whatever it is that’s angering me. So I write a letter to the editor or I talk to the person with whom I’m having difficulty or whatever other action is necessary. Instead of persisting in the feelings of anger (which are yucky), I transform them into some sort of positive energy for change. As Carol said, it’s important not to repress anger, but also not to sit too long in its fiery embrace.

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      • Yes, very much so, Nancy. Thanks for furthering our dialogue on this! We see this the same. Blessings!

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  13. i don’t feel angry at Goddess because I view her as she who undertands and inspires, not as all-powerful. But I do think anger can be healing as long as we move on from it, the key to anger in my experience is to express it, not repress it, and then transform it into healing work for the world.

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  14. Well said, Carol! My family brought me up in the most liberal Christian Portestant denomination I know of (originally German & British), now called the United Church of Christ. My father died when I was 12, and I “came of age” philosophically and psychologically, and sexually–having my first “period”–as a student in Confirmation class, questioning the Apostles Creed, but not the Golden Rule, which I think (ideally) underlies all religions, though almost all of them today are still patriarchal, and unaware of their narrow sexist (and anti-feminist) mindlessness. I’m reading “THE MYTH” […though I hate the mis-use of the word, as used by the conservatives and ultra-fundamentalists, to mean “lie” instead of “greater underlying truth”]… OF THE GODDESS: EVOLUTION OF AN IMAGE” by two women, Anne Baring and Jules Cashford (779 pages long), which I wish every fundamentalist/ultra-conservative would be required to read, because it gives a full background (at least) of the (“western”) pre-patriarchal visions of what the Creative Power which created the universe [or perhaps the several universes, if indeed there are more than the one we’re in now] is really like, beginning with the thousands of goddesses, and later the thousands of gods, whose identities are way too narrow for any educated person with a heart living in the 21st century today. (It seems to me to be almost childish to imagine a Creative Spirit to have a “sexual, mammalian” being.) However, to the extent that “the spirit” resides in humans (or so most of us think!), then perhaps it is understood of each of us as being “like” us–whether we be male, female, or something else altogether (or combining the two, as can happen physically/chemically/psychologically). In any event, I LOVE having a loving, caring Spirit who I think understands where I’m coming from, and I’ve left any disappointment or anger I’ve felt in the past behind, as I continue my journey learning more and more about what may, or may not, be happening among women, as we seem to be returning to the unified world in which we think–from evidence on Crete, and other realms–we all shared 30,000 or 60,000 years ago, before men organized warfare continually to control others (while out-of-control themselves), and greed for power and wealth was the supreme value they shared (and many still do). I’m also reading Rosemary Radford Ruether’s “SEXISM AND GOD-TALK: TOWARD A FEMINIST THEOLOGY: With a new introduction 10th anniversary edition,” but find it still not totally evolved from the liberal Christianity I grew up in, which I later exchanged for Unitarian Universalism, which I thought more to my liking, theologically, but after 20 years, am now once again, disappointed that it is not the SPIRITUALITY I envision for the present and future. Perhaps the globalization of communication will eventually result in a new more-evolved understanding of the BIGGER PICTURE of what earlier humans envisioned in the Goddess and God ideas which have been with us throughout our her-story (& history). I hunger for a community which fully embraces the LARGER IDEAL which I see on the horizon. However, for most of us, brought up in patriarchal cultures, by the time we’re old enough, and self-educated enough to see a more logical and complete Spiritual Ideal Power, we’re too old and tired to have the energy to SPREAD THE COMMUNAL IDEAL AROUND THE GLOBE TO SHARE WITH EVERYONE who is open to a bigger picture of reality. My hope is that your work, and that of others who share the larger vision, will continue to slowly gather force until one day the ways of war and patriarchy are shown for what they obviously always have been: totally inadequate for expressing the higher ideals they purport to espouse, having “blamed the victim” for eons. On the other hand, their toxic testosterone my indeed eventually destroy all humanity and the environment and all human her-story/history with their mega-bombs and madness….but if so, the Plan B I envision is that Mother Earth will just quietly and patiently begin again, to recreate another species, more intelligent and compassionate, that will refuse to make the same stupid mistakes….and perhaps reproduce by parthenogenesis…..and (if we could return in another million years or more) we could see that all is not lost, and our vision will be reborn of wiser and more loving beings.

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  15. I do not believe the divine power is female exclusively, but I do feel and think that those of us brought up in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are starved for female images of God.

    Just to be clear, I am also critical of female images of God that are associated with armor, swords, and violence, even when these images are interpreted “spiritually.” I don’t think we need to “cut of the heads” of our “sins” or “passions” or “illusions” any more than we need to cut off the heads of our so-called “enemies.” I am in favor of a nonviolent way–with the self and with others.

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  16. Hey I’m all for anger and for cutting off heads of gods. I don’t have the hetero woman’s obsession with love and peace when we are at war with men and male gods globally.

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  17. I’m angry towards the males who use a male deity, but not “god”.
    This gives me energy to fight against patriarcal religions, and so if I have to analyse this feeling, it seems to me more useful this way.
    But I don’t see how and why I could turn my anger toward god ?
    And thank you for your thoughts here that I read with a lot of interest.

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    • I don’t feel angry at the “God” I have come to know, but the God of my upbringing and theological studies was supposed to have been all-powerful, and if he inspired scriptures, why did he do such a bad job of it, why did he let women and men come to believe that they could come to know the true God only through the Bible, and why did He let so many bad things happen over such a long time to women. The Goddess I know now is not all-powerful, her power is to love, understand, and inspire, and as I understand the nature of divine power now, God did not create patriarchy and domination, people did.

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      • The way I perceive divine changed for me in a different way, not by expressing anger at the bible god actually.
        I was looking at feminist art, which led me to look at myths (expressed in art), and then at religions.

        Perceiving part of religions as myths may have help me in order to allow myself to look more accurately at religions, like putting apart the wall of the “do not touch what is sacred”.
        In between I also became aware of the importance in our day life of our inner symbolic constructions (language, art, myths, religion…).

        Once I get into religious myths, it took me years to see the various sex inequalities (for only a few, I could find excuses), and then seeing the high number of sex inequalities in religion was like a thunderbolt and I realized the horror of patriarchal religions.
        I personally felt horrified by the profound hidden extent of patriarchy.

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  1. GODDESS AS LOVE: FROM EXPERIENCE TO THEALOGY by Carol P. Christ « Feminism and Religion

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