Judith Plaskow and I are just now completing the draft of the manuscript of the book we have been working on for the past 2 ½ years. It has a new title: Two Views of Goddess and God for Our Time.* I have been thinking of little else for the past few weeks. An editor who is considering our book said that she was hoping we could address our book to an audience larger than the feminist theology community. Thinking about this, a light dawned: if feminist theology is right that traditional theology denies the full humanity of women, then good theology must be feminist theology. Our work is not tangential to the theological mainstream, but is at its center.
We have revised the Introduction and Conclusion to the book with the assumption that our work should appeal not just to other feminists, but to a wide range of intelligent readers and thinkers. The fact that we were asked to participate in a dialogue about the nature of God in Tikkun magazine’s Summer 2014 inspires us to hope that we are right that feminist theology is becoming part of the progressive theological mainstream.
We began our new book because – though we agree about many things – we disagree about God and Goddess. After working together for decades with shared commitments to feminism, justice, the environment, and the flourishing of life, it was a bit of a shock to come face to face with our differences on such a major theological issue as the nature of divinity. We began our discussion with a shared critique of the God of Biblical traditions as a dominating male other. We agreed that this God has justified not only male domination of women, but other forms of domination as well, including myriad forms of injustice and war. We questioned the theological doctrine of divine omnipotence in light of the holocaust, the on-going domination of one half of the human race, and other oppressions including slavery, colonialism, and war.
But as we articulated our own views of divinity in light of this critique, our views diverged: Judith concluded that God is an impersonal power of creativity that is the ground of all being and becoming, including all good and all evil. Carol understands Goddess as the intelligent embodied love that is the ground of all being and becoming, a personal presence who cares about the world and all individuals it, but who does not have the power to intervene with a mighty arm to set things straight.
We both can give reasons for our views, and in the course of our theological discussion in our book, we give many. Our different views of Goddess and God are significant both theologically and personally. Is God or Goddess good? Or does the divine power include both good and evil? Does Goddess or God care about the fate of the world and our individual lives? Or are love, care, and understanding qualities that are not appropriately attributed to divinity? Is there someone listening to us when we worship, pray, or meditate? Or is addressing Goddess or God a metaphoric way of speaking that inspires feeling in individuals and communities but not in a divine individual? Is the notion that Goddess is love likely to inspire us to love the world more deeply and to promote its flourishing? Or does the notion that God includes both good and evil remind us more clearly of our own capacities to do both?
The fact that we could not agree about the nature of Goddess or God despite our many attempts to persuade each other with rational arguments, led us to conclude that the philosophical, theological, and moral reasons we give in justification of our views are only part of the story. All of these reasons are situated in our individual bodies and in communities and histories. We do not believe there is any simple link between experience and theological views. On the other hand, our experiences form the matrix from which we all begin to think theologically. As we develop our theological views, we constantly test them against our experiences, asking if they ring true, if they help us make sense of our personal, communal, and social lives.
In the first chapters of our book Judith and I locate our theologies in the contexts of our lives. We not only articulate our views of Goddess and God, but also situate them in community. Judith is committed the feminist transformation of Judaism, while I am one of the early voices of the feminist Goddess movement. In the concluding chapters we probe and query each other’s views–from experiential, rational, and moral perspectives. We are hoping to model the kind of feminist dialogue we would like to see more of—one that crosses religious boundaries and is not afraid to probe the differences in standpoints and theological views.
We also hope that our book will inspire a lively feminist–and wider–dialogue about the nature of divinity—something that has been oddly missing heretofore in feminist theology. Engaging in a thoroughly open and honest theological debate is not always easy—even among friends. But we can both testify that doing so has not only illuminated important issues in feminist theology, but also has strengthened our friendship.
*Much this essay is adapted from a draft of the book.
Carol P. Christ is looking forward to the fall Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete which she leads through Ariadne Institute. Space available. Carol can be heard in a recent interviews on Voices of the Sacred Feminine, Goddess Alive Radio, and Voices of Women. Carol is a founding voice in feminism and religion and Goddess spirituality. Her books include She Who Changes and Rebirth of the Goddess and with Judith Plaskow, the widely-used anthologies Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions. Follow Carol on GoddessCrete on Twitter.