Today is the official release date for Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology. It just so happens that August 1 is also a day for celebrating the harvest. An excerpt from the Introduction introduces the embodied theological method” we hope will turn the field of theology upside down.
People who reject the popular image of God as an old white man who rules the world from outside it often find themselves at a loss for words when they try to articulate new meanings and images of divinity. Speaking about God or Goddess is no as longer simple as it once was. Given the variety of spiritual paths and practices people follow today, theological discussions do not always begin with shared assumptions about the nature of ultimate reality. In the United States, the intrusion of religion into politics has led many people to avoid the subject of religion altogether. In families and among friends, discussions of religion often culminate in judgment, anger, or tears. Sometimes the conversation is halted before it even begins when someone voices the opinion that anyone who is interested in religion or spirituality is naïve, unthinking, or backward—or, alternatively, that religious views are a matter of personal preference and not worth discussing at all.
Talking about divinity is also surprisingly intimate. Unless we simply repeat what we have been taught, it is not possible to speak about what we believe about Goddess or God without saying something important about ourselves. Revealing our deepest convictions can leave us feeling vulnerable and exposed. Moreover, many otherwise well-informed adults whose religious educations were nonexistent or stopped with Sunday school lack a vocabulary for intelligent discussion of religion. Without new theological language, we are likely to be hesitant, reluctant, or unable to speak about the divinity we struggle with, reject, call upon in times of need, or experience in daily life. Yet ideas about the sacred are one of the ways we orient ourselves in the world, express the values we consider most important, and envision the kind of world we would like to bring into being. Our ideas about divinity are also intimately connected to questions that trouble us in the night about whether life has purpose and what that purpose might be.
Theology is an important way to address these questions and this why we are drawn to it. We began our graduate studies in theology in an era when theologians and theology students were almost all men. We had been taught that the sex and gender of a theologian—or for that matter of any other writer—was irrelevant. But we came to understand that the exclusion of female voices does make a difference, not only on questions about women, but on other questions as well.….
We began working on this book because—although we agree about many things—we disagree about the nature of Goddess and God. After working together for decades, we found it quite a shock to come face to face with a difference on such a major theological issue as the nature of divinity. Our theological conversations have long been rooted in a critique of the God of biblical traditions as a dominating male other. This God has traditionally been understood to transcend the world: to reside above, beyond, or outside of nature and finite embodied life. The transcendent God has been seen as omnipotent: to be in control of everything that happens in the world. We believe that this God has justified not only the domination of women but other forms of domination as well, including slavery, colonialism, war, and environmental degradation. We have both rejected traditional views of divine transcendence and omnipotence. We find divinity in the world, in finite, embodied life. This insight means that our embodied lives matter. Understanding that God is not in control of everything means that our choices contribute to the future of life on earth. Given that we agree on so much, we were surprised to find that as we thought further about the nature of divinity, our views diverged.
Judith views God as 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 in all being, a personal presence who cares about the world.
There are two major differences between us. First, Judith thinks of divinity as an impersonal creative power, while Carol thinks of divinity as an individual who cares about and loves the world. Second, Carol thinks of divinity as intelligent, loving, and good, while Judith thinks of divinity as encompassing all that is, including and supporting both good and evil. These two views are not ours alone, but reflect significant divides in the ways people have imagined and thought about divinity in both the East and the West.
We both can give reasons for our views, and in the course of our book, we discuss many of them. But the fact that neither of us has been able to persuade the other to change her mind led us to conclude that the philosophical, theological, and moral reasons we offer in justification of our views are only part of the story. All of the reasons we give are situated in our individual bodies and in our communities, societies, and histories. Different experiences do not lead directly or necessarily to different theological positions, but experiences are the matrix from which we all begin to think theologically. As we develop our theological perspectives, 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.
Recognizing that our different experiences have contributed to our different understandings of the nature of God, we decided to write in a hybrid form that combines theological autobiography with rigorous philosophical, theological, and ethical reflection. Our book is an experiment in embodied theology that seeks both to demonstrate the connection of theology to experience and to show the complexity of the relationship between them. Combining theology and autobiography is not easy, and we have tried to achieve a balance. We reveal and discuss many intimate aspects of our own stories, but always with a focus on their theological implications. Our intention is to give our theologies flesh, to show how they emerge out of and in turn shape the embodied realities of our lives. We hope this approach will help readers more easily navigate the difficult waters of theological concepts and language.
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Carol P. Christ and Judith Plaskow are co-authors of Goddess and God in the World and co-editors of Womanspirit Rising and Weaving the Visions. Judith wrote the first Jewish feminist theology, Standing Again at Sinai, while Carol wrote the first Goddess feminist theology, Rebirth of the Goddess. Judith is co-founder of the Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion. Carol leads the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete. Order their new book now.