Omnipotence: The Ultimate Homage to Male Dominance as Control by Carol P. Christ


The concept of divine omnipotence is the ultimate expression of male dominance as control.  Divine omnipotence is the view that everything that happens in the world happens according to the will of a divinity, who is in control of everything that happens in the world. When someone dies or great suffering occurs, we are told, “everything happens for a purpose,” “it was meant to be,” or “everything happens according to the will of God—or Goddess.” In our recent book Goddess and God in the World, Judith Plaskow and I criticize and reject this view on both rational and moral grounds.

The doctrine of divine omnipotence is widely assumed, not only in Christian theologies, but in Islam and to a lesser extent in Judaism. Moreover, it is also to be found in western metaphysical and mystery traditions and in the many New Age and Goddess theologies based upon them. Thus we not only hear that whatever happens in the world must be “the will of God,” but increasingly that it must be the “will of the Goddess.” Traditional views of divine omnipotence create and fail to resolve the theological conundrums known as “the free will problem” and “the problem of evil.”

The notion that everything happens for a reason or purpose that is determined by a higher power is comforting to many people. I have no wish to deny that human beings can find or create meaning in suffering. I also note that suffering can cause great harm to individuals and groups that is often passed down through the generations. The notion that God or Goddess is the cause of a child’s rape or death or the cause of great evils such as the slavery, the Holocaust, or the nearly worldwide subordination of women, has led many to conclude that a divinity who shapes are ends does not exist—or if it does, it is not worthy of worship.

The traditional responses that “God’s ways are not our ways” or that “God has a purpose we cannot understand” simply do not make sense to me. I also reject the notion popular in New Age worldviews that God causes great suffering to individuals or groups in order to “teach a lesson.” Holding a child’s hand to a fire may teach it to be careful around fires, but it is just as likely to teach it to distrust adults or to wish to push a smaller being into a fire. I agree with Hartshorne that at some point traditional defenses of divine omnipotence ask us to “forget everything we know about values,” about good parenting, about good teaching, and about right and wrong. This is why the doctrine of divine omnipotence founders on “the problem of evil.”

There is another problem with the traditional doctrine of divine omnipotence and this is known as the “free will problem.” Charles Hartshorne calls the problem created by the concept of divine omnipotence “the zero fallacy.” What this means is that if God has all the power, then human beings and other beings have zero power. If everything that happens in the world happens according to the divine will, then it is a fallacy to assert that human beings or other beings have free will in any meaningful sense of the term. Rather what we have is a single divine power and the illusion of a world.

For if God has all the power, the world does not exist except in the fantasy of the divinity. If every outcome in the world happens according to the will of God, then human beings and other beings can have no real power to act in the world. If we have real power, then our actions affect what happens in the world. If so, then it cannot be said that “everything happens according to the will of God.” Some things happen according to my will or your will and some through a confluence of multiple wills and circumstances that produce outcomes that no one could have foreseen.

This is a very simple argument: either God has all the power and other beings in the world have no power, or God does not have all the power because other beings in the world also have power. The question then becomes: why have so many people in the world, including many otherwise very intelligent philosophers and theologians, wished to believe something that is patently false: that free will exists but nonetheless that everything happens according to the will of divinity.

There seems a very strong desire in human beings to believe that someone is in charge,  that what looks and feels to us like unnecessary suffering or evil is part of a higher plan in which everything not only happens for a reason, but for a very good reason. Freud wrote about this desire in The Future of an Illusion. Faced with contradictions in their own thinking, theologians often assert the relation between free will and divine power is “a mystery.” People seem to be willing to take refuge in “mystery” because they do not want to think about the possibility that many things that happen in the world are not the will of God and serve no higher purpose.

Finding these arguments convincing, Judith and I conclude that the traditional theism that states that God rules the world from outside it and the doctrine of divine omnipotence that is its corollary must be rejected. From here our views diverge. I view Goddess as intelligent, loving, and good, but not all-powerful. In my view, Goddess cannot be all powerful because Goddess is always in relationship to other individuals in the world that have their own forms of freedom and power. Judith in contrast, insists that God is an impersonal creative power that is inclusive of the whole of reality and is the ground of both good and evil. In Judith’s view, God is the ground of creativity in which all individuals participate, exercising their own freedom to choose good or evil.

Goddess and God in the World is on sale in Kindle on Amazon for $9.99 in the month of April.

Carol will be speaking at University of Winchester in England on Wednesday April 26, 2017.

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a-serpentine-path-amazon-coverGoddess and God in the World final cover design

Carol’s new book written with Judith Plaskow, is  Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology.

FAR Press recently released A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess.

Join Carol  on the life-transforming spring Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete. Space available!

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Categories: Abuse of Power, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, General

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12 replies

  1. Thank you for this, Carol. Your essay summarizes the conundrum perfectly. I do reject the concept of divine omnipotence, and find it satisfying to hear the argument for this view stated so clearly.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Thanks Carol, as regards the diversity of our concepts of gods and goddesses. Last weekend we celebrated Earth Day — and one of the many interesting posts online said: THE EARTH HAS MUSIC FOR THOSE WHO LISTEN.

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  3. The doctrine of divine omnipotence is widely assumed, not only in Christian theologies, but in Islam and to a lesser extent in Judaism. Moreover, it is also to be found in western metaphysical and mystery traditions and in the many New Age and Goddess theologies based upon them. Thus we not only hear that whatever happens in the world must be “the will of God,”

    I am so glad to read that New Age and Goddess theologies are included in the doctrine of divine omnipotence because I too reject this doctrine, no matter what its source.

    Living and attending ceremonies created by Indigenous peoples has been so refreshing because of the focus on the present, and the absence of a punishing god.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love this post, Carol. For me the most important statement is, “The concept of divine omnipotence is the ultimate expression of male dominance as control.” I’ve always bristled when Goddess friends say, “It was meant to be.”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. As usual, brava! Thanks for writing this post. I hope everybody buys your book. My review of Goddess and God in the World, BTW, is in the current issue of SageWoman.

    When I took emergency training classes (CERT, or Community Emergency Response Training) ten years ago, we were taught never to tell the victims of disasters that “it was God’s will.” As if God made that specific airplane crash or set that specific fire or caused the ten-car pileup on the freeway. Don’t say, “God willed that to happen.” Or “God sent those terrorists.” Thank goodness they teach that lesson! I have no idea why a god or goddess might permit the Holocaust and/or not help its victims. Or why divine omnipotence might permit wars or let men with guns go into churches or nightclubs or beauty salons or schools…or anywhere else to shoot people. I think omnipotence is a phony concept. A dangerous concept.

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  6. Absolutely – I also bristle when people tell me “it was meant to be” about something good or bad that happened. I see no reason to give theological justification for hatred and violence.

    I see it more like you say Carol “I view Goddess as intelligent, loving, and good, but not all-powerful. In my view, Goddess cannot be all powerful because Goddess is always in relationship to other individuals in the world that have their own forms of freedom and power.” Goddess is our source. We come from her and are in co-creation of our little part of the universe with her. She is lovingly in co-creation with other beings in their sphere of influence. And so the world turns….

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  7. Thank you for explaining so succinctly arguments I have made for years regarding an omnipotent being in charge of everything. I would probably even go further and argue against the existence of gods or goddesses or a god or goddess as defined in Western thought and religion.

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  8. Good post. I too reject the idea of omnipotence. I too can’t get past the inconsistency between free-will and ultimate control. I see the Goddess as a manifestation of nature itself. We are all bound her her rules. But she does not predefined a destiny for all beings. Indeed, she did not even create the rules. The rules are are bound within her.

    The other fallacy about omnipotence is that it is inherently good. Indeed, the patriarchal religions seem to regard omnipotence and goodness as mutually inclusive. But there is no reason why this should be the case. You could argue that an omnipotent God is like the author of a book. Everything happens the way the author says. But that does not mean that all authors are good.

    I disagree with you on one point. I do not regard the Goddess as good. She is neither good or evil as these are purely human concepts of morality. Just like I don’t regard love as being inherently good, given that it is the most selfish and prejudicial emotions in existence.

    One of my favourite books is the Illiad which describes the pitfalls of destiny and fate. Hector is given great success in the story. But he is only given that success so that Achilles’ glory is all the greater. On the other hand, Achilles finds he no longer wants that glory after losing his friend and he himself is killed in an innocuous way.

    In the end, I believe that each individual being is too insignificant for the Goddess to take a real interest in us. There is no universal fate or destiny. There is no good or evil.

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  9. Carol, I couldn’t agree with you more! It is horrifying to think that an all-powerful God or Goddess would will a tragedy, or not prevent one from happening, so I too believe that God/dess is not omnipotent. I also am horrified by the idea that God send Jesus to be a sacrifice for our sins. I certainly wouldn’t want to worship a God who would do that.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. A very insightful post! Thank you.

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  11. Very thought provoking post…made me focus in more on what do I personally believe…which is a mix of a lot, without being a pure one view vs the other. As a hospice nurse I truly feel that in the end, the threads all unravel, not so much as in this is how it was supposed to be, or God’s will, but more this is the domino effect of events by all players, and so upon reflection, feel things happen as they were ‘meant to be’ without any religious connotation attached. If someone should pass the one time someone gets up to use the bathroom after hours at the bedside, which happens often, I can’t help but think that person wasn’t meant to be there. I also am a firm believer that in all life events there is a mixture of good and bad, that no event no matter how terrible or how wonderful, has it’s good and bad effects.

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  12. Reblogged this on writingontherim and commented:
    I follow Carol Christ for a variety of reasons including her words often make me think about ideas, concepts, controversies in new ways.

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