This was originally posted on Sept. 9, 2011
In my last blog I wrote that the image of God as a dominating other who enforces his will through violence–found in the Bible and in the Christian tradition up to the present day–is one of the reasons I do not choose to work within the Christian tradition. To be fair, there is another image of God in Christian tradition that I continue to embrace. “Love divine, all loves excelling” is the opening line of a well-known hymn by Charles Wesley. Charles Hartshorne invoked these words and by implication the melody with which they are sung as expressing the feelings at the heart of the understanding of God that he wrote about in The Divine Relativity.
Love divine, all loves excelling also expresses my understanding of Goddess or as I sometimes write Goddess/God. Though I am no longer a Christian, but rather an earth-based Goddess feminist, I freely admit that I learned about the love of God while singing in Christian churches. Hartshorne wrote that he knew the love of God best through the love of his own mother, and I can say that this is true for me as well. My mother was not perfect, and she did not understand why I wanted to go to graduate school, my feminism, or my adult political views, but I never doubted her love or my grandmothers’ love for me. (I count myself lucky. I know others did not have this experience.) Like Hartshorne, I also learned about the love of God through the world that I always understood to be God’s body. Running in fields and hills, swimming in the sea, standing under redwood trees, and encountering peacocks in my grandmother’s garden, I felt connected to a power greater than myself.
I consider myself to be a process philosopher not because I enjoy reading Whitehead–for the most part I don’t–though I absolutely love reading Hartshorne. I am a process philosopher because (with all due respect to the subjectivity of knowing and the relativity of knowledge) I believe that it is more true than not to say that everything is connected and that we live in a relational and interdependent world. I am a process thealogian because (again with respect to the subjectivity of knowing and the relativity of knowledge), I believe that it is more true than not to say that the divine power is loving and understanding.
I am neither a theist nor a polytheist nor a pantheist, but a pan-en-theist. Goddess/God is in the world and the world is in Goddess/God. But while in the world there may be a time for love and a time for hate, Goddess/God always responds with love and understanding. The power of Goddess/God is not the power to overpower. It is a power of inspiration or persuasion that moves us to love more, to understand more. In a truly relational world, Goddess/God depends on us to achieve social and ecojustice in the world. Not the fear of God’s punishment, but empathy, sympathy, and compassion—feeling the feelings of others including the feelings of Goddess/God—is our motivation to create a more just and harmonious world.
Our images and conceptions of Goddess and God are human constructions, but that does not mean that the nature of Goddess/God is fundamentally unknowable. I have argued in She Who Changes that the notion that “God is a mystery” is a holdover from theologies focusing on divine omnipotence. I agree with Charles Hartshorne that if God is not love, then religion is a vast fraud!
The Goddess I know is She Who Is Always There with each and every one of us, human and other than human beings. She appreciates us with infinite love and understanding. She reminds us that there has not ever been a time when we were not loved and understood. Her love and understanding inspire us to love and understand each other and our world more and more, each and every minute of every day.
BIO: Carol P. Christ (1945-2021) was an internationally known feminist and ecofeminist writer, activist, and educator. Her work continues through her non-profit foundation, the Ariadne Institute for the Study of Myth and Ritual.
“In Goddess religion death is not feared, but is understood to be a part of life, followed by birth and renewal.” — Carol P. Christ