Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Does Calling God 'He' Mean Men Are More Godlike?

People sometimes get a bit queasy about referring to God as "He" on the theory that it somehow leaves women out or marks them as lesser creatures. Someone recently asked the question this way: If it's more accurate to call God "He" because there is something about Him that is more masculine than feminine, does that mean that men are more godlike than women?

The question of in what sense masculine pronouns are best applied to God is a tricky one. Two things are very clear:

1) When God became man, He became a man: Jesus

2) God qua God is not either a man or a woman, and both human sexes in some sense reflect aspects of God. "God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female* he created them."

I think the opening question can be addressed very easily, however. Rather than God, let's think for a moment about ordinary human relationships. Say a man has four children, two sons and two daughters. Imagine someone says of one of the daughters "she's just like her father" or "Jane is more like Tom and any of his other kids."

Now clearly, if someone says this, they're not trying to suggest that Jane is a man or that Tom is a woman. Rather, they're expressing that in regard to personality, appearance, hobbies, or some other set of characteristics, Jane seems more like her father than any of her other siblings do. In this basic, human kind of comparison, sex is not the primary thing that we're referring to when we talk about how similar people are.

The problem with saying "We call God 'He', so men must be more godlike than women" is that it assumes that sex is the primary axis on which we would determine how much or little someone was like God. Why would this be?

Other characteristics seem obviously false: "Jesus was a Jew, so Jews are clearly more godlike than gentiles." or "Jesus was a carpenter, so carpenters are clearly more godlike than plumbers." I'd argue that making a similar comparison based on sex is equally so.

If there's one characteristic which is the right axis on which to compare people to God, it would be virtue. Thus, men and women are both more or less similar to God based on the extent to which they emulate His perfect goodness.


Skywalker said...

I've never considered it that way. Insightful.

The Ubiquitous said...

There's also the relation between God and his people. Peter Kreeft has a talk about this --- well, it's about priestesses, but the most interesting portion of the talk is the symbolic reasons for the He-ness of God.

... and that's the thing. That God is only and everywhere "He" is so distinctively Hebrew that there really ought to be some meaning behind it. "He" is not hermaphroditic, and "He" is not genderless even as "He" is sexless. "He" is "He", always and everywhere. This, when buffeted around by societies which had priestesses and hermaphroditic gods and deities of every human type.

I agree that sex is not the primary axis --- or even any axis at all --- to say that someone is Godly or Godlike. However, the analogy of God being "He" --- and Adam, the first human, for that matter being "he" --- does have some serious weight.

Darwin said...