November 20, 2009

Deny Fathers (and Reality) at Your Peril

Justin Katz

Fr. John Kiley makes an excellent point in an RI Catholic column that is, for some reason, not online:

And it is not just television that demeans men. Catholics would be surprised how often a priest goes to another parish to celebrate Mass only to find all the male pronouns penciled out of the Sacramentary and Lectionary. Some have taken the liberty of revising the Sign of the Cross with its explicit use of the male terms "Father" and "Son" into the gender neutral "in the name of the Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier."

Thus a warm relationship (father/son) is replaced by three anonymous functions. The recent novel "The Death of a Pope" narrates a discussion resulting in God being addressed as "Our Parent" rather than "Our Father." Mary Daley, a professor at Boston College no less, sees the fatherhood of God to be a mere extension of male domination. Man reads himself into God. Her book is chillingly entitled, "Beyond God the Father."

Our society has had (and will always have) work to do ironing prejudices and other markers of human error out of the culture, but attempting to expedite the process through the control of language is an attempt to recreate the world according to our own specifications. Jesus Himself used the "Father" construction frequently and deeply; it must have consequences to insist that the word choice was arbitrarily made within a context of patriarchal oppression.

Comments, although monitored, are not necessarily representative of the views Anchor Rising's contributors or approved by them. We reserve the right to delete or modify comments for any reason.

I am a devout Catholic. I am not surprised at this slighting to the left to appease all.

Look at Georgetown University and Notre Dame. Both sold their souls for the new 'Messiah'.

I'm waiting for the day when the church will have overlays with different skin tones, hair styles, race features and of course, gender options to depict the image of God.

Considering there are significantly more 'cafeteria' Catholics than those who try to follow ALL commandments Sunday through Saturday, it would be no surprise to me that there will soon be a mass (no pun intended) exodus of Catholics to something else.

Either set rules and stick with them or they'll forever move the line of what is right and what is wrong and to me, that smears all doctrine of beliefs.

Posted by: Roland at November 20, 2009 7:49 PM

Roland said:
I'm waiting for the day when the church will have overlays with different skin tones, hair styles, race features and of course, gender options to depict the image of God.

I guess that's all based on the assumption that one sees God as a literal man in the sky rather than a spirtual being that would be beyond physical world categories.

As for depicting Jesus Christ, he would be most accurately depicted as very Semtitic looking, considering that he was a Middle Eastern Jew. It is highly unlikely that he had the appearance that Western artists have traditionally attributed. This article was interesting:

Certainly seems to be a more accurate rendering of what someone from that part of the world would look like...

Posted by: Tabetha at November 21, 2009 1:09 PM

Tabetha, I never said God was a literal man but he is depicted in the image of a man because no one has any idea what he looks like.

My point was that the church needs to hunker down and become what it always has been and not cater to the cafeteria Catholics as a God of constant change.

God has always been referred throughout the Bible as He or Him to make it understandable to us humans. Because if I or anyone knew what He looked like, then we wouldn't be here on earth.

Even though Jesus was the son of God, he did take on a human existence and if Popular Mechanics wants to take a stab a what the human Jesus looked like, they might be right. Then again, it's easy to take a guess when there's no indisputable proof to support it.

You are right about the paintings of Jesus probably not being accurate as I read some story many, many years ago that the true look wasn't very attractive at the time.

Posted by: Roland at November 22, 2009 12:12 AM

I understand your point and I am admittedly not a Catholic (although I am Christian). I conceive of God as a Being beyond male/female, as not even a visual being because vision would be a physical world property. I think of God as a Consciousness that exists in all dimensions and of which humans cannot conceive. I do not believe God has a "body" - thus no gender,race, etc.
In my view, the incarnation of Jesus was an opportunity for people to experience a tangible interaction with God in a way that makes sense for creatures bound in a physical world. I think it comes down to the part being unable to comprehend the whole. If you are bound within physical constraints it is difficult to imagine anything beyond. If it helps people to think of God in human terms - be it He/She/Father/Mother - then, that's fine. I guess it is the way people make sense of an entity that is beyond human understanding. I personally don't think of a pronoun when I think of God. I just think of that which is, was, and will be - that which everything came from and of which all is a part. I cannot really comment on the specifics of how Catholics are supposed to conceive of God since that's not my personal religious affiliation, but I think that you are certainly, as a church, entitled to hold onto your construction of God as you see fit. It seems a matter for those who are part of the church to decide upon.

You're probably right about artists' orginal reasons for choosing to make Jesus look less like a person from the Middle East. European artists wanted to depict Jesus as aesthetically pleasing according to the culture and time. The image just stuck over the years. And, yes, short of time travel we can't capture how anyone who lived 2,000 + years ago actually looked!

Posted by: Tabetha at November 22, 2009 8:03 PM

I wonder, Tabetha, how you find any meaning in the Gospels at all, if Jesus repeated use of the word "Father" doesn't suggest to you that God's relationship with us takes more the form of a father's relationship than a mother's, brother's, aunt's, mayor's, doctor's, etc. You're quite correct to reject the notion of a divine biology, in this context, but to be a Christian is to believe in a relationship with God, and if we believe in the truth of what Jesus told us (and the truth carried through in the Gospels), then I don't see how one can deny the relevance of God the Father.

Personally, I see the creeping narcissism of our culture in this. We avoid gendered pronouns, ultimately, so that we don't foreclose the possibility that an individual could fill a particular role or be a particular person. We try not to always say "he" when referring to doctors, because we don't want people to think it odd when a doctor is a "she." But the implication that anybody could aspire to be God is foolish.

Another part of the problem is that too many fathers, in history, have presumed that their families should treat them as the familial version of God. The correction should come when they look to God to see how they should act as fathers. One observes this in objections to Ephesians 5:24-25, wherein the wife is told to be subordinate to the husband, but we tend to forget that the husband is told to love as Christ loved, to the point that he "handed himself over" to death.

Posted by: Justin Katz at November 22, 2009 8:38 PM

Justin said:
I wonder, Tabetha, how you find any meaning in the Gospels at all, if Jesus repeated use of the word "Father" doesn't suggest to you that God's relationship with us takes more the form of a father's relationship than a mother's, brother's, aunt's, mayor's, doctor's, etc.

I don't believe ANY human-to-human relationship holds the equivalent of a human-to-divine relationship. I do not make any such comparisons. I believe the experience of Jesus was to give people a tangible expression of God to which they might relate. The word "Father" gave a tangible expression which might be used. But the reality of God, I believe, is far beyond that of any human relationship. I find great meaning in my personal relationship with God. I accept that God is beyond human properties and thus do not think of God in such terms.

As for gendered pronouns in human relationships, that is entirely another kettle of fish. These days a doctor is as likely to be male as female. I think saying he or she here would be appropriate. That is very different from trying to put a human face on God. Of course no one can aspire to be that from which we came; that is why I don't think of God in human terms at all. Our personal relationship with God is just that - personal. I think it is okay that you and I come to this relationship in different ways. I don't think that it makes my relationship with God more or less valid than yours.

Doesn't it make sense that different religions arise due to different conceptions of and relationships with a Creator? You chose to become Catholic after being raised Jewish. Thus, Catholocism must have presented an opportunity for you to feel more connected to God than Judaism did.

I did not have a religion, per se, until I was twelve. At that time, I joined the Episcopal Church, which I have now been a part of for the past 21 years. We have some similar beliefs to Catholics and some different beliefs. Within the Episcopalian Church, there is also much diversity. I think that this all comes down to the different ways in which humans come to understand their relationship with God.

I do actually use "Father" in prayer and take much meaning from the Gospels. However, I also accept that God is not a human being and no possible human relationship can truly approximate that of the relationship between God and Humanity.

Posted by: Tabetha at November 22, 2009 10:00 PM

Well, of course no human relationship is the equivalent of our relationship with God. But unless you're going to insist that there are no distinctions at all between the relationships that men and women typically form with their children, you have to acknowledge the legitimacy of suggesting that God's relationship with us might be more akin to one than the other and that Jesus decisively pointed to the Father.

As for my religion, I wasn't raised Jewish. I grew up with something less than no faith. At points, I hovered around aggressive atheism. I became Catholic and have expanded within that faith because whatever intellectual problems I come across with religious thought, the Roman Catholic Church has the most broadly satisfying answers.

Posted by: Justin Katz at November 22, 2009 10:14 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?

Important note: The text "http:" cannot appear anywhere in your comment.