Our Gods, Ourselves

The near-death experience, made popular by Raymond Moody in the 1970s, has hit the cultural mainstream with movies like Heaven Is Real. The now-familiar scenario of going through the tunnel toward the light and meeting something like God is so widespread that mention of “staying away from the light” can be a metaphor for remaining alive. Although experts (one of which I’m decidedly not) disagree on interpretations, nobody doubts that the dying often report such things. Some say it is the impression left on an oxygen-starved brain about to implode, while others postulate a soul has made an actual bid for freedom only to be returned to sender. No matter what you believe, it’s hard not to be intrigued. Not all the experiences are identical, however. A friend recently sent me a story from World News Daily Report that headlines “Catholic Priest Who Died for 48 Minutes Claims that God Is a Woman.” The story by Barbara Johnson, which ran earlier this month, is an interesting variation on the standard. Often the “being of light” met at the end of the tunnel is kind of asexual. After all, there are no physical bodies there.

This story has me thinking. Traditional Christian, indeed, Judeo-Christian thought posits that God is neither male nor female. Of course, given human experience, many people find that difficult to conceive. It does occur in intersex persons, and it is actually pretty widespread in nature where some animals change gender over their lifespans. Still, when it comes to the Almighty, people want to know with whom they’re dealing. Think about it. When you walk into a doctor’s office and meet a physician for the first time, your response will differ depending on their gender. The same is true of going into a car dealership, or a daycare facility. We use gender to give us the first hint on how to respond. A genderless God, let’s admit, is somewhat disquieting. What is the message you want to send to a person without knowing their gender? Or maybe like me you’ve read a book and discovered halfway through that you had the gender of the author wrong. Doesn’t it impact how you read the rest? So, what if God is a woman?

Interestingly, the case of Father John O’neal comes from a Catholic context. Along with Evangelical Christians, Catholics are among the most likely to hold a residual maleness to God’s identity. Theology of the Trinity, always beginning with “the Father” makes it hard to escape. Perhaps what Fr. O’neal unexpectedly encountered was a God-concept without judgment. That would certainly be disorienting to a faith that has a multi-layered afterlife including limbo and purgatory as well as heaven and hell. A deity who decides the fate of souls must be a judge, and although Judge Judy rules daytime television, the church still has a traditional mensch on the bench. What if Fr. O’neal really did get to heaven? What if he found God really was female? Could human religions ever recover? I, for one, am intrigued. Still, I’m content to wait another few decades before finding out. And maybe for the time we have down here we should all start practicing by realizing that gender is always far less important than the personhood that we all share.

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One response to “Our Gods, Ourselves

  1. Hello,
    In my social circle, the words (God:be He, She or It) is common.

    I wonder, if an NDE is in our heads, per se, and if your world view accepts the possibility, that God is female, if you “went there” and She appeared, did you conjure her up, or was she real?

    I’ve never heard a story relating that kind of experience before. And I’ve read tons of books on the subject over the years. A female God would change our paradigm in ways, that might destroy the religious beliefs of the many. Just like, let’s say, women were active leaders/members in the early church and not just men, and maybe Mary Magdalen was more than just a woman, that is a paradigm shift.

    Creation stories from other traditions, namely those of aboriginal and native Indian groups do have Mother earth, Mother (Feminine) creation stories, so it is not so far fetched.

    The threat to patriarchy with a priest saying he met a Feminine God is not really a threat, because it would take more than one testimony and further research by the church to ever accept that kind of paradigm shift.

    Like I said, I count among my friends, people who see God as Feminine it is not a strange concept to me or them. A kinder softer God seems to work a lot better in recovery circles, than the God of the O.T. and even the N.T.

    Like

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