Pater Noster. Our Father. It is an idea that has lasted until now. Gender is a hot topic these days, and very sensitive for those who see masculinity as toxic. They would prefer to see God as a woman. This issue flared up when four idols of “Pachamama”, a pregnant Amazon fertility goddess were displayed on the Vatican altar. Some were so upset that they made away with the statues by night and threw them into the Tiber River. The statues were later recovered and the Pope himself apologized. A German Cardinal was so incensed that he spoke up. “There isn’t any role for a statue of a pagan goddess on the altar” he railed.
It seems inevitable that the feminine would creep into our definitions of God, particularly when Christianity is suffused with images of Mary. Should we care if God is male or female? Because God has no corporeal body, there is no reason to view him via a lens of gender except as a way to parse his relationship with us. Looking around, it would seem that the world is binary by nature. Jesus himself once said to the Pharisees, “Have ye not read, that in the beginning God made them male and female?” You get the idea that there is a role for gender within creation that is beyond us. We know that Jesus - God made flesh - came to the world in the form of a man. He had a father and a mother, and at least five siblings, including three brothers who are named as James, Jude and Simon. If Jesus is our guide, then gender is clearly part of the picture.
Christianity is a revealed religion. The curtain of reality occasionally draws back when God shows us who he is. Other traditions draw their feminine picture of God from nature’s fertility cycles, but the character of God is not something we should dream up on our own. The Bible delivers an image of God that is indisputably male - Jesus himself repeatedly described God as Father, unheard of in his day because it was considered blasphemous. In The Lord’s Prayer, he delivers a form for us to follow, where God is described as our father.
There are stark theological differences that depend on where your picture of God comes from. In religions based on nature, God is the divine spark within all of creation. What follows, is that God is already within me, waiting to be discovered. “God within” quickly turns into, “I am God” as we can see in Eastern religions. But that is not what our tradition tells us. The Bible describes God as fully OTHER and not to be confused with creation. (Romans 1:25 – They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator...) If I am already God, I do not need to seek him. Furthermore, anything goes. There are no absolutes and no way to argue them. Morality is only a matter of what I feel like today.
Nature religions see the world as cyclical rather than linear. It repeats itself endlessly without getting very far. There is no end goal in sight, just endless cycles of death and rebirth. The God we receive in the Bible is different. He steps firmly into the timeline of history in a story that has a linear direction - a beginning middle and end. Mankind is placed in the middle of a purpose that God intended from the beginning.
Christianity also separates spirit from the flesh. When we die, we are transcended. In world religions based on nature, there is no such dichotomy. There is no eternal meaning attached to human life once death turns us into compost. There is no life of the spirit that lives on, and no point where God steps in and transforms me into something better.
I am left with a few choices it seems. I must embrace that those who redefine gender have pure motives and no agenda. I must believe they know something that no one else has figured out. Or... I can trust what I see evident in the world all around me, and what I have received from my own tradition.
It could be that there are myserious purposes given for my role as a as a man, a husband and a father, that I must discover, honour, and live out with the best guidance I can from above. Therefore, unless someone convinces me otherwise, I am content to pray in the manner Jesus set out for us. “Our Father, who art in heaven….”