Sunday, July 24, 2011

Castrating God

by Luis Granados

Earlier this month, a national convention of the United Church of Christ voted to delete a reference to belief in the “Heavenly Father” from its constitutional definition of a local church. Instead of belief in a male God who produced offspring, local churches now need only express belief in a “triune God.”

This change in the direction of political correctness is less than it first appears. The concept of “triune God,” in every modern flavor of Christianity, involves a deity known as “God the Father,” generally pictured with a long white beard, who is said to have fathered out of wedlock “God the Son,” even though God the Son is said to have existed as long as God the Father has. It gets terribly confusing, and can only be ultimately sorted out by “It’s a mystery.” What’s clear is that if they’re keeping “triune God,” then they’re keeping a male God, or at least a God who is two parts out of three male – while at the same time, shamelessly making headlines about being more gender-neutral. This is not a mystery; it’s a shell game.

Pretending to be hip has not served the United Church of Christ well in recent decades. Its membership has declined by nearly 50% since the 1960s. One of its biggest recent defections was the Obama family, who jumped ship in 2008 when UCC pastor Jeremiah Wright went from being a political plus to a political minus.

A question more interesting than the future of this fading denomination is “How did we get a male God in the first place?” If some unseen force created and guides the universe, why does it have to be thought of as either male or female? In fact, how can it logically be characterized as male, unless there is a female deity to go along with it? There can be no “left” without a “right.”

Earlier ages solved this problem by having multiple Gods. Even the Jews gave Yahweh a Goddess wife, named Asherah. Inscriptions to “Yahweh and his Asherah” have been found at Israeli archeological sites, and the Jewish king Manasseh installed a statue of Asherah in the Jerusalem temple.

In fact, according to feminist historian Barbara Walker, in many Pagan societies the feminine Gods were more important than the masculine Gods. They were revered as the mother who infuses all creation with the vital blood of life. The Islamic name for God today bears a striking resemblance to that of the Arabian lunar Goddess, Al-Lat, who was worshipped at the Kaaba in Mecca, and whose crescent symbol appears today on Islamic flags. Pre-Christian forms of what the UCC now calls the “triune God” involved three female deities, in places as diverse as India, Ireland, Italy, and Mexico, where “three divine sisters” gave birth to the savior God Quetzalcoatl. In some earlier forms of the trinity among Arabian Christians, the Holy Ghost was Mary rather than a bird, thus neatly paralleling the Egyptian nuclear family divine trinity of Osiris, Isis, and Horus.

That trinity variant never caught on, but throughout Christian history there has been a tension between God experts who sought to elevate Mary to near-divine status and those who sought to pull her back down again. The 8th century Patriarch of Constantinople taught that God obeys Mary “through and in all things, as his true mother.” This view was echoed by the 18th century theologian who wrote that “At the command of Mary all obey, even God.” A 14th century Franciscan taught that
When we have offended Christ, we should go first to the Queen of Heaven and offer her ... prayers, fasting, vigils, and alms; then she, like a mother, will come between thee and Christ, the father who wishes to beat us, and she will throw the cloak of mercy between the rod of punishment and us, and soften the king’s anger against us.

Pope Pius XII himself proclaimed in 1950 that Mary was the only person other than Jesus who was born without the stain of original sin, and was “assumed in body and soul to heavenly glory.” Yet his successor Pope John XXIII, who had the power to read Mary’s mind, warned that: “The Madonna is not pleased when she is put above her Son.” The Arabian Christians who put Mary in the trinity were persecuted as heretics, and the 13th century Pope Nicholas III ordered a friar to burn with his own hands a tract he had written that went too far in expressing devotion to Mary.

Mary’s doing pretty well today, though. There’s a major movement within the Catholic Church to elevate her to the status of “Co-redemptrix,” which would seem to put her right next to Jesus. I’m not sure what she did to deserve that other than to have a son, as billions of other non-Goddesses have done. Anyway, it’s now officially ok to refer to Mary as “Co-redemptrix,” and petitions and conferences of God experts are urging the Pope to go even further and make that status an official “dogma” of the Church, non-belief in which will result in excommunication and eternal hellfire.

The folks who are best positioned to capitalize on a feminist trend in godliness, though, are our friends the Mormons. Unlike the Catholics, who feel somewhat constrained in making sudden changes by the burden of appearing consistent with 2,000 years of precedent, the Mormons haven’t the slightest compunction about turning on a theological dime whenever it suits their political purposes. They did that on polygamy in 1890 (sort of), and again in 1978 on the in-born evil of black people (sort of). Better yet, they already have a Goddess – a “Heavenly Mother,” no less – backstage and ready to make her debut at the propitious moment.

Mormon theology teaches that there are millions of male Gods in the universe, each one associated with a particular star or planet, who have a physical body just like earthlings. A main function of each of them is to father new souls by having sex, in the normal physical manner. That requires, of course, the involvement of a female deity, at a minimum in “Lie back and think of England” mode. In fact, such a personage exists in Mormon theology – there’s even a hymn about her, written by one of Joseph Smith’s dozens of widows:

In the heavens are parents single?
No, the thought makes reason stare.
Truth is reason: truth eternal
tells me I've a mother there.

The men who ran the Church, though, took as dim a view of Goddess worship as did the Catholics who shut Mary out of the Trinity. Early apostle George Q. Cannon, sometimes called “the Mormon Richelieu,” cautioned that “To worship her would diminish from the worship of heavenly father.” Gordon Hinckley, Mormon President from 1995 to 2008, added that Jesus himself commanded prayer to “Our Father,” not to “our Mother.” A professor at Brigham Young University who suggested praying to Heavenly Mother was fired for her efforts.

The real problem here is that those who earn a living being God’s mouthpieces know that their paying customers subconsciously see them as God, to a small but significant extent. That’s certainly how the Catholics position their Pope, and how the Mormons position their President. Diluting the maleness of God distorts that picture. Secularism is going to have to expand a lot further than it already has before these guys get desperate enough to copy this particular page out of the Pagan playbook.

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