I’d always assumed everyone believed in God. I grew up in a Christian household — my mom came from a Catholic background, and my dad was Presbyterian — and each Sunday we traipsed downtown to church. People didn’t discuss religion much outside of church, and, though I had friends of other religions, I figured their places of worship were just different looking churches.
When I was in kindergarten, I was confronted for the first time with something different. My friend — let’s call her Laura — came over for a sleepover. She would be heading to church with us Sunday morning so her mom could pick her up closer to her house.
“We don’t go to church,” she announced on our way there. “We don’t believe in God.”
I was shocked. At that point, as far as I knew, everyone was on the same page with the whole “God created the earth” thing, and I was very confused by her rejection of this idea.
“If you don’t believe in God, who do you think made earth?” I asked Laura bluntly.
“Mother Earth,” she said. My mom then intervened to moderate a conversation on other discrepancies in our beliefs.
Ultimately, we both were content with holding different beliefs. But I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea of Mother Earth — the idea that God could be female.
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I pictured God as a wise old man. The Harry Potter movies hadn’t come out yet, but he looked strikingly similar to Dumbledore. All the Bible passages they read out in church, all the stories we heard in Sunday school, all the Christmas carols depicted God as He, He, He.
And yet, here was this girl seeming to tell me she believed in a feminine Creator.
Since this encounter, I’ve studied and spoken to others about a number of religions and belief systems. Most of my friends from Christian, Jewish, and Muslim backgrounds agree that they grew up thinking of God as male, to some degree. One of my female friends laughed outright when I brought up the possibility of a female God.
[bctt tweet=”And yet, here was this girl seeming to tell me she believed in a feminine Creator.” username=”wearethetempest”]
I wonder why so many of us, men and women alike, are surprised by the notion that God might be somehow feminine. After all, God is supposed to be nurturing and give one strength, characteristics I associate with women. I also question the dichotomy between earth as female and God as male. This seems to suggest that a masculine being is the creator of a feminine being – something with which I simply do not agree.
I don’t know the answers to these questions. And, at least for the first, I suspect the answers might differ from person to person.
Two of my favorite books informed my understanding of issues with gender and religion —The Color Purple by Alice Walker and The Innocence of the Devil by Nawal El Saadawi. Both bring gender in religion to the forefront, and if you haven’t read either, I suggest you pick them up.
Walker suggests that while God might be shared in a place of worship, God isn’t found there. “God is inside you and inside everybody else,” Walker writes. And through the voice of Shug Avery, an outspoken character in the book, she goes on: “God ain’t a he or a she, but a It.”
[bctt tweet=”I don’t know the answers to these questions.” username=”wearethetempest”]
“God,” she says, “is everything.”
I first read The Color Purple in high school, and I remember feeling so empowered by this section. For the first time, I didn’t feel like religion was unreachable in the distance. Instead, I could look within my own soul.
[bctt tweet=”How can it be a forgone conclusion that God is He?” username=”wearethetempest”]
I read The Innocence of the Devil during my senior year of college—after I had done a great deal more reflecting upon religion and gender. El Saadawi’s story recasts God and Satan as two inmates in an insane asylum. The story depicts the strength of female inmates despite being put in a social structure that meant to limit their power. The strength of the women, thrown into an environment where they structurally had no control, resonated with me, because it was around the time one of my friends was falsely accused of a crime and arrested. The book particularly gave me comfort because it addressed that goodness and God are not always found with the those systemically in power.
Both these stories contributed to me finding power in being female. Religion and spirituality are supposed to give strength; that’s my humble understanding, at least. And I think a feminine figure can offer strength and power, just as a masculine figure can.
How can it be a forgone conclusion that God is He?