What is The Gender of God?

The gender of God can be viewed as a literal or as an allegorical aspect of a deity. In polytheistic religions, gods are more likely to have literal sexes which would enable them to interact with each other, and even with humans, in a sexual way.

In most monotheistic religions, one cannot apply a gender to God in the usual sense, as God’s attributes cannot be compared to those of any other being. Thus, the idea of a “divine gender” is ultimately considered an analogy, used by humans in order to better relate to the concept of God, with no sexual connotation.

Although God is an intangible spirit in many religions and therefore is thought to have no gender, debate over their “actual” sex nevertheless has passionately raged in recent decades. The preponderance of references to God in both the Old and New Testaments are in the context of a masculine reference, often “Father”. However, there are a significant number of feminine allegorical references to God, most often in some maternal role.

Nature Panorama Sky Sun Light Landscape Dawn

Sun lights in the morning

Abrahamic religions

In the Hebrew and Christian Bible

God is usually figuratively imagined in male terms in Biblical sources, with female analogy in Genesis 1:26-27, Psalm 123:2-3, and Luke 15:8-10; a mother in Deuteronomy 32:18Isaiah 66:13Isaiah 49:15Isaiah 42:14Psalm 131:2; and a mother hen in Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34.

Genesis 1:26-27 says that the elohim were male and female, and humans were made in their image.

Judaism

Main article: Gender of God in Judaism

Although the gender of God in Judaism is referred to in the Tanakh with masculine imagery and grammatical forms, traditional Jewish philosophy does not attribute the concept of sex to God, but does attribute gender. At times, Jewish aggadic literature and Jewish mysticism do treat God as gendered. The ways in which God is gendered have also changed across time, with some modern Jewish thinkers viewing God as outside of the gender binary.

Christianity

Main article: Gender of God in Christianity
See also: God the Father

God the Father, Cima da Conegliano, c. 1510–1517

God the Father, Cima da Conegliano, c. 1510–1517

Most Christian groups conceive of God as Triune, having the belief that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are distinct persons, but one being that is wholly God.

God the Son (Jesus Christ), having been incarnated as a human man, is clearly masculine. Classical western philosophy believes that God lacks a literal sex because it would be impossible for God to have a body (a prerequisite for sex). However, Classical western philosophy states that God should be referred to (in most contexts) as masculine by analogy. It justifies this by pointing to God’s relationship with the world as begetter of the world and revelation (i.e. analogous to an active instead of receptive role in sexual intercourse). Others interpret God as neither male nor female.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church #239 specifically states that “God is neither man nor woman: he is God”.

In contrast to most other Christian denominations, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church) teaches that God the Father, God the Son, and the Holy Spirit are physically distinct while being one in purpose. The LDS Church also teaches that God the Father is married to a divine woman, referred to as “Heavenly Mother”. Humans are considered to be spirit children of these heavenly parents.

Gender of the Holy Spirit

Main article: Gender of the Holy Spirit

In Hebrew language, in rabbinic literature, the divine presence of God, the Holy Spirit, the Shekhinah is feminine.

The New Testament also refers to the Holy Spirit as masculine in a number of places, where the masculine Greek word “Paraclete” occurs, for “Comforter”, most clearly in the Gospel of John, chapters 14 to 16. These texts were particularly significant when Christians were debating whether the New Testament teaches that the Holy Spirit is a fully divine person, or some kind of “force”. All major English Bible translations have retained the masculine pronoun for the Spirit, as in John 16:13. Although it has been noted that in the original Greek, in some parts of John’s Gospel, the neuter Greek word for “it” is also used for the Spirit.

Islam

Main article: God in Islam 

The oneness of God (Tawhid) is of primary importance in the Quran and Islam. In Qur’an, Allah is most often referred to with the pronouns Hu or Huwa, and although these are commonly translated as him, they can also be translated gender-neutrally, as them. This is also true of the feminine equivalent, Hiya. Qur’an 112:

“Say, He is Allah, The One! (and only). Allah, The Eternal, The Ultimate. He does not give birth, nor was He born, and there is none like Him.”

Other references include the first person pronoun, and the relative pronoun ma (that which), as in the phrase

“the heavens and that which created them” (Qur’an 91:5).

Allah uses the masculine pronoun (He and Him) in the Quran for reasons of convenience, because all things in our human language must be either he, she or it. So for His own reasons He chose “He.” However this is not a reflection of gender or masculinity as we comprehend it.

It is important to note that “Allah” is the same word that Arabic-speaking Christians and Jews use for God. If you pick up an Arabic Bible, you will see the word “Allah” being used where “God” is used in English. This is because “Allah” is the only word in the Arabic language equivalent to the English word “God” with a capital “G”. Additionally, the word “Allah” cannot be made plural or given gender (i.e. masculine or feminine), which goes hand-in-hand with the Islamic concept of God. Because of this, and also because the Quran, which is the holy scripture of Muslims, was revealed in the Arabic language, some Muslims use the word “Allah” for “God“, even when they are speaking other languages. This is not unique to the word “Allah“, since many Muslims tend to use Arabic words when discussing Islamic issues, regardless of the language which they speak. This is because the universal teachings of Islam – even though they have been translated in every major language – have been preserved in the Arabic language.

Indian religions

See also: Indian Religions

Hinduism

Main article: God and gender in Hinduism

In Hinduism, there are diverse approaches to conceptualizing God and gender. Many Hindus focus upon impersonal Absolute (Brahman) which is genderless. Other Hindu traditions conceive God as androgynous (both female and male), alternatively as either male or female, while cherishing gender henotheism, that is without denying the existence of other Gods in either gender.

The Shakti tradition conceives of God as a female. Other Bhakti traditions of Hinduism have both male and female gods. In ancient and medieval Indian mythology, each masculine deva of the Hindu pantheon is partnered with a feminine who is often a devi.

The oldest of the Hindu scriptures is the Rigveda (2nd millennium BC). The first word of the Rigveda is the name Agni, the god of fire, to whom many of the vedic hymns are addressed, along with Indra the warrior. Agni and Indra are both male divinities.

The Rigveda refers to a creator (Hiranyagarbha or Prajapati), distinct from Agni and Indra. This creator is identified with Brahma (not to be confused with Brahman, the first cause), born of Vishnu’s navel, in later scriptures. Hiranyagarbha and Prajapati are male divinities, as is Brahma (who has a female consort, Saraswati).

There are many other gods in the Rigveda. They are “not simple forces of nature”, and possess “complex character and their own mythology”. They include goddesses of water (Āpaḥ) and dawn (Uṣas), and the complementary pairing of Father Heaven and Mother Earth. However, they are all “subservient to the abstract, but active positive ‘force of truth'” (Rta), “which pervades the universe and all actions of the gods and humans.” This force is sometimes mediated or represented by moral gods (Āditya such as Varuṇa) or even Indra. The Āditya are male and Rta is personified as masculine in later scriptures (see also Dharma).

In some Hindu philosophical traditions, God is depersonalized as the quality-less Nirguna Brahman, the fundamental life force of the universe. However, theism itself is central to Hinduism.

While many Hindus focus upon God in the neutral form, Brahman being of neuter gender grammatically, there are prominent Hindu traditions that conceive God as female, even as the source of the male form of God, such as the Shakta denomination. Hinduism, especially of the Samkhya school, views the creation of the cosmos as the result of the play of two radically distinct principles: the feminine matter (Prakriti) and the masculine spirit (Purusha). Prakriti is the primordial matter which is present before the cosmos becomes manifest. Prakriti is seen as being “the power of nature, both animate and inanimate. As such, nature is seen as dynamic energy” (Rae, 1994). Prakriti is originally passive, immobile and pure potentiality by nature . Only through her contact with the kinetic Purusha she unfolds into the diverse forms before us. The idea of Prakriti/Purusha leads to the concept of the Divine Consort. Almost every deva of the Hindu pantheon has a feminine consort (devi).

Sikhism

Main article: Gender of God in Sikhism

The Guru Granth consistently refers to God as “He” and “Father”. However, it also says that God is indescribable. Thus, God in Sikhism has no gender. The Akal Purakh (“Timeless Being”) is referred to as one of the gender, simply because the Granth is written in north Indian Indo-Aryan languages (mixture of Punjabi and dialects of Hindi) which have no neutral gender.

It is described as energy that prevails throughout the universe.

Animist religions

Animist religions are common among oral societies, many of which still exist in the 21st century. Typically, natural forces and shaman spiritual guides feature in these religions, rather than fully fledged personal divinities with established personalities. It is in polytheism that such deities are found. Animist religions often, but not always, attribute gender to spirits considered to permeate the world and its events. Polytheistic religions, however, almost always attribute gender to their gods, though a few notable divinities are associated with various forms of epicene characteristics—gods that manifest alternatingly as male and female, gods with one male and one female “face”, and gods whose most distinctive characteristic is their unknown gender.

Other

Carol P. Christ is the author of the widely reprinted essay “Why Women Need the Goddess”, which argues in favor of the concept of there having been an ancient religion of a supreme goddess. This essay was presented as the keynote address to an audience of over 500 at the “Great Goddess Re-emerging” conference at the University of Santa Cruz in the spring of 1978, and was first published in Heresies: The Great Goddess Issue (1978), pgs. 8-13. Carol P. Christ also co-edited the classic feminist religion anthologies Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality (1989) and Woman spirit Rising (1979/1989); the latter included her essay Why Women Need the Goddess.

See also

References

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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