Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Church Fathers and inclusive language - a possibility?

It's finals time for me, so I'm a little preoccupied with all things early christian. However, some of the stuff I'm reading has distinct connections to my feminist leanings.

As I read more and more of the church fathers, I find myself at odds with their use of male-gendered language for the relationship between the different manifestations of the Godhead. Most specifically, the Father-Son language that's used almost exclusively and widespread throughout patristic literature. I avoid using it in my notes, but as I'm studying for exams I'm beginning to realize that I may have lost some of the intrinsic relationship implications by avoiding those terms.

The terms "father" and "son" are fundamentally part of what these authors are describing - the relationship between begotten and the person who begot is at the heart of the debates taking place. The church fathers then verbalized this in whatever manner they knew best, which not surprisingly, was that of a parent-child relationship, and specifically the father-son relationship (fueled by a multitude of references to God the Father in the Bible).

I'm still very much a proponent of using gender-inclusive/gender-free terms for describing the Trinity in our daily use now (also empire/dominion-free terms), which means "father," "lord," "son," and other familiar terms are out in favor of "creator," "redeemer," and "sustainer." The bigger question now, however, is how to rethink the church fathers and put their male-dominated ideas into gender-free language while still maintaining the important relational aspects they were trying to convey in the first place.

Something I don't have the time (or background knowledge) for currently, but a book I'd be interested in reading some day.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for commenting on this.

A few months back I posted on male-centric language in religion and I was told:

2) You are an atheist, so you have no perspective on religion and are not allowed to talk about it

The guy who was telling me I was wrong, I realize, was speaking from male privilege. What bugged me was that he was so trollish - he even said "why don't you go talk about why the Catholic church won't allow women to be nuns, that's more important." Except I knew he wasn't a troll because I've known the guy for 4 years.

I never understood when women felt I was being unfair to their religion. I actually had a friend who said I could not discuss the subject anymore because my criticism of her religion made her too upset.

Anyway, this lends very little to the discussion, it's just so nice to feel like I'm not the odd one out.

Anonymous said...

hich means "father," "lord," "son," and other familiar terms are out in favor of "creator," "redeemer," and "sustainer."

Which would make no sense in the context of Christianity.

In said religion, Jesus is the SON of god.

Not the "gender-neutral offspring" or the "politically correct redemption figure".

In their religion, he's a he, not a xie, or xe, or it, or they, or whatever else.

It's not "excluding" someone to refer to a spade as a spade.

What else are you going to hope for? That sons and daughters are just called "Gender-neutral human offspring A and B"?

"This is my offspring. They are a good offspring. They are not male or female, those are not inclusive enough!"


lindsay said...

I'm going to respond to this with another post in time... as soon as I decompress from this past week.

Warren said...

Is this a clever parody, or are you serious?

The mind boggles. Let me know when you've completely purged Christianity of male-privelege, and empire-driven rhetoric, and then the rest of us can jump back in.

Why bother, though, seriously. The religion you're looking for is right over there, Oprah and Eckhart Tolle have already invented it.

Is the contribution you're making to the scholarly world, one made more with your eraser, than with your pencil?


Anonymous said...

i consider myself a feminist and a christian. so to come across this post about gender neutral language terms, was a little, surprising, or rather confusing.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. I want to comment even though this post is 7 months old. It is difficult critiquing gendered language in the bible (and in any other Christian writings/songs) in front of Christians. Most Christians, at least most Christian guys, don't understand and refuse to even think about it.

I remember discussing this with my (Christian) family a year ago. My brothers just didn't get it at all, and the oldest one teased me about being all feminist. He thought I was creating an issue out of a non-issue.

Male privilege allows guys to just not notice when gendered language is used. Whether it is used or not means nothing to men, it doesn't affect them.

Experimental studies have shown that women identify less with a piece of writing/instructions when it is written using masculine language than when it is written in inclusive language (even though they are consciously aware that the writing intends to target both genders). Women are consciousy aware that the writing includes them, yet subconsciously they find it harder to fully process the fact that it really does include women as well as men. Men don't face this problem.

It makes sense that masculine language would be a barrier against complete understanding for women. Both meanings of "man" (=human and =men) come from the same root in English, so they are associated in our minds.

Studies also have shown that women tend to choose inclusive rather than masculine language more frequently when they are writing or talking than men do. Women wouldn't do this if there was no problem with gendered language.

My brothers have no problem with masculine language in the bible or outside of it. I wish they could see that the reason I do have a problem with it is not because of some intellectual argument, but because of some fundamental underlying (and very personal to me) problem with masculine language.

I am a Christian Feminist, and very happy to be one - but I am also angry and very confused at how Christians have largely rejected Feminism as bad, and won't consider any of it.

Yah. Sometimes I feel alone as a Christian Feminist. My mum is also a Christian Feminist so that is fantastic for me, she doesn't think I am crazy or that I am looking for things to get angry at men about.