Descartes Said It’s Necessary to Doubt All Things at Least Once

Rene Descartes on spiritual seekers
Rene Descartes, Philosopher

Don’t feel bad if you get agnostic from time to time! Doubting is a necessary thing according to the great philosopher and mathematician, Rene Descartes.

In the course of our homeschooling today (annoying Cartesian math for 8th graders!) we looked up Rene Descartes for the fun of it. Up came a bunch of his famous quotes — for once not the “I think, therefore I am” quote.

Agnostics, skeptics and spiritual seekers will appreciate his words.

If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.

I tried to think of when this doubting of all things might have happened to me. Then I remembered as a young college student my jaw dropping over the Mithras-to-Jesus similarities. Birthdate, Roman-style worship, 12 disciples, etc.  I was already upset by the absence of a God-the-Mother and God-the Daughter, and suspicious of all the (wonderful!) pagan elements in Judeo-Christianity. The Mithras stuff and Acharya S’s exaggerated correspondences pushed me into full doubt-mode for a short while. I had to rise up from either / or belief and mature into both / and.  As in, yeah, Mithras, Jesus, Dionysius, Adonis, were probably the same — and Horus the Light of the World. Then there is Helios, El, Allah with the “EL” name of God hiding in there. Adonis is similar to Adonai, also. Paganism, Monotheism, Gnosticism, ALL of it. It is the same. They are BOTH true, this AND that and that and this, too. There is no black and white, no either / or in spiritual truth.

Then again, I will probably never grasp the Truth with a capital T.  I really like the title Gnostics gave to Mary Magdalene. She was the Woman who knew the ALL. Gnostic knowing is spelled with a g. She gnew it in her marrow, it was the ultimate gnowing.

Just rambling here…

Huston Smith World Religions Scholar Has Died

The World's Religions by Huston Smith, Ph.D.One of our Seminarians told me today that Huston Smith died on December 30th. I somehow missed it in all the craziness of the news lately. All those losses in 2016: Carrie Fisher, Debbie Reynolds, Prince, George Michael, Mohammed Ali — and also Huston Smith.  I used to get a Religion-in-the-News email “newsletter”. Since everyone seems to prefer news delivered by Facebook or blogs these days my inbox doesn’t get newsletters anymore.

We use Dr. Huston Smith’s famous book, The World’s Religions, in our seminary training program — as do countless colleges and universities.

CNN says:

Huston Smith sat at the bedside of his firstborn child, watching her life ebb away.
“I have no complaints,” Karen Smith told her father. “I am at peace.”
During their last moments together, Karen told her father that she was thinking of angels. She told him not to cry. She told him how much she loved the ocean.

“Religion,” Smith once wrote, is “the call to confront reality; to master the self.” Smith had strived to answer that call for much of his life.
Smith’s public persona has long been established: He is the tall, thin, affable scholar who can distill the essence of the most esoteric religious subject in concrete language.
* * * * * *
Here at the multi-faith Esoteric Interfaith Church, Inc. & Theological Seminary we are quite fond of that word esoteric. We like the interpretation of the word as “inner” because we often focus on the inner traditions of Christianity, Judaism and other great world religions. Our seminary offers a distance-learning Ph.D. in World Religion, Religion, Religious Studies, etc.
I love the cover pictured above. It’s Norman Rockwell’s famous “Golden Rule” painting. “Do unto others,” he reminded us right on the canvas. When I had The World’s Religions as a textbook in university it had a rather plain and boring cover. This edition would have kept me staring to the point of distraction during every lecture. Some very cool elements and even a couple esoteric symbols hiding in there despite the fact Rockwell wasn’t known for esotericisms.
Oh hey, I just checked Amazon and see they have another version of this classic called  The Illustrated World’s Religions: A Guide to Our Wisdom Traditions. You can click and see inside the book to enjoy some of the many photos.
The seminarian who mentioned Smith’s passing also has a Ph.D. in World Religions from our seminary. He said he had read many of his books, even the ones not assigned in our seminary degree and ordination programs, and this great scholar of religion will be missed.

9 Obscure Religions You’ve Never Heard Of – Even if you have a degree in religious studies

I looked at this slideshow article with a “you won’t gotcha me!” attitude, I have a Ph.D. in Religion thank you very much. But sure enough, they got me with the second one. I’ve never heard of a certain Japanese sect they describe.

The Vietnamese religion mentioned was also fuzzy for me, but I do recall studying it years ago in comparative religions.

See if they can catch you!

Enjoy the vivid photographs while you’re at it.



Dalai Lama on Interfaith Cooperation – to Glenn Beck!

Words of wisdom fell like pearls (as usual) out of the Dalai Lama on the desperate need for people of all faiths to work together at this juncture in human history.  But not as usual, they were spoken to Glenn Beck.  T’was an awesome conversation on interfaith-ism. (I think that needs to be a word, interfaithism)

Glenn Beck told the Dalai Lama about the interfaith work he himself is doing “trying to bring different faiths together without mixing our theology,” in hopes of repairing some of the religious strife ripping the world apart these days.

Dalai Lama Buddhist priest on interfaith dialogThe Dalai Lama replied the way in which religions hate each other so much “is one of the biggest heartbreaks of his life right now.”

The Buddhist Pope as he’s been called says “we are dividing ourselves. That we’re being so foolish by dividing ourselves when we all will stand together. We all have similar, if not the same goal. Any good religion has the same goal, and that is happiness, love, and peace. And if we can’t unite on that goal as humans — because he said everybody on earth needs to recognize that we’re all equal, that we are all the same. We’re all human. We’re all born, and we all want to be happy. But as he said, there is some troublemakers in that lot as well. And he said many of the troublemakers are highly educated people that are using their position to crush others. He said we’re social animals and yet we’re very self-centered, and those two things don’t match. He said we have to get back to the basics — his words — back to the basics, because this is not good for our future, to be so self-centered, if we have to have each other to lean on. And he counseled that we begin to be friends again. He said friendship comes from trust. Trust comes from caring and serving others.”

Read the entire conversation and see a short video clip of the two here at The Blaze.

Women in Religion, Feminism, Patriarchy, Goddess Belief

Magdalene Christian Goddess Seminary online degree student course
Mary Magdalene – Would a Judeo Christian Feminine Deity make a difference in our culture?

One of our seminary students is writing a paper for her Women in Religion class and wants to interview us by email as follows. Please answer and take part!

1. What is your definition of feminism?

2. What is your definition of patriarchy?

3. What do you think of the stereotype “women are from Venus, men are from Mars?” Put another way, do you think it’s true that women are more emotional and men are more logical? Do you think that men and women are compatible?

4. What do you think America would be like if the main religion was centered on a goddess?

5. Do you think that religion in America has positive role models and messages for women?

6. Do you think that modern America is a healthy environment for women? What about men?

The Middle East: Multi-Faith not Interfaith non-Melting Pot

Ordained priest minister initiates boy into Zoroastrian church
Initiating boy into the Zoroastrian faith

Okay, so I have a PhD in Religion and teach world religions online, especially esoteric alternative religions with their roots in our ancient history. Yet I read this article and learned things I never knew — or maybe I thought I already knew. Ha ha.  Such as:

Alawites (like Assad of Syria) believe you can be reincarnated as a plant.  They won’t eat certain kinds of plants because it might be a relative…  This might be why Yazidis still don’t eat lettuce.

Zoroastrians hate cats because they believe they are inhabited by evil spirits. I knew they worshipped dogs, and that during the Iranian purge of Zoroastrians, the new religionists (Muslims) would attack the Zorastrian family dogs. But I didn’t know they fear cats to this day. Ironic that Muslims fear dogs to this day, won’t touch them due to them being unclean.

The Druze (such as George Clooney’s new wife) believe in family reincarnation, not just “ordinary reincarnation.” Druze believe they can reincarnate as other Druze (much like Northern European “heathens” believed).  Furthermore, Druze youth must be initiated into the religion or they don’t get to know the secret inner teachings.  The article author doesn’t know if Mrs. Clooney was actually initiated into her ancient faith as a teenager. I knew the Druze were an esoteric religion influenced by Plato and Aristotle — they are Gnostic neo-platonists, but I didn’t know they were so secretive of their full teachings, requiring initiation of their youth.

Zoroastrians and Mithraism are alive and well, still performing the Mithras worship annual bull sacrifice. The Yazidi priest still whispers in the ear of the bull before he is killed just like the ritual 5000 years ago in the Epic of Gilgamesh! The taurobolium later evolved into a bloody initiation and then “baptism” cleansing ritual. Sacrificing a bull originally symbolised the death of the Age of Taurus as the ancient world entered the Age of Pisces (thousands of years ago). Now we are moving into the Age of Aquarius (it goes backward thru the Zodiac, called the precession of the equinoxes) so I wonder if we will be killing fish. Well, we “killed” Jesus…he was a sacred fish. That is a wierd thought. Carl Jung delved into it, but I digress. Back to stuff I learned in the National Geographic article above…

The reason the Yazidis put conical shaped rooves on all their temples. It was done to represent the Sun-god’s rays — these people date back to the time of the Pharoahs. The Yazidis invented the handshake, it is connected to the Mithras worshippers secret handshake. The Yazidis won’t eat lettuce, and their long mustaches symbolize they are worthy to learn secret teachings.

Samaritans, as in “the good Samaritan” Bible story, still exist and pray daily by bowing on the ground (similar to Muslim prostrations) toward their holy mountain, Mount Gerizim in the West Bank / Israel. They are almost as old as the Jews, and still worship there. I encountered some of them during my trip to Israel in the 1990’s, but I forgot their daily prostrations toward a holy location resembles Muslim prayer toward Mecca. The Samaritans pre-date Islam by at least 1000 years…

As I read, there were also things I did indeed know, but was reminded of, such as:

The Pythagoreans would not eat beans — why not was kept as a sacred secret. (Must’ve been the gas!)

There are Gnostics (with a capital G) that survive to the present day, not only the Druze in Israel, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, but the Mandeans who have been quietly hiding out for 2000 years in the marshes of southern Iraq. They are neighbors with other religious hiders such as the Marsh Arabs who worship pre-Islamic gods of Mesopotamia — Old Testament “pagans” who live near the spot the Garden of Eden supposedly once stood and know it.

If you want to hear the language spoken by Jesus / Yeshua and Mother Mary, and Magdalene, you no longer have to travel to hidden villages in Syria and Iraq. You can go to Detroit, USA. Yes, indeed there are now more Aramaic speakers settled there than in my favorite ancient Christian village of Maaloula, Syria (now completely deserted thanks to al Nusra terrorist murderers). We study the Aramaic Lord’s Prayer in our Esoteric Mystery School lessons, it is so beautiful to hear in Aramaic and even to read and speak in the English translation of the Aramaic.  The Aramaic version up until 2013 was sung daily by children’s choirs in Maaloula — a favorite experience for Western visitors to Syria. That experience is lost now forever unless the nuns of St Thecla Monastery / Convent somehow survive Syria’s dissolution and somehow manage to return there in the distant future. But even if the nuns go back, and clean up their pillaged, desecrated mountain-top home, will the Christian families who lived there since the time of Christ also come back? Doubtful. Most fled to Damascus in 2013, a few made it out of the country.  I wonder how many are in Detroit…and if any of them can sing the Lord’s Prayer. A haunting, lovely, other-worldly sound….  You can still find it on YouTube, thanks to religious tourists in 2010 before the Syrian Civil War.  Search for St Thecla Syria Aramaic Lord’s Prayer.

Freddie Mercury, legendary lead singer of Queen, was born into a Zoroastrian community surviving in exile. He was even initiated into the religion as a coming-of-age ritual — just like boys 3000 years ago.

The article also answers the question “Why aren’t there druids running around in London”, since some of their contemporaries have survived in the Middle East? His answer is considered insulting to some, but hey, survival of the fittest, people, and Christianity has pagan DNA. Just look at this week’s European holiday! (Halloween)

Show Your Support of Middle East Christians Suffering Ethnic Cleansing

Support Ancient Christians of the Middle East
Show solidarity with Christians in the Middle East who are suffering ethnic cleansing at the hands of the murdering ISIL “the Islamic State”. These are descendants of ancient Christians who settled in Iraq and Syria 2000 years ago — which is 600 years before the religion of Islam even existed. Now they are being killed or forced from their homes by the tens of thousands. Besides killing their Christian victims by beheading, the Islamic State army are also crucifying some victims. Videos of both methods surfaced last week.

Many Twitter and Facebook people have changed their profile photo / image / icon to this black and gold image. Friend Christine Chase is displaying this symbol and tells here what it means:

“In Iraq, the homes of Christians are being marked with this by ISIS aka ISIL and their Sympathizers. It is the Arabic “N” for “Nazarene”, marking the people so identified as Christians. In much the same way the yellow star marked Jews in Germany. I and some others have adopted it as our avatar as a sign of solidarity with those so marked.”

The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood under the Morsi government forced the Egyptian Coptic Christians (whose ancestors were there since the beginning of Christianity 2000 years ago) wear black crosses on their clothing, and black crosses were spray painted on their houses, cars and shops. The guy that made the video that supposedly caused the Benghazi Libyan hit on the US consulate there was a Coptic Christian from Egypt. I used to go to church with ancient Copts (because they are Eastern Orthodox like the Greeks, Russians and Ukrainians.  Copts are so cool. It’s ashame they are being chased out of Egypt in droves.

Luckily the Egyptian Army kicked out the Muslim Brotherhood and the Christian citizens have a better chance, although their churches are still getting burned and their houses are still getting marked with black crosses.  My daughter says she wants to wear a black cross in honor of the persecuted Christians and we discussed putting the Arabic “N” as shown above onto our front door.  Yeah, we’re Nazarenes, you got a problem with it? we will be saying.

Wish we could do more, something tangible to help those suffering in Iraq on the Ninevah plain especially.  I am still sick just thinking of that video showing the Islamic State freaks blowing up the 1600 year old church that surrounded the 27oo year old(!) tomb of Jonah (the guy swallowed by the whale in the Old Testament).  They blew it up two weeks ago, just like the Taliban blew up the Buddhist statues in Afghanistan, the only standing Buddhas in thee world.  Muslim extremists are on the rise everywhere it seems.  They are perpetrating ethnic cleansing in Africa (Boko Haram kidnapping the school girls), the Middle East, and no doubt want to keep going.

Gift Idea for the Ordained Minister – Bible in Chronological Order!

This looks nifty. Just think, no Soap Opera style flash backs any more while reading the Bible!  <grin> 

Might be a good version of the Bible for our Doctor of Theology degree candidates since it’s non-mainstream and non-fundamentalist.
I need to put this on my Christmas wish list. The list I really don’t have this year. But if I did, my children and husband would groan and say, “What? Another booook on your gift idea list….?!”  Worse yet, it’s another religion book. That’s all I like to read. Hee hee.  But this is no ordinary religion book people, it is a version of THE religion book. PERFECT gift for the ordained minister in your life hint hint hint…

The Chronological Study Bible

The Bible in Dynamic Historical Order

Immerse yourself in the beautifully designed pages.  Dig into ancient civilizations, religions, governments and the cultures and peoples that continue to shape our world today.  Explore the hidden connections in Scripture through one dramatic historical timeline.


Man of Steel movie supposedly full of Christian Jewish References

I definitely want to take my older kids and go see the new Superman movie, but I am not so sure the makers of Man of Steel filled it with Christian references. Just because Superman holds his arms out (in flying position?) it resembles a crucifix…? The other so-called Christian references are reaching too, imo, such as his father Jor-EL appearing as a ghost resembles the Holy Spirit and / or God-the-Father and God-the-Son working as a Trinity.

The article is very interesting though, especially intriguing is the reminder that the original Superman creators were young Jews. They chose names with -El endings for Superman and his father, El being the Jewish god’s name (and thus the Christian god’s name) and appearing in popular names Micha-EL, Gabri-EL and girls’ names EL-izabeth, Rach-EL etc.

Neil Cavuto on Fox News Business just mentioned another Christian “similarity” not listed in this article. Someone didn’t like the moviemakers switching Clark Kent from a reporter to a fisherman. Neil Cavuto humorously said, “Hey. It worked for the Apostles…”

Either way, the esoteric references will be fun to try to spot. Gotta see this flick soon.

‘Man of Steel’ filled with Jesus, Christianity references
By Justin Craig
Published June 14, 2013

Read more:

It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No, it’s … Jesus?

When Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created their iconic comic book hero Superman in 1938, their character wasn’t just a representation of “Truth, Justice and the American Way,” but for many, a metaphor for Jewish immigrants in 1930s America. Created by two young Jewish men, Superman was an allusion to the Jewish faith and history, from his baby Moses-like origins to his golem-esque invincibility, to his outcast status and his ultimate struggle to assimilate in a new land.

But somewhere along his journey since 1938, Kal-El converted to Christianity, which is no more evident than in Zack Snyder’s current “Man of Steel.”

Snyder and his “Steel” co-creators Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer have layered this latest incarnation with quite a few allusions to Jesus Christ. Here are a few:

While there isn’t a miraculous birth per se, Kal-El’s (Henry Cavill) father Jor-El (Russell Crowe) claims that his son is the first “natural” birth in centuries. All children on Krypton are genetically engineered to a pre-determined purpose and thus artificially inseminated. Not Kal-El. Jor-El and his wife Lara had some legitimate baby making going on.

There is some Christ-like imagery planted throughout “Man of Steel.” One blaring symbol occurs during a climactic battle: Superman jumps from General Zod’s (Michael Shannon) ship and hovers in the sky with his arms out-stretched like the crucifix. Freeze-frame it and you can have your own Superman prayer card.

Kal-El says he is 33, a not-too-subtle reference to the same age as Jesus Christ when he was crucified.
The Passion of Superman. Kal-El is more than willing to sacrifice himself to save the people of Earth. Originally reluctant to reveal his identity and powers to the world, Supes decides to turn himself over to Zod to save humanity from annihilation.

When things get tough, Clark Kent seeks advice from a priest. Visible in the background is a large painting of Jesus so you can see Supes and Christ side-by-side.

Superman is a non-violent being. Even though people everywhere seem to want to beat up on Clark Kent, he never returns the favor, always opting to keep the peace.

Jonathan Kent (Kevin Costner), Clark’s adoptive father, is somewhat like Jesus’ adoptive dad, Joseph. Both are tradesmen: Joseph a carpenter, Jonathan a farmer. Superman’s ship (or manger, if you will) is even kept in the Kent’s stable.

And finally, don’t forget the Holy Trinity. Jor-El returns to Kal-El on Earth as a ghost, guiding his budding superhero son on his journey to salvation. Before Jor-El sends his son off to Earth baby Moses-style, he tells his wife that, like Jesus, “He’ll be a god to them.”

With Superman’s seemingly invincible powers, he is.

Read more:

Not so sure Why God is Father but not Mother

Wow, this author “argues like a Jesuit”, probably is one. I am partly persuaded by some of his arguments, but not all. Seems to me we can also call God “Mother” and recognize Her in and above Creation (as supposedly only the Father can be recognized). See what you think…

Why God is Father and Not Mother | Mark Brumley | ;

“The Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man” is how the 19th century liberal Protestant theologian Adolph Harnack once summarized the Christian faith. Nowadays Harnack would find his brand of reductionist religion dismissed as hopelessly sexist and exclusive by many feminist theologians. The “brotherhood of man” might be reworked into “the family of humanity” or its equivalent. But what would they do about the Fatherhood of God? Can we replace the allegedly “sexist” language of Divine Fatherhood with so-called gender-inclusive or gender-neutral terms such as Father/Mother or Heavenly Parent without further ado?

Many people–including some Catholics–say “yes.” “We not only can,” they contend, “we must. God is, after all, beyond gender. Calling God ‘Father’, without adding that God is also Mother, unfairly exalts one image for God above all others and ignores the culturally conditioned nature of all our images of God,” they argue.

A Consensus of the Many and the One

Of course, not everyone agrees. While most “mainline” Protestant churches have acquiesced, Evangelicals, the Orthodox churches and the Catholic Church have maintained traditional language for God–although even within these communions some people’s sympathies run in the other direction.

That the Catholic Church and these churches and ecclesial communities would agree on a point of doctrine or practice presents a formidable unity against feminist “God-Talk.” How often do we find that kind of united witness among that range of Christians? Yet as solid a prima facie case as that makes, a more serious obstacle to feminist revisionism exists–an insurmountable one, in fact. Not the witness of this group of Christians or that, but of Christ Himself. The commonplace manner in which Christians address the Almighty as Father comes from Him. In fact, Jesus actually used a more intimate word, Abba or “Daddy.”

Unfortunately, twenty centuries of Christian habit has eclipsed the “scandal” of this. For the Jews of Jesus’ day, however, it stunned the ear. They did not usually address the All Powerful Sovereign of the Universe in such intimate, familiar terms. Yes, God was acknowledged as Father, but usually as Father of the Jewish people as a whole. Jesus went further: God is (or can be at least) your or my Father, not mere our Father or the Father of our people. Anyone who wants to fiddle with how we talk of God must reckon with Jesus.

But did Jesus really call God “Father”? Few things in modern biblical scholarship are as certain. Skeptics may question whether Jesus turned water into wine or walked on water. They may doubt that He was born of a Virgin or that He rose from the dead. But practically no one denies that Jesus called God “Abba” or “Father.” So distinctive was the invocation in his day, so deeply imbedded in the biblical tradition is it, that to doubt it is tantamount to doubting we can know anything about Jesus of Nazareth.

What is more, not even most feminists deny it. What then to make of it?

Since Christians believe that Jesus is the fullest revelation of God, they must hold that He most fully reveals how we, by grace, should understand God: as Father. Otherwise they tacitly deny the central claim of their faith–that Christ is the fullness of God’s self-disclosure to man. Non-Christians may do that, of course, but Christians cannot–not without ceasing to be Christians in any meaningful sense of the word.

“But surely we must hold,” someone will object, “that Jesus’ view of God was historically conditioned like that of his contemporaries? His masculine language for God cannot be part of the ‘fullness of God’s self-disclosure,’ as you suppose. It was merely a residue of first century Jewish sexism. We must look instead to the ‘transhistorical significance’ of his teaching. And that is not the Fatherhood of God but the Godhood of the Father–that God is a loving Parent.”

Two Errors

At least two false claims lie hidden in that objection. The first is that Jesus’ own concept of God was “historically conditioned.” The second, that we can strip away a patriarchal “coating” to His notion of God to get at the gender-inclusive idea of the Divine Parent beneath. In other words, God’s Fatherhood, per se, is not central to Jesus’ revelation of God, only those qualities which fathers share with mothers–”parenthood,” in other words.

But was Jesus’ view of God “historically conditioned”? Not if you mean by “historically conditioned” “wholly explicable in terms of the religious thinking of His day.” We have no reason to think Jesus uncritically imbibed the prevailing ideas about God. He certainly felt free to correct inadequate ideas from the Old Testament in other respects (see, for example, Matt. 5:21-48) and to contravene religio-cultural norms, especially regarding women. He had women disciples, for example. He spoke with women in public. He even allowed women to be the first witnesses of His resurrection. How, then, on this most central point–the nature and identity of God–are we to suppose He was either unable, due to His own sexism and spiritual blindness, or unwilling, to set people straight about God as Father? Even if you deny Jesus’ divinity or hold to a watered-down notion of it, such a view remains impossible to maintain.

Furthermore, even if Jesus had “picked up” the notion of God as Father from His surrounding culture, we can not simply dismiss an idea as false merely because it happens to have been held by others. Otherwise Jesus’ monotheism itself could be as easily explained away on the grounds that it, too, was generally affirmed by the Jews of the day and therefore must, on this view, be only ‘historically conditioned.’

Nor can we simply ignore Jesus’ teaching about God’s Fatherhood, as if it were peripheral to His revelation. Time and again Jesus addresses God as Father, so much so that we can say Jesus’ name for God is Father. If Jesus was wrong about that, so fundamental a thing, then what, really, does He have to teach us? That God is for the poor and the lowly? The Hebrew prophets taught as much. That God is loving? They taught that as well.

Notice too that these truths–still widely held today–are subject to the “historical conditioning” argument. They are just as liable to be wrong as Jesus’ views about the Fatherhood of God, are they not? They, too, can be explained away as “culturally conditioned.”

Furthermore, Jesus’ way of addressing God as Father is rooted in His own intimate relationship to God. Now whatever else we say about God, we cannot say that He is Jesus’ mother, for Jesus’ mother is not God but Mary. Jesus’ mother was a creature; His Father, the Creator. “Father” and “Mother” are not, then, interchangeable terms for God in relation to Jesus. Nor can they be for us, if Catholicism’s doctrine that Mary is the “Mother of Christians” is correct.

The Real Issue

Undergirding Jesus’ teaching about God as Father is the idea that God has revealed Himself as to be such and that His revelation should be normative for us. God, in other words, calls the theological shots. If He wants to be understood primarily in masculine terms, then that is how we should speak of Him. To do otherwise, is tantamount to idolatry–fashioning God in our image, rather than receiving from Him His self-disclosure as the Father.

Many Feminist theologians seek to fashion God in their image, because they think God is fashionable (in both senses of the word). Many feminists hold that God is in Himself (they would say “Herself” or “Godself”) utterly unintelligible. We can, therefore, speak only of God in metaphors, understood as convenient, imaginative ways to describe our experience of God, rather than God Himself. In such a view, there is no room for revelation, understood as God telling us about Himself; we have only our own colorful, creative yet merely human descriptions of what we purport to be our experiences of the divine.

Whatever this is, it is not Christianity, which affirms that God has spoken to us in Jesus Christ. C.S. Lewis, in an essay on women’s ordination in Anglicanism, put the matter thus:
But Christians think that God himself has taught us how to speak of him. To say that it does not matter is to say either that all the masculine imagery is not inspired, is merely human in origin, or else that, though inspired, it is quite arbitrary and unessential. And this is surely intolerable: or, if tolerable, it is an argument not in favor of Christian priestesses but against Christianity.
Cardinal Ratzinger made a similar point in The Ratzinger Report: “Christianity is not a philosophical speculation; it is not a construction of our mind. Christianity is not ‘our’ work; it is a Revelation; it is a message that has been consigned to us, and we have no right to reconstruct it as we like or choose. Consequently, we are not authorized to change the Our Father into an Our Mother: the symbolism employed by Jesus is irreversible; it is based on the same Man-God relationship he came to reveal to us.”

Now people are certainly free to reject Christianity. But they should be honest enough to admit that this is what they are doing, instead of surreptitiously replacing Christianity with the milk of the Goddess, in the name of putting new wine into old wineskins.

Taking Another Tack

Here proponents of feminine “God talk” often shift gears. Rather than argue that Jesus’ teaching was merely the product of a patriarchal mindset to which even He succumbed, they say that Jesus chose not to challenge patriarchalism directly. Instead, He subverted the established order by His radical inclusivity and egalitarianism. The logical implications of His teaching and practice compel us to accept inclusive or gender-neutral language for God, even though Christ Himself never explicitly called for it.

This argument overlooks an obvious point. While affirming the equal dignity of women was countercultural in first century Judaism, so was calling God “Abba.” Some feminists counter with the claim that the very idea of a loving Heavenly Father was itself a move in the feminist direction of a more compassionate, intimate Deity. The first century Jewish patriarch, they contend, was a domineering, distant figure. But even if that were so–and there is reason to doubt such a sweeping stereotype of first century Judaism–revealing God as a loving, compassionate Father is not the same as revealing Him as Father/Mother or Parent. That Jesus corrected some people’s erroneous ideas of fatherhood by calling God “Father” hardly means we should cease calling God “Father” altogether or call Him Father/Mother.

Feminists also sometimes argue that Scripture, even if not Jesus Himself, gives us a “depatriarchalizing principle” that, once fully developed, overcomes the “patriarchalism” of Jewish culture and even of other parts of the Bible. In other words, the Bible corrects itself when it comes to male stereotypes of God.

But this simply is not so. Granted, the Bible occasionally uses feminine similes for God. Isaiah 42:14, for example, says that God will “cry out like a woman in travail.” Yet the Bible does not say that God is a woman in travail, it merely likens His cry to that of a woman.

The fact is, whenever the Bible uses feminine language for God, it never applies it to Him in the same way masculine language is used of Him. Thus, the primary image of God in Scripture remains masculine, even when feminine similes are used: God is never called “She” or “Her.” As Protestant theologian John W. Miller puts it in Biblical Faith and Fathering: “Not once in the Bible is God addressed as mother, said to be mother, or referred to with feminine pronouns. On the contrary, gender usage throughout clearly specifies that the root metaphor is masculine-father.”

In fact, the Bible ascribes feminine characteristics to God in exactly the same way it sometimes ascribes such traits to human males. For example, in Numbers 11:12 Moses asks, “Have I given birth to this people?” Do we conclude from this maternal image that Scripture here is “depatriarchalize” Moses. Obviously, Moses uses here a maternal metaphor for himself; he is not making a statement about his “gender identity.” Likewise, in the New Testament, both Jesus (Matthew 23:37 and Luke 13:34) and Paul (Galatians 4:19) likened themselves to mothers, though they are men. Why, then, should we think that on those relatively rare occasions when the Bible uses feminine metaphors for God anything more is at work there than with Moses, Jesus and Paul?

Of course there is a crucial difference between God and Moses, the Incarnate Son and Paul. The latter possess human natures in the male gender, while God, as such, is without gender because He is Infinite Spirit. Furthermore, the biblical authors obviously knew that Moses, Jesus and Paul were male and intended to assert as much by referring to them with the masculine pronoun and other masculine language. The same cannot be said about the biblical writers’ notion of God. Even so, they speak of God as if He were masculine. For them, masculine language is the primary way we speak of God. Feminine language is applied to God as if it were being used of a masculine being.

Why the Masculine Language to Begin With?

Which brings us to a more fundamental issue, namely, “What is the masculine language about in the first place?” Since Christianity, as St. Augustine was overjoyed to learn, holds that God has no body, why is God spoken of in masculine terms?

We could, of course, merely insist that He has revealed Himself in this way and be done with it. That would not, however, help us understand God, which presumably is why He bothered to reveal Himself as Father to begin with. No, if we insist that God has revealed Himself as Father, we must try to understand what He is telling us by it.

Why call God Father? The question is obviously one of language. Before we can answer it, we must observe a distinction between two different uses of language–analogy and metaphor.

Sometimes when we speak of God, we assert that God really is this or that, or really possesses this characteristic or that, even if how He is or does so differs from our ordinary use of a word. We call this way of talking about God analogy or analogous language about God. Even when we speak analogously of God, however, we are still asserting something about how God really is. When we say that God is living, for example, we really attribute life to God, although it is not mere life as we know it, i.e., biological life.

Other times when we speak of God, we liken Him to something else–meaning that there are similarities between God and what we compare him to, without suggesting that God really is a form of the thing to which we compare Him or that God really possesses the traits of the thing in question. For example, we might liken God to an angry man by speaking of “God’s wrath.” By this we do not mean God really possesses the trait of anger, but that the effect of God’s just punishment is like the injuries inflicted by an angry man. We call this metaphor or metaphorical language about God.

When we call God Father, we use both metaphor and analogy. We liken God to a human father by metaphor, without suggesting that God possesses certain traits inherent in human fatherhood–male gender, for example. We speak of God as Father by analogy because, while God is not male, He really possesses certain other characteristics of human fathers, although He possesses these in a different way (analogously)–without creaturely limitations.

With this distinction between analogy and metaphor in mind, we turn now to the question of what it means to call God “Father.”

The Fatherhood of God in Relation to Creation

We begin with God’s relationship to creation. As the Creator, God is like a human father. A human father procreates a child distinct from and yet like himself. Similarly, God creates things distinct from and like Himself. This is especially true of man, who is the “image of God.” And God cares for His creation, especially man, as a human father cares for his children.

But does not what we have said thus far allow us to call God Mother as well as Father? Human mothers also procreate children distinct from yet like themselves, and they care for them, as human fathers do. If we call God Father because human fathers do such things, why not call God Mother because human mothers do these things as well?

No doubt, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church (no. 239) states, “God’s parental tenderness can also be expressed by the image of motherhood, which emphasizes God’s immanence, the intimacy between Creator and creature.” Scripture itself, as we have seen, sometimes likens God to a mother. Yet, as we have also seen, Scripture never calls God “Mother” as such. Scripture uses feminine language for God no differently than it sometimes metaphorically uses feminine language for men. How do we explain this?

Many feminists simply dismiss this as sexism by the biblical writers. But the real answer rests with the difference between God and human beings, between fathers and mothers and between metaphor and analogy. The Bible sometimes speaks metaphorically of God as Father. But it would be strange for Scripture so often to call God Father and so seldom to use maternal language, if the whole thing were merely a difference in metaphor. By never calling God “Mother” but only likening God to a human mother, Scripture seems to suggest that God is really Father in a way He is not really Mother. In other words, that fatherhood and motherhood are not on equal footing when it comes to describing God. To understand why this is so, let us look at the difference between fathers and mothers.

Father and Mother

What is the difference between fatherhood and motherhood? A father is the “principle” or “source” of procreation in a way a mother is not. To be sure, both father and mother are parents of their offspring and in that sense both are causes of their offspring’s coming-to-be. But they are so in different ways.

Both mother and father are active agents of conception (contrary to what Aristotle thought). But the father, being male, initiates procreation; he enters and impregnates the woman, while the woman is entered and impregnated. There is an initiatory activity by the man and a receptive activity by the woman. Furthermore, modern biology tells us that the father determines the gender of the offspring (as Aristotle held, though for a different reason).

Thus, while father and mother are both parents of their offspring and both necessary for procreation, the father has a certain priority as the “source” or “principle” of procreation. (This “priority as source” is complemented by the mother’s priority as first nurturer, due to her procreating within herself and carrying the child within herself for nine months.)

This difference between fathers and mothers for the Fatherhood of God is crucial. As Dominican Fr. Benedict Ashley has argued, so long as we compare God’s act of creating to a human father’s act of procreation through impregnating a woman, we speak only metaphorically of God as Father. For God does not “impregnate” anyone or anything when he creates; He creates from nothing, without a partner. But if we move beyond the particulars of human reproduction, where a father requires a mother to procreate, and instead speak of the father as “source” or “principle” of procreation, then our language for God as Father becomes analogous rather than merely metaphorical. As a human father is the “source” or “principle” of his offspring (in a way that the mother, receiving the father and his procreative activity within herself, is not), so God is the “source” or “principle” of creation. In that sense, God is truly Father, not merely metaphorically so.

Can we make a similar jump from the occasional metaphorical likening of God to human mothers in Scripture to an analogical way of calling God Mother? No, and here is why: A mother is not the “principle” or “source” of procreation the way a father is. She is a receptive, active collaborator in procreation, to be sure. But she is not the active initiator–that is the father’s role as a man in impregnating her. A father can be an analogue for the Creator who creates out of nothing insofar as fathers–while not procreating out of nothing–nevertheless are the “source” or “principle” of procreation as initiators, as God is the source of creation. But a mother, being the impregnated rather than the impregnator, is analogous neither to God as Creator from nothing, nor God as the initiating “source” or “principle” of creation. As a mother, she can be likened to God only in metaphorical ways–as nurturing, caring, etc., as we see in Scripture.

One reason, then, Scripture more often speaks of God as Father than likens Him to a mother is that fatherhood can be used analogously of God, while motherhood can only be a metaphor. We can speak of God either metaphorically or analogously as Father, but we can speak of Him as maternal only metaphorically. Thus, we should expect that masculine and specifically paternal language would generally “trump” feminine and specifically maternal language for God in Scripture. For an analogy tells us how God truly is, not merely what He is like, as in metaphor.

But we can go further. Even on the metaphorical level, it is more appropriate to call God Father rather than Mother. To understand why, we return to the difference between father and mother, this time introducing two other terms, transcendence and immanence.

Transcendence and Immanence

Transcendence here refers to the fact that God is more than and other than His creation–indeed, more than and other than any possible creation. This is part of what it means to call God “the Supreme Being” or “that than which no greater can be thought” (to use St. Anselm’s description). Immanence, on the other hand, refers to the fact that God is present in His creation–as the author is “in” his book or the painter “in” his painting, only more so. God created the world and it is marked by His creation of it. But God also continues to sustain the world in being. If He ever withdrew His power, the cosmos would cease to be. In that sense, God is closer to the cosmos than it is to itself–closer than its very own existence is, for God gives the cosmos existence, moment by moment.

Now back to fathers and mothers. We said a father “initiates” procreation by impregnating the mother, while the mother “receives” the father into herself and is impregnated. The obvious difference here is that the man procreates outside and “away from” himself, while the woman procreates inside and within herself. Symbolically, these are two very different forms of procreation and they represent two different relationships to the offspring.

Because the father procreates outside of himself, his child is symbolically (though in reality not wholly) other than his father. Likewise, the father is other than his child (though also not wholly). In other words, the father, as father, transcends his child. Fatherhood, in this sense, symbolizes transcendence in relation to offspring, though we also recognize that, as the “source” of his child’s life, the father is united or one with his child and therefore he is not wholly a symbol of transcendence.

On the other hand, because the mother procreates within herself–within her womb where she also nurtures her child for nine months–her child is symbolically (though in reality not wholly) part of herself. And similarly, the mother is symbolically (though in reality not wholly) part of her child. In other words, the mother, as mother, is one with her child. Motherhood, in this sense, symbolizes immanence, though we recognize that as a distinct being, the mother is also other than her child and therefore not wholly a symbol of immanence.

Now God is distinct from and the source of His creation. He is infinitely greater than and therefore infinitely other than His creation (transcendent). As Creator and Sustainer of creation, He is also present in creation (immanent). And we, as creatures who are both part of creation and distinct from the rest of it, can understand God as transcendent (more than creation) or immanent (present in creation). If we go a step further and use “father” for transcendence and “mother” for immanence, we can say that God’s transcendence is represented by fatherhood, which symbolizes God’s otherness and initiating activity (His being the “source” of creation). Meanwhile, God’s immanence is represented by motherhood, which symbolizes intimacy and union with the things God created. Which leaves us with the obvious question, “If this is so, why does traditional theology use only male language for God?”

The answer: because God’s transcendence has a certain priority over His immanence in relation to creation. And this is for at least two reasons. First, because transcendence, in a sense, also includes the notion of immanence, although the reverse is not true. When we speak of God transcending creation we imply a certain relationship of immanence to it. For Him to transcend creation, there must be a creation to transcend. And since creation resembles its Creator and is sustained by Him, He is present in it by His immanence.

But the opposite is not necessarily so. We do not necessarily imply transcendence by talking of divine immanence. Pantheism (Greek for “all is God”), for example, more or less identifies God with the cosmos, without acknowledging divine transcendence. To prevent God’s transcendence from being lost sight of and God being wrongly reduced to, or even too closely identified with, His creation, language stressing transcendence–masculine terms such as father –is necessary.

A second reason for putting God’s transcendence ahead of His immanence, and therefore fatherly language ahead of motherly language for God, has to do with the infinite difference between transcendence and immanence in God. God is infinitely transcendent, but not, in the same sense, infinitely immanent. Although God is present in creation, He is above all infinitely more than the actual or any possible created order and is not defined or limited by any created order. The cosmos, however vast, is ultimately finite and limited because it is created and dependent. Therefore God can be present in it only to a finite extent–not because of any limitation in God, but because of limits inherent in anything that is not God.

Thus, in order to express adequately God’s infinite transcendence and to avoid idolatrously identifying God with the world (without severing Him from His creation, as in deism), even on the metaphorical level we must use fatherly language for God. Motherly language would give primacy to God’s immanence and tend to confuse Him with His creation (pantheism). This does not exclude all maternal imagery–as we have seen even the Bible occasionally employs it–but it means we must use such language as the Bible does, in the context of God’s fatherhood.

In other words, God’s Fatherhood includes the perfections of both human fatherhood and human motherhood. Scripture balances transcendence and immanence by speaking of God in fundamentally masculine or paternal terms, yet also occasionally using feminine or maternal language for what is depicted as an essentially masculine God. This helps explain why even when the Bible describes God in maternal terms–God remains “He” and “Him.”

The Fatherhood of God in the Trinity

We see, then, that God is Father because He is the Creator and creating resembles human fathering in some important ways. But what if God had never created the world or man? Would He still have been Father? Or what about before God created the world or man? Was God Father then?

The doctrine of the Trinity tells us the answer to these questions is “yes.” The First Person of the Trinity, Trinitarian doctrine reminds us, is the Father. He is, in fact, Father of the Son, the Second Person of the Trinity (CCC 240). Before all worlds and from all eternity, the First Person “begot” the Second Person, who eternally proceeds from the Father, “God from God, light from light, true God from true God,” as the Creed puts it (CCC 242). In the Trinity, the Father is the Underived Principle of the Son (and through Him, of the Spirit as well); He is the Source or Unoriginated Origin of the Triune God.

Again, we draw on the analogy of human fatherhood. As we have seen, a father is the “source” of his offspring in a way a mother is not. The First Person of the Trinity is the “source” of the second Person. Thus, we call the First Person “the Father” rather than “the Mother” and the Second Person, generated by the Father yet also the Image of the Father, we call the Son.

Although the Son is also God and the Image of the Father, He is also distinct from and other than the Father. The Son is begotten; the Father, unbegotten. The Son is originated, the Father, unoriginated. Father-Son language expresses this relationship better than Father-Daughter; Mother-Daughter or Mother-Son language.

Of course because we use analogy, there are crucial differences between God the Father and human fathers. In the Trinity, God the Father begets the Son without a cooperating maternal principle, unlike how human fathers beget their sons. Moreover, God the Father does not precede His Son in time as a human father does his son. Both Father and Son are eternal in the Trinity, hence neither Person existed before the other. Finally, while human fathers and sons share a common human nature, they each have their own human natures. The father does not know with his son’s intellect; the son does not choose with his father’s will. And while they may have similar physical makeup, their bodies are distinct and genetically unique.

Yet in the Trinity, the Father and the Son do possess the same divine nature, not merely their own, respective divines natures as humans possess their own, respective human nature. This is because there can be no such thing as divine “natures”; there can be and is only one divine nature, just as there can be and is only one God. The Father and Son each wholly possesses the divine nature, though each in his distinctive way. The Father possesses it as unreceived and as giving it to the Son; the Son, as received from the Father.

Thus, within the Trinity, there is fundamental equality–each Person is wholly God–and basic difference–each Person is unique and not the Others, not interchangeable. And there is also sacred order, with the Son begotten of the Father and the Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son. This shows that equality and difference, and even equality and hierarchy, need not be understood as opposed to one another, as some feminists claim.

Furthermore, a proper understanding of the Trinity also helps us to see why we cannot just substitute “Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier” for “Father, Son and Holy Spirit,” as some feminists propose. Traditional theology allows us to associate creation with the Father in a special way because of a similarity between the act of creation and the fact that the Father is the Unoriginated Origin of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Likewise, we can associate Redemption with the Son because He became incarnate to redeem us, and Sanctification with the Holy Spirit, because the Spirit proceeds in love from the Father and the Son and the gifts of the Spirit which sanctify are gifts of Divine love. This process of associating certain divine works in the world with a particular Person of the Trinity is called appropriation.

But in all these cases what is associated with or attributed to a particular Person of the Trinity–whether Creation, Redemption or Sanctification–really belongs to all three Divine Persons. In other words, the Three Divine Persons of the Trinity are not “defined” as Persons by these actions, since Creation, Redemption and Sanctification are common to all Three. What defines them as Persons are their unique relations among one another, with the Father begetting, the Son being begotten and the Spirit being “spirated” from the Father and the Son. To reduce each Person of the Trinity to a particular function–Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier –is to succumb to the ancient heresy of Modalism, which denies that there are Three Persons in God and instead holds that there is really only one Person in God who acts in three different modes–Father, Son and Spirit. Or in this case, Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier.

The Father of the Incarnate Son

But we must not stop with the First Person of the Trinity’s Fatherhood of the Son before all worlds. For the Triune God has revealed Himself in history. The Son united Himself with human nature. He is the Son of the Father in His human nature as well as His divinity. This, in part, is the meaning of the Virginal Conception of Jesus in the womb of Mary (Lk 1:35). Jesus has no human father–St. Joseph is His “foster-father.” Jesus’ Father is God the Father and He alone. That is why Jesus refers to God as “Abba”–a highly personal and intimate form of paternal address. Jesus’ existence in time and history parallels His eternal, divine existence as God the Son. For this reason, we must not speak of God as Jesus’ Mother, as if the terms “father” and “mother” are interchangeable when it comes to Jesus’ relation to God. God is Jesus’ Father; Mary is Jesus’ Mother and she is not God.

Fatherhood of God by Divine Adoption and Regeneration in Christ

We come now to God and humanity. Is God the Father of all mankind? In a sense He is, because He created us and, as we have seen, to create is like fathering a child. Yet God also made rocks, trees and the Crab Nebula. How is He Father of man but not also Father of them? Granted, humans are spiritual, as well as material, beings, which means they are rational beings–capable of knowing and choosing. In this, they more closely resemble God than the rest of visible creation. Nevertheless, human beings, as such, do not share God’s own life, as children share the life of their fathers. Thus, we are not by nature “children of God” in that sense, but mere creatures. And, as a result of sin, we are fallen creatures at that.

Yet Jesus tells His followers to address God as Father (Mt 6:9-13). He says the Father will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask (Lk 11:13) and that the Spirit of their Father will speak through them in times of persecution (Mt 10:20). He tells His disciples to be merciful as their heavenly Father is merciful (Lk 6:36). He speaks of being “born from above” through baptism and the Holy Spirit (Jn 3:5). On Easter Sunday, He directs Mary Magdalen to tell the other disciples, “I am going to my Father and your Father . . .” (Jn 20:17).

Elsewhere in the New Testament, God is also depicted as Father to Christians. Through Jesus Christ we are more than mere creatures to God; by faith in Him we become the children of God (1 Jn 5:1), sharing in Jesus’ own Divine Sonship, albeit in a created way (Rom 8:29). God is our Father because He is Jesus’ Father (Jn 1:12). What God is for Jesus by nature, He is for us by grace, Divine Adoption (Rom 8:14-17; Gal 4:4-7; Eph 1:5-6), and regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit (Tit 3:5-7).

Behind this language of Divine Adoption and regeneration is the idea that God is our Father because He is the “source” or “origin” of our new life in Christ. He has saved us through Christ and sanctified us in the Spirit. This is clearly more than a metaphor; the analogy with earthly fatherhood is obvious. God is not merely like a father for Christ’s followers; He is really their Father. In fact, God’s Fatherhood is the paradigm of fatherhood. This is why Paul writes in Eph 3:14-15, “For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named . . .” (RNAB). It is not that God the Father is earthly fatherhood writ large; rather, earthly fatherhood is the faint copy of Divine Fatherhood. This is why Jesus says, “Call no man on earth father. For you have but one Father in heaven” (Mt 23:9). In other words, no earthly father should be seen as possessing the fullness of patriarchal authority; that belongs to God the Father. All earthly fatherhood is derivative from Him.

Thus, God is not Father of those who have not received the grace of justification and redemption in the same way as those who have. Yet they remain potentially His children, since the Father wills the salvation of all (1 Tim 2:4) and makes sufficient grace necessary for salvation available to all. God desires that all men become children of the Father through the Son in the Holy Spirit, hence the universal mission of the Church (Mt 28:19-20; Mk 16:15; Acts 1:8). We can speak, then, in general terms of God as the Father of all men, inasmuch as He created all men to be His children by grace and makes available to them the means of salvation.

Language Given by God

We see now that there are good theological reasons for why we call God “Father,” not the least of which is that such language is not ours to adapt or abolish to begin with. God gave us this language–admittedly through a particular culture and its images–but it was God who nevertheless gave it. God wants us to understand Him as the Transcendent Source of creation, a truth better expressed using the language of fatherhood than motherhood. Within the Triune Life of God, the First Person is Father because He is the Unoriginated Origin of the Son and the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, He is also Father of the Son in history, through the Incarnation. And, by Divine Adoption and regeneration, He is Father of those who are united to Christ in the Holy Spirit–”sons in the Son.” Finally, as a result of God’s universal salvific will, all human beings are potentially children of God, for all are called to share in the Divine Life of grace through Christ in the Holy Spirit.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 1999 issue of Catholic Faith magazine.

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