It seems to be a universal fact that the creator of heaven and earth is male. The masculine pronoun is not only appropriate in the stead of God, it is right and accurate. Quite surprisingly even the idea similarly universal in its acceptance that God is a spirit, hardly presents any objection to the exclusive use of [HE] in reference to God. And it would be both sacrilegious and blasphemous if one dared to use [IT] to represent God as if [HE’s] some inanimate object. But in fact [IT] is, is it not? The human attachment to God, the inspiration from him and the solemn duty to defend his name at all cost are almost pathological. From the conception of morality, laws, and politics to the very essence of human life and value, the presence of God cannot be overemphasized. It is therefore understandable the immeasurable relevance attached to God. In his name Al Baghdadi justifies rape of Yazzidi women and children, Jim Jones encourages mass suicide, abortion is illegal and homosexuality criminalized. And even when we marry we do so because it has been ordained.
Closely connected to all these is the agelong question of whether or not God exists. While the jury is out there on the subject, there’s a more important issue to address. The ascription of the male gender to God is as trite as the belief that it is a fact that he’s probably got a dick or whatever else that makes him male. For instance, it is almost certain that a conclusive evidence may never arise for either side of the debate. In the Al Jazeera Head to Head debate with Mehdi Hassan, one of the world’s renowned scientists and atheist Professor Richard Dawkins admitted that the absence of evidence of God’s existence isn’t significant proof that he does not exist. Because indeed no one can actually prove that nothing exists. The absence of evidence however lays credence to doubts. It exposes a claim to ridicule given the remarkably low bar. But If I ever get to the point of complete belief that God is a figment of human imagination, it will surely not be for lack of evidence or the ills of religion. None of that beats the fact that [HE’s] male.
The ascription of the male gender to God, in my view, even though we also recognize God to be spirit betrays a certain logic. The point therefore goes without saying that, in proving that indeed God is nothing but our own creation, the idea that his maleness is almost universal points to how he’s made in the image of those who created him. Patriarchy and male control of power structures that could shape ideologies, philosophies and narratives in the Middle East and everywhere else where popular religion was founded can explain this better. Nothing else explains why even with our belief that God is spirit, we choose to refer to him as [HE] and not [IT].
But there’s a bigger problem. For years now, various religions have struggled with inclusion and the problem of gender inequality. It is almost the birth-right of any baby born with a penis that he shall have more favour in the sight of society and its religions primarily for his gender proximity to God’s. The Quran seems to validate this. The story in 1Corinthians 11:8-9 is even more familiar; ‘’ For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man’’.
The potential of the narrative to forever impede any effort towards reformation cannot be overemphasized. The idea that God is male is far too convenient an excuse known to patriarchs and their ilk. Gender inequality, male superiority, demonization of effeminate character and the fetishization of masculinity all find comfort in the doctrine of a male God.
In all of the world’s most renowned religions, the evidence suggests the disproportionate distribution of God’s trust and delegation of authority. From Abraham, to Moses, all the way to the only son of God according to Christian doctrine, one would struggle to point to a single prominent female prophet in whom God believed and assigned the noble duty of leading his people and winning souls. The story isn’t any different in Islam for as we may have learned by now, the Prophet Mohammed of Islam was no woman either. Asked Anne Widdecombe a former Conservative MP in the UK and a renowned Catholic why women cannot be Priests, her response was as literal as it was simplistic; ‘’I don’t believe it is any more possible for a woman to represent Christ at the point of consecration than for a man to be the Virgin Mary’’. And given the enormity of religious persuasion on every facet of the human society, it is easily explainable why male superiority almost seems divine.
The phenomenon thus feeds into a dangerous prejudice against women. It goes without saying that even among well intentioned practitioners of faith, if they were minded to make reformations, would be largely constrained by the doctrinal dictates. It takes very progressive, often rebellious and purposive interpreters of the scriptures to make a good case for the inclusion of women and promotion of gender equality. Apologists are quick to cite texts that speak to mutual respect and love as evidence of equality for both sexes. It is a dangerous fallacy that is not only wrong but ignorant. The overwhelming evidence points to male superiority albeit a gentle reminder that all else be treated kindly [including slaves]. After 2000 years, any human institution would need a drastic reform and efforts in that regard if would be impeded by the doctrine of a male God should be aggressively removed.
As is often said; institutions that have taken centuries to evolve must be cast aside with great caution. It is perhaps this that underlies the fears of those who are threatened by the reverse of this order. Clearly if the world woke up to a Christianity or Islam that projected female prominence, patriarchy would attract our sympathy because women would probably have the same justifications to do as men do in the name of God. But there is no need for any of that. A more reasonable alternative is to rid God of the maleness so pushed on him. I should think even the most naïve of persons do not actually believe that the God we have learned about is some huge beard-ganging, white robe-wearing, hair flowing, magnificent, light beaming, immobile giant in a gold plated chair in the middle of the skies. We believe God is a spiritual element and so it is only consistent with our linguistic structure that [he] be referred to as [IT]. And if we are so hurt that God will share the same pronoun with a goat, we can agree to elevate his [i] to an upper case as a sign of reverence, the same way we do now that he shares the same pronoun [he] with a lunatic like Hitler.
I shall not pretend that all the systemic inequality and prejudice in our major religions would suddenly go away with the de-masculinization of God. It would be the heights of pretentiousness to say the least. A little attempt however to remedy a factually incorrect characterization that has become the foundation for male hegemony would be heart-warming. What is better is the recognition this suggests; the need to reconsider strong scriptural positions, even the ones that may cause us discomfort and threaten our privilege.
Abdul Karim Ibrahim is an award winning debater, a journalist and a social commentator.
He's moderated and participated in major national and international debates, public discussions and youth development programs notably; BBC Ebola Debate in Ghana in 2015, African Youth Forum on Sexual and Reproductive Health, Pan African Universities debate Championship in South Africa etc. He's also a recipient of the Global Centre for Transformational Leadership award in 2011 for his leadership and ideas.
He hopes to promote discourse and shape official responses through social commentary.