Sunday, June 5, 2011

"Aristotle," "Abraham," "an apple," and a "female" "Godde"

This post of mine is about language.  The post has two parts.  In the first part, I want to show some strong reactions to some new English.  In the second part, I'd like us all to look at how we use language.

"the first part"

"Theophrastus" has been conversing with several of us about some of the terms used by the "Christian Godde Project" and particularly about the new English proper nouns, Godde and Christa.  He has said (in the context of one conversation in particular) the following:
By supporting her translation, you are indicating that you are comfortable with "Godde" having a gender. The only debate is does "Godde" have a penis or a vagina?
And 
And, Suzanne, if you so easily favor making arbitrary changes to language, what do you think about her use of the word "Christa"?
And
The "God of the Philosophers" (e.g. Maimonides, Aquinas, Averroes) is impassible and non-anthropomorphic. Shawna [Atteberry, one of the team members of the Project] teaches idolatry.
And
Note also that her translation is called The Divine Feminine Version (which even in its title assigns a gender to "Godde") and her trinity is "The Mother, The Christa, and the Divine Feminine Spirit."
"the second part"

What should be very obvious to all of us is that Theophrastus was one of Aristotle's disciples.  The blogger who has used his name as his very own nom de guerre has subtitled his blog, "What I've learned from Aristotle."  So when we think about Theophrastus and then Aristotle, we have to keep in mind the language and the people and the correspondences and how these fly with our help into various directions.

To help us with this is one of the world's best philosophers, Catherine Z. Elgin.  She has said this helpful thing:
Aristotle, of course, was not named "Aristotle"; the name he went by had a different pronunciation and a different spelling. So the claim that our use continues the chain that began with his being baptized "Aristotle" needs refinement. Then there is the worry that chains that originate in a single stipulation may later diverge. In that case a term has two different reference classes despite its link to a single introducing event.... Ambiguity occurs because correction... allows for alternative continuations of the causal chain.... Each continues the chain, but the two uses of the word... are not coextensive. Nor do we always succeed in referring to what our predecessors did, even when we intend to do so.
This quotation is from Elgin's books, Nelson Goodman's Theory of Symbols and its Applications and Between the Absolute and the Arbitrary, but I once quoted her here just to make the points she's making.  Now I'm making the points that proper nouns in English are useful for us.  The blogger Theophrastus could have never named himself as he's done without this ridiculous transliteration Aristotle, which the real Aristotle would have called absolutely bar-bar-ic, except he would have used the term, βαρβαρισμός·

What Elgin has written a couple of places about the name Aristotle, and how we use it (incorrectly, barbarously) with precision, is exactly what Adele Berlin has said about the name Abraham.  Let's just recall that in Hebrew this name means "father."  Yes, it means more than that.  And we read his story, that narrative about him, in Genesis to get all of that.  Is that all we get?  Even if we only read Genesis and only read it in Hebrew, is that all we get?  No.  And then there's this other thing to consider, like one spouse has to consider the other.  For better or for worse, we get "Abraham" in translation.  And then we really do get less.  And then we get more.  Residue!  But enough of this nonsense.  Let's listen again to Adele Berlin:
Above all we must keep in mind that narrative is a form of representation. Abraham in Genesis is not a real person any more than the painting of an apple is real fruit.
I once tried to picture, to represent all of that, here.  But, to be absolutely accurate and not to mis-quote or to mis-represent anything, let me point you to her book where you can best find, exactly, what Adele Berlin has said in the precise context in which she said it:  the book Poetics and Interpretation of Biblical Narrative.  After all, "Above all we must" is such a really absolute statement.

This might prepare us, finally, after all, to consider "God."  Is it a gender-less representation in narrative?  Does God "have" gender?

Does God have "hardness"?  Now, I'm thinking about the Mohs hardness scale, which we all learned as children.  In the Bible God is a "rock."

Does God have "wings"?  Does God make a "shadow"?  These are biblical re-presentations.

Are these idols?

And what is "narrative" after all?

Well, what if my body is sexed female?  What is narrative then?

And what if my body sexed female is also raced Jewish?  What is narrative then?

And what if my body, because it is sexed female and is raced Jewish, finds itself behind electrified fences?  What is narrative then?

And then where would "God" be?

These are some questions asked and answered by Olga Lengyel, Lucie Adelsberger, Bertha Ferderber-Salz and Sara Nomberg-Przytyk.  God in Auschwitz-Birkenau, they tell Melissa Raphael, a narrative writer, has a female face.  This is what they've lived, where they've been, who they've seen.  But all we have to go on, to believe them, is this book, these words, that representation, called The Female Face of God in Auschwitz: A Jewish Feminist Theology of the Holocaust.

We could call it idolatrous, if our own language and representations are other-wise.  Or we might just listen.

15 comments:

Bob MacDonald said...

Not sure I should enter this deep conversation - but that's part of the entry. I know the Invisible understands a male because I am male. I know that the prohib [pause to find batteries for the keyboard - all discharged] ition against the violent usage of the male identity marker is very clear in Scripture but that this prohibition is distorted by self-seeking and unmediated practice among those who are male. I know less about the female. I must infer what the Invisible may know about such and I must ask others who are not like me. And in listening, as you and the Invisible both command, I must learn to process in a way that is different from my native violence and self-seeking. I infer that the Invisible is both male and female. The male can thus learn to love with encompassing compassion - e.g. psalm 18:1, and the female with mediated assertiveness. The original cursed state of affairs - your desire will be for him but he will lord it over you - is repairable in purity but the gate is narrow and few find it.

All batteries now in charger - having to type on an old keyboard. Archaic script.

J. K. Gayle said...

Bob,
Thank you for entering into the conversation. Do I really "command" anybody to listen? Let me just say I do appreciate the difficulty that some of us have with words. The post here focused on some of the difficulties Theophrastus has expressed, but notice how sympathetic Suzanne is to him when she says, "But your display of distate at the divine feminine, resembles my distate of the divine masculine, so I understand it."

Yesterday, I misunderstood when another of my blogger friends -- Rod of Alexandria -- said I was "defending Christian orthodoxy." (He knew how Jim West had labeled me "emergent," some of the men at BBB had labeled me "postmodern," Deane Galbraith had labeled me a "pseud," and Theophrastus had said he'd thought at one time I was "egalitarian" but wasn't any longer sure.) Immediately, I reacted against Rod's transliterated words "Christian" and "orthodoxy", knowing (I thought) that these labels really have to do with the historical, surer, and more traditional meanings of the atomized roots of words, "Christ" and "orthos", and "doxa". Elsewhere and at other times I'd already declared in some commanding tone, I'm guessing, that I enjoined others to "pick on" various Aristotle and Christian words that frustrate me and that (very) personally "I don't love that word" Christian these days.

Now I see that Rod was really trying to focus on the fact that several words I was quoting, from others' translations, reinforced the difficult-to-gather notion of the three-in-one God. I was quoting Matthew as translated by Willis Barnstone, Craig Smith, and Shawna Atteberry. Barnstone is not a Christian, and Smith calls himself something else. Atteberry's self-identifications liekwise are those she is certainly entitled to! In my post today, if there's any straight and sure opinion at all it's that there are containing words that may be used by people to confine and to define our realities. Then there is freedom from those containments as well. Words can be very personal.

Theophrastus said...
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Theophrastus said...
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Theophrastus said...
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Suzanne McCarthy said...

"But your display of distate at the divine feminine, resembles my distate of the divine masculine, so I understand it."

(Ouch. It's really too bad that I was not able to express my "sympathy/empathy" with fewer typos. Such sloppiness on my part!
I long to delete myself also sometimes.)

Back to Shawna, I like the use of "Lady" in the DFV, as it is very reminiscent of the Aramaic/Syriac mother God, and feminine spirit. It also brings to mind the Virgin Mary, queen of heaven and mother of God.

It is only these last few centuries of enlightenment thinking that we are starved of "feminine nourishment", that we lack the nourishment of the mother God.

And I do not mean that the masculine does not have this ability to nourish. I mean rather that the mother God is a symbol and a model to both men and women to be providers with the nourishing touch. There is nothing that we need more as human beings, both men and women, babies of both sex, than to be clasped to the breast/bosom of another person. And in the original Hebrew/Greek, this word was gender inclusive.

If we cannot transcend the God of stereotypic and crippled western enlightenment masculinity, then we must have not only a "Lord God," but also a "Lady God."

Better though, in my mind to embody the powerful feminine and the powerful masculine in a harmonious way, in such a way that demonstrates to anyone who wants to attend, that the father and the mother, the teacher and mentor, the patron, are essentially human first, and both sexes can fully fill these roles - fully!

But for centuries we have suffered, some of us anyway, from the domineering masculine, or from the absent feminine. This needs to end.

Personally, as a woman, with my cultural presuppositions, and ingrained social feminine reflexes, (nothing to do with my innate capabilities) I would say that we need to sit around a table, drink our tea or coffee, and be nourished by a shared meal. Not that I am such a great cook, by my heart is in the right place just the same.

Suzanne McCarthy said...

And a little plea, that if you are going to cite me, Kurk, that you fix up my errors while along the way.

Kristen said...

Business caused me to miss out on a lot of the conversation of the last few posts, which seems largely to have been deleted, but I would like to agree with Suzanne here-- and with Kurk's repudiation of "words used to confine and define," when I think words are best used to describe and transmit. Sometimes when words have been used to confine and define us, it's hard to switch gears to understand that they are now being used to describe and transmit-- to communicate one soul to another rather than to box souls away from one another.

I can see how the use of the "Divine Feminine" in words such as "Godde" and "Christa" might seem like defining God in a way that confines men and keeps them from inclusion-- and for that reason I myself would prefer not to use such feminine terms. However, I also do find myself saying, "now you know what it feels like," and hoping that knowing what it feels like to be excluded from the default images of the Divine, will result in understanding and compassion towards those of us who have lived with exclusion from the cradle to the grave.

But I do agree with what Theo said at one point, along the lines that two wrongs don't make a right-- so I do not like males to feel excluded from the Divine either. God is the Fountain and Source and Root of all being, and is not male or female.

The key, I think, is to let go of self-defensiveness, and try to hear what is really being said. Easier said than done, I know. Believe me, I know.

Kristen said...

There is another thing that I have felt, though, that it might be good to bring up-- and that is that some of the reactions I have seen (not necessarily here, but certainly in these types of contexts) against any depiction of God in feminine terms, seem to be reactions of indignation. And it seems to me that sometimes the indignation is not so much from a feeling of exclusion, but from a deep internal sense that it's somehow insulting to God to be depicted as feminine.

I have seen this especially in certain vitriolic reactions to the book The Shack, in which the Father presents Himself at times as a black woman, in order to shake the main character out of the presupposition that God is a white male.

But the problem is not so much that the Father is shown as black-- the problem is the female image. I think there is still, deep in the heart of our culture, a certain misogyny that we all have imbibed since before we could talk, and which comes out as indignation at what our unconscious minds tell us is somehow an insult to the Divine-- that It could be thought of in any way as female.

It's sad. But I think unless we recognize it and look it square in the face, we are doomed to participate in this cultural misogyny without conscious intent.

Bob MacDonald said...

Kurk - your command (like those of another) was not difficult - but invitational.

J. K. Gayle said...

Suzanne,
("liekwise," my own typos show. And, if not being so sloppy myself, I'll do my best to correct those typos of yours and others that I can find when I quote you in a blog comment next time. ha.)

Thank you for your several observations here of the feminine gendered words that nourish when "the mother God is a symbol and a model to both men and women to be providers with the nourishing touch." Especially significant, I feel, is how you emphasize here present and lived experience not just abstract constructs that can be used for dominance and then for one's domineering another; thanks for saying this:

"Personally, as a woman, with my cultural presuppositions, and ingrained social feminine reflexes, (nothing to do with my innate capabilities) I would say that we need to sit around a table, drink our tea or coffee, and be nourished by a shared meal."

Kristen,
You really are practicing what you preach here, symbolizing and modeling not only sympathy with empathy but also real appreciation for the predicament that the words "Divine Feminine" and "Godde" and "Christa" might put Theophrastus in. Thanks for suggesting and acknowledging what you said, with a possible warning:

"The key, I think, is to let go of self-defensiveness, and try to hear what is really being said. Easier said than done, I know. Believe me, I know.... It's sad. But I think unless we recognize it [i.e., our indignation over the female image] and look it square in the face, we are doomed to participate in this cultural misogyny without conscious intent."

Bob,
Thanks. I hope you and others always feel this way when reading my words here at this blog: "not [necessarily] difficult - but invitational."

Theophrastus,
Why delete those comments of yours? You have much to say and some of us would like to listen, to learn.

At some point, I think you know, I'm interested in both of us listening to (again) and (more) learning from Olga Lengyel, Lucie Adelsberger, Bertha Ferderber-Salz, Sara Nomberg-Przytyk, and Melissa Raphael. In her introduction (p 9), Raphael advises how instructive the lived experiences:

"The accounts of [concentration] camp sisterhood need not, then, only be weighed historiographically against their counter-evidential opposite, but can be read theologically as midrashim or narrative commentaries on the presence or face of God in Auschwitz. Here theology synthesizes the ethical and the aesthetic, linking the experience of divine presence to human ethical vision (not as choice, but as having acted because one has seen and known)."

And what have these Jewish women confined by electrified fences seen and known?

"And to be present is transitive; it is always and only a positioning of one to the other. So that Israel's God is nonetheless and accompanying God whose face or presence, as Shekhinah, 'She-Who-Dwells-Among-Us', goes with Israel, in mourning, into her deepest exile, even if Israel cannot see her in the terrible crush." (page 6)

"When a woman [confined in Auschwitz] saw or looked into the face of the suffering other (and that other's filthy, beaten, vacated face, was not easy to see and to look upon) the divine humanity of that face could be traced through the thick scale of its physical and spiritual profanation. Because what has been traced has appeared it also becomes knowable. What could be see, but may not have been recognized, also becomes knowable. What could be seen, but may not have been recognized, was God as Shekhinah - the presence of God among us in our exile. While God is never a visible material form she is figurable in experience." (page 8)

J. K. Gayle said...

This is a 2-part comment on some of the comments in this thread.

1 - I'm grateful to the person who let me know that I'd included a link that went nowhere. In my initial reply to Bob, it should be

"pick on" various Aristotle and Christian words linking to here.

2 - The "author" is Theophrastus for each of his deleted comments that now just look like this:

"Theophrastus said...

This post has been removed by the author. "

Please know that, as Theophrastus himself has chosen to do, you may remove any comment here that you make. But I'm always happy when you decide to leave your comments.

Kristen said...

Thanks for your gracious words, Kurk. Your quotes from the Jewish women are very moving.

Shawna R. B. Atteberry said...

First, I'm sorry for not getting over sooner and replying in the comments. I didn't make it over until Saturday night then I'm usually not on the computer on Sunday, so I'm just now getting caught up with all the comments.

And I am completely gobsmacked. I wasn't expecting anything like this as a reaction from my book. I knew it was controversial, but the web is such a big place, I'm just dumb founded over the response here. And not just the amount of comments, but your thoughtfulness and sympathy and empathy for both the subject and each other. Reading through the comments has been very humbling.

My emphasis on the Divine Feminine is to bring attention to it because we've heard Godde in male terms exclusively for so long. I think of Godde as both Father and Mother, King and Queen, and Lord and Lady. I emphasize the feminine because it's been marginalized for centuries.

What I want to do I can't say better than what Suzanne has already said:

Better though, in my mind to embody the powerful feminine and the powerful masculine in a harmonious way, in such a way that demonstrates to anyone who wants to attend, that the father and the mother, the teacher and mentor, the patron, are essentially human first, and both sexes can fully fill these roles - fully!

But for centuries we have suffered, some of us anyway, from the domineering masculine, or from the absent feminine. This needs to end.

Personally, as a woman, with my cultural presuppositions, and ingrained social feminine reflexes, (nothing to do with my innate capabilities) I would say that we need to sit around a table, drink our tea or coffee, and be nourished by a shared meal. Not that I am such a great cook, by my heart is in the right place just the same.


That's exactly what I want to do, and don't worry Suzanne, I love to cook. According to my husband and friends, I'm a pretty good one too. So food is taken care of for our meal.

Again thank you so much for all of the thought, time, and care you've put into your responses. I'm still gobsmacked.

J. K. Gayle said...

Thank you very much for your comment, Shawna (gobsmacked and all) :) !

The more I learn of the divine feminine project you're working on, the more I see how biblical, feminist, and with "some Jewish precedent" it is.