Talking About God: Doing Theology in the Context of Modern Pluralism
by David Tracy and John B. Cobb, Jr.
Chapter 6: God and Feminism by John B. Cobb, Jr
In my first chapter I asked whether belief in God is compatible with being fully informed by the scientific spirit and by what science has shown us about our world. I argued that indeed it is if we cease to think of God as the one cause of all things or the sole cause of any event or entity and think of God instead as the giver of life and freedom, the source of creative novelty, the one who in love creates the possibility of our love. I have claimed that to adjust our thinking about God in this way is not to retreat from larger claims that once more fully expressed the logic of faith.
Instead, this way of thinking of God states more clearly what faith has intended. The encounter with science compels us from without to purify our thought of God from views of power that are sub-Christian. In this sense, at least, science is a resource for thinking about God.
In my second chapter I described the challenge that comes to belief in God from the discovery in the East that beliefs in deities, more or less resembling Christian theism, belong to the less developed stages of the religious life. Especially in major forms of Buddhism every belief in God is seen as a form of clinging that blocks our achievement of the ultimate goal -- Nirvana. Here is a challenge to Christian belief in God from within the area of religious experience itself. I have responded by showing that there is no necessary contradiction between belief in God and Buddhist assertions about the reality, when the nature of God is rethought in light of Buddhist criticisms. I have argued that the removal from our image of God of every element of substantiality is a gain in the purity of our expression of what is known in faith, and that in this sense Buddhism, too, is a resource for our thinking about God. The practical question that remains as yet unsettled is whether the Christian can existentially experience Buddhist Emptiness without relinquishing faith in God.
The encounter with the contemporary women's movement raises quite different questions about God. Whereas many in our time have come to the conclusion that the thought of God has lost its power, feminist theologians have shown us once again that the idea of God is bound up with the deepest attitudes of life. These inherited attitudes shape the behavior of both women and men --often quite unconsciously -- and for the most part they function to restrict and oppress women.
If the Christian God is part of the fabric and sanction of an oppressive system, feminists ask, can women really continue to worship "Him"? Indeed, if the worship of God supports and reinforces this system, must women seeking liberation from this system not oppose all worship of God? Alternatively, can our ideas and experience of God be so altered that worship of God will become part of the liberation of women instead of their continued oppression?
There are special problems involved when a male theologian addresses questions of this sort, problems of such seriousness that it often seems that silence is the only appropriate role. Women are rightly reacting against millennia-long conditions in which men have undertaken to speak for women and to determine the structure of relationships between women and men. Women properly assert that they should speak for themselves and that men should listen.
But to listen seriously to what women are saying is to be affected in one's total perspective and understanding. For a male theologian to listen seriously is to have his received ways of thinking of God placed in a quite new light, a light that reveals their inadequacy and falseness. Such an experience requires a theological response involving changes in language and conceptuality and in the understanding of the church and the theological enterprise.
I would like, accordingly, to make clear that in this chapter I am not trying to give advice and counsel to the women's movement or to feminist theologians. I think I understand how inappropriate and unwelcome such an effort would be. On the other hand, I am not trying to expound and support their views. They are far better able to do that themselves. Instead, I shall indicate what fresh reflection about God has been stimulated in me as a male theologian by my encounter with the women's movement.
There is a second difficulty in undertaking this topic. Whereas science and Buddhism have been around for a long time, the current women's movement is very young. Some generalizations about science and Buddhism can be formulated on the basis of a large, established literature. This is not possible with respect to feminism. As women break through to creative freedom they move rapidly from height to height and from depth to depth. The cutting edge of their insights and concerns in one year is overtaken in the next. This dynamism is a mark of vitality. It reinforces the feminist sense that only from inside the movement can it be understood and interpreted. A male listener can at best respond to particular ideas generated by the movement from time to time, recognizing that these are abstracted from the dynamic flow. This chapter would be more accurately entitled: "God and Some Challenges to Christian Theism Suggested to a Male Theologian by the Women's Movement."
That title seems clumsy, but I hope that I have made clear, first that this chapter is not about feminism and, second, that it certainly does not pretend to be presented from the feminist point of view. It is a male theologian's response to a simple but extremely important charge that he has heard as he has listened to feminists. This charge is that males have worshipped a male deity and foisted this worship of maleness on females as well. When first confronted with this charge we men are likely to respond defensively that it is ridiculous. We insist that we have always known that God as Spirit is beyond gender. The whole
question of gender suggests an anthropomorphism that we believe ourselves to have outgrown. True, we speak of God as "he," but that, we think, is only because of long-established conventions, first, that when both sexes are involved the masculine gender is used inclusively, and, second, that when the gender is indeterminate, but the personal character is important, we use the masculine gender neutrally.
However, this whole convention is now under sharp and critical attack. We have been made conscious of the fact that when we refer "neutrally" to a person as "he" we have in fact favored both in our own minds and in the minds of the hearers the image of a male. That the "he" would be a female is felt as the exception. Where the roles we have in mind are predominantly occupied by women, as with secretaries or nurses, for example, we shift to "she" when we have no other knowledge of the situation. In other words, the neutral use of "he" is not so neutral after all.
The insistence by women that we avoid the supposedly neutral "he" in referring to persons seems to many people to be too small a matter to warrant the attention it receives. However, it has a practical and existential importance that is far greater than initially appears. Human beings are linguistic creatures, and a change of language is a change of consciousness. To change one's habits of speech, many of us can testify, is also a consciousness-raising event. It forces us to examine the images associated with the words and the habits of mind and attitudes associated with these images. Perhaps eventually we will be able to arrive at a neutral singular pronoun, but meanwhile we must learn to live with the awkwardness of its lack.
If the use of the masculine for neutral purposes has led to serious distortion in reference to humans, we must look again at our language about God. Has it not, despite our protestations, carried with it the image of God as male? Do we not think of God, the Father, as loving us as a father does rather than as a mother does? Do we not find it shocking, even threatening, to hear God referred to as "she"? Does this not tell us men that, despite our protestations, we do in fact worship a male God? Does this not mean that we have deified maleness? Is this not idolatry? Are we not guilty as charged?
When we men recognize our guilt, we may try first to unburden ourselves by what we call "cleaning up our sexist language." If our intention all along has not been sexist, as we like to think, and if we discover that nevertheless the sexist language has led to sexist images, we are required for the sake of our own liberation to find a language that is free from the insidious male bias.
There are several ways to do this. One is simply to repeat the word God and to avoid the use of the pronoun. I have employed this device in these chapters. Another is to use the neuter pronoun with "deity" instead of "God," as the antecedent. These shifts in linguistic usage can be made without seriously jarring the hearer. A more radical proposal is to use "he or she" with respect to God as we are learning to do with respect to persons neutrally referred to. It is also possible to alternate the use of the pronouns. One proposal is to identify the third person of the Trinity as feminine and hence refer to the Holy Spirit as she, while allowing the Father and the Son to be he.
The chief value of such experiments is to raise our consciousness about the extent to which our images of God have been male. As this happens we can consciously introduce more female images into our thinking about God. Eventually the use and power of female images may remove the still-jarring effect of referring to God as she. For the present, however, it is important for us to recognize and reflect upon the shocking fact that the God we have worshiped really has been masculine. This is not a metaphysical statement, but it is a statement about metaphysical thinking about God as much as about religious images. Historically, whatever God's true nature and identity may be, God has been experienced, conceived, and spoken of as masculine. The masculine character of God has not always been viewed as a minor matter. The history of religion knows female as well as male Gods. In the religious imagination of antiquity the sexual character of the Gods was far from muted.
There was no doubt in the Hebrew mind that Yahweh was a male God. The use of the masculine pro- noun and of masculine images was certainly not incidental.
Nevertheless, the Hebrews in considerable measure desexualized Yahweh. Indeed, one reason for the choice by men of a male deity over a female deity was that only in relation to the male could men partly desexualize their experience of the divine. Men could relate to a male as a person without regard to specifically sexual attributes; but not to a female. Yahweh was denied a consort, and any thought of Yahweh as involved in sexual activity was wholly blasphemous. In other words, in order to envision God as transcendent of sexual involvement and interests, God had to be conceived by males as male.
This development in Israel is paralleled by that in Greece. The Greek philosophers were well acquainted with a pantheon of male and female deities. They found the stories of the antics of these gods disgusting. For them the thought of deity was of a reality radically transcendent of such matters. So they affirmed one God, which they too conceived, although less anthropomorphically than the Hebrews, as masculine.
Similar developments took place in the emergence of the higher religions in the East. The movement from polytheism to different forms of monism or the quest for a principle that transcended the multiplicity of the world was associated with leaving sexual differentiation behind, but it was through the image of the male that this was done.
The distinction of masculine and feminine in deity has deep roots. Typically the deities of earth and soil are female, the deities of the sky, male. To this day this imagery has a deep hold upon us. The God who is up there and out there seems male; but when we turn to the God of the depths, female imagery pours in upon us. As women have made us keenly aware, there is a close connection in our male imagination between the body, the earth, and the female, over all of which we men experience ourselves as transcendent lords, sharing this transcendence, perhaps, with the purely transcendent one, God.
Given this history of the male imagination, it is no light matter to introduce feminine language and feminine images into our thought of God. Images are too deep and too powerful to be readily exorcised, and our religious life is richly informed -- consciously and un-consciously -- by these images. The religious life that is oriented to a female deity is different from that oriented to a male deity. We need to ask ourselves whether this is a shift we can affirm, or whether, indeed, we can affirm even a partial movement in this direction.
Let me reemphasize that I am here reflecting as a man about the meaning of the new sexual consciousness for men. I am not saying that for women the male God is more transcendent of sexuality than the female God. That is a difficult question, since the male has exercised dominant influence on public images and their written transmission. What we know of the female gods is chiefly what they meant to men, not what they meant to women. The historical interest of women, therefore, centers more upon the rediscovery of the understanding of deity in matriarchal cultures, that is, in cultures where women rather than men shaped the public images. For some women, it is possible to idealize those cultures and envision the hoped-for future as in some measure a return to them. From such hopes men are excluded.
On the other hand, men can discover attractive elements in the earlier religious forms that gave prominence, if not dominance, to female deities. The tension between men's sexuality and their spirituality was far less in that context. Every aspect of their being was recognized and given its due in relation to some deity, whereas with the rise of the one transcendent God a hierarchical order was im- posed on the inner life. Nevertheless, the achievement of responsible, personal existence with its partial transcendence of the bodily and emotional life is one that is not lightly to be cast aside. Indeed, one of the complaints of women is that they have been too much excluded from the attainment of such transcendent personhood.
My own conviction is that we must view our history dialectically. We may suppose a prehistorical matriarchal culture in which hierarchical structures and role definitions were less oppressive. We may suppose that in that culture there was little intemalized guilt and anxiety, a strong feeling of mutual belonging and participation, and little inhibition of the expression of feeling and desire.
The emergence of male dominance shattered this harmony. What it achieved was a new kind of personhood. In this it was aided by the transformation of religious images and the heightening of the divine transcendence. But for the attainment of male liberation a price was exacted from the female.
Indeed, this price has been enormous. Women have been exploited, enslaved, dehumanized, and objectified. This factual debasement has been rationalized by a vilification that has been sanctioned by the highest authorities including the Christian church, Women have been forced to serve men's sexual purposes by men who have felt shame in their own sexuality and have dealt with their shame by projecting it on women.
The demand that women be subservient was a need of the male not because of his full liberation but because of its limited and precarious character. The male who is confident in his inner strength as a whole person has nothing to fear from the liberation of the female. But the male who cannot incorporate his sexuality into his liberated personhood requires for his sexual potency and enjoyment a subordinated female.
The time is now long overdue for a new movement of the dialectic. Women cannot wait for men so to complete their liberation that they are fully ready for the liberation of women as well. We have had our chance. Our liberation has gone far enough that women have been able to taste some of the elements of liberation. That taste is sufficient to whet the appetite for more. So women are demanding full liberation, believing that only as they liberate themselves will the liberation of men also be completed.
This can be translated simply into full equality of men and women with optimal opportunities for both to develop their personhood. But this is not the full message of the women's movement. In their taste of what men have achieved in terms of liberation into responsible personhood, they have also sensed its limitations more clearly than have men. Men have been calling for wholeness, but women do so with keener existential passion and insight. They do not want to swap the partial wholeness they have known for the tensions and anxieties of transcendence. They want wholeness and transcendence.
Men can view this cry as naive and Utopian. We, too, would like to have both wholeness and transcendence, but we have learned through painful experience that they are in tension with one another. For the most part we have settled for transcendence without wholeness. But alternatively, with greater faith, we may credit the women's vision. Perhaps personal wholeness with transcendence has been impossible thus far because transcendence has been connected with the oppression of women. Perhaps if men and women seek it together, under the guidance of liberated women, the longed-for wholeness can be renewed without the sacrifice of transcendence.
This would complete the dialectical process. We begin with the thesis of wholeness in a matriarchal society. We set against that the antithesis of the liberation of males in a patriarchal society. We now seek a synthesis in the liberation of females without loss of wholeness. Since in this final stage the leadership must be in the hands of women, we may think of it as a new matriarchy, although this need not mean the hierarchical social subordination of men.
To interpret what is now occurring as the culmination of a vast historical dialectic may be an exaggeration. The present women's movement may be no more than a minor ripple leaving behind greater equality under the law but no profound change in our existence. Even if that should prove true, I suggest that the historical situation is such that this ripple will be followed by larger waves until eventually a more fundamental existential revolution is accomplished.
History is full of ironies. In the name of peace we fight wars; in the name of Christ we torture; and in the name of liberty we en- slave. The present stage of the women's movement is no exception. Its mission is to bring wholeness with transcendence. Its effect is to introduce new tensions, anxieties, and guilt. The rhetoric of the movement is confused and its leaders are divided.
Nevertheless, even now men can learn much from what is occurring as the leadership in working out the relations between the sexes passes back, after these millennia, into the hands of women. Our response as males may determine whether in fact we are witnessing the birth pangs of a great historical synthesis or only a new abortive struggle that will leave unhealed wounds.
My topic here is the response of a male theologian to the feminist unveiling of the maleness of our traditional God. I have set this topic in the context of a vast historical dialectic, for otherwise it tends to seem abstract, and women have taught us that our images of deity are intimately bound up with our total existence. Men must now acknowledge that our worship has been distorted by our own need for liberation in such a way as to inhibit the liberation of women. We can also see that our liberation is forever incomplete as long as it is based on the oppression of women and the exclusion of the feminine from that which we worship. Accordingly, while we listen to those women who are struggling to recast their faith in ways appropriate to their new insights, we must continue our own work of rethinking God.
If my previous comments have merit, then the deeper question is that of the relation of transcendence and wholeness. The vision of a radically transcendent God accompanied the movement toward transcendence for men. But the loss of human wholeness on the part of men was associated with images of God that also lacked this wholeness. This is expressed in one-sidedly masculine characterizations of the one transcendent God. The one-sidedly masculine transcendent God appeared in fullest form in the Newtonian age. Newton's deistic God stands radically outside his creation. (I say "his" advisedly in this case, for it is clear that this God is a modern male sky God.) This God commands and demands and justly rewards and justly punishes the actions of his creatures.
Rooted in the mystical tradition of Jacob Boehme and Friedrich Schelling, Paul Tillich has provided us with an alternative way of thinking of God. Tillich's more pantheistic God is the being of all things in so far as being is understood in its unitary depths. (This is the metaphysical version of the Mother Gods of the Earth) To exist is to rise out these depths only to be drawn back into them again. Tillich's God contains and grounds our being even in our assertion of our individuality in freedom, but that assertion is somehow also a necessary estrangement from God. We are called to have the courage to be despite the pain of this estrangement, but it is not clear Row that call can come from God. It seems more the male struggle for liberation from the all-embracing and all-consuming Mother.
I am suggesting that although Tillich provides us with a God we might characterize as feminine, this is "feminine" from the traditional perspective of the male. Hence the move from the Newtonian father to the Tillichian Mother would not in itself suffice to support the full liberation of both sexes. The worship of this God might confirm the sense of wholeness in the depths but not encourage the always partly rebellious assertion of transcendence.
If we have in Newton's God transcendence without wholeness and in Tillich’s God wholeness without transcendence, we need an understanding of God as inclusive of both. We need to think of God as the prod and the lure to liberation and transcendence, and at the same time the inclusive wholeness to which that transcendence distinctively contributes.
In the two preceding chapters I sketched elements of a doctrine of God as these are suggested in response to the challenges of the scientific world view and of Buddhism. In the first, the emphasis was on God as the source of relevant possibilities through which we are empowered to transcend the past and constitute ourselves by our own free decisions. In the second, the emphasis was on the "Emptiness" of God in the sense that God has no substance or character except openness to all that is. This openness is Emptiness, and this Emptiness is perfect fullness. It is appropriate now to test these ideas against the new challenge offered by feminist theology.
Can the worship of God in this sense be appropriately liberating for women? Can it assist their guidance of men into the new wholeness that lies beyond transcendence?
To me it seems that this is a hopeful direction to pursue. In this vision, the God who calls and goads us toward freedom and transcendence is also the God who responds tenderly to our failures as well as to our successes and who achieves in her own life a harmonious unity of all that is.
Here I have risked the feminine pronoun out of the conviction that as we reflect upon this aspect of deity, its responsive, tender, and inclusive wholeness, the feminine motif asserts itself in our male imagination. But this is a feminine from which the male does not need to become free through courageous self- assertion. On the contrary, this is a feminine whose reality reassures us that, as we take the risk of freedom, whatever happens, we are loved and that taking the risk is in itself important.
Mary Daly has charged that even if the idea of God were so changed as to escape its offensively masculine character, Christianity would remain a male religion. This is because God is seen in history in the form of a male, the man Jesus. Whatever God may be apart from our history, God is mediated to us in masculine form. For the liberated woman, she insists, this is unacceptable.
There can be little doubt that Christianity has been and now is a male-dominated religion. Male domination is characteristic of all the major religious Ways. All were founded by men, all have been governed by men, and the public shaping of their basic images has been dominated by men. It is arguable as to which among them have done better, and which worse, by women. A case can be made that Jesus himself was remarkably free from typical attitudes of men toward women, but this is scant comfort for women who find that these typical attitudes have governed the church to our own time. Further, the fact that Jesus was a man and chose men as his key disciples is still used at times as an argument against the ordination of women. Hence there is no gainsaying Mary Daly's point that Christianity is a religion founded by a man and controlled by men, within which women's contributions have been carefully restricted and contained.
If we are now to argue that although this has been true in the past, Christianity need not remain a male-oriented faith, we are saying something very significant and even radical. Mary Daly is saying that male-orientation is of the essence of Christianity. If Christianity has an essence, it is difficult to deny that a part of that essence is the worship of God through the male, Jesus Christ, the one mediator between God and the world. Other elements in the church's thought and practice have not balanced this male-orientation. Hence to say that Christianity need not continue to be male-oriented in this way is to deny that it can be understood in terms of an essence. It is to assert that Christianity is a living movement that can become what it has not been. What seems essential to its being in one period may become peripheral in another and may even disappear in a third.
I am not suggesting, however, that in our day Jesus has become peripheral to the most vital elements in the Christian movement, much less that he has disappeared. I am suggesting that the way we understand his role has changed and can change, and that the further changes that are required if Christianity is to become a truly liberating movement for all of us are possible.
Jesus did not come to proclaim himself or even to proclaim the reality of God. Jesus understood his mission as the preaching of the Kingdom of God. He directed his followers not to himself but to that which he heralded. His own importance lay in his announcement of the kingdom and in his preparation of those who responded. Through their response, the kingdom was already fragmentarily realized in his own table fellowship and ministry, but it was still to the coming kingdom that Jesus directed attention.
In the words of Bultmann, after the resurrection of Jesus, the proclaimer became the proclaimed. The church directed attention to the Jesus who had proclaimed the kingdom and was vindicated in his resurrection rather than to the kingdom he proclaimed. That kingdom the church identified partly with its own life and partly with eschatological judgment. At times Christian communities undertook to realize the kingdom on earth at least in anticipatory forms, and the eschatological element has never been entirely lost, but for the most part the church became Christocentric.
In recent theology something of the balance present in Jesus' own understanding has been recovered. In Catholic circles Teilhard de Chardin turned attention to the future consummation as the meaning-giving focus of all our interests. He saw Jesus as playing an initiatory role in the process of Christogenesis through which the Omega is being formed. Omega is an inclusive wholeness of all in which personal transcendence is not lost but fulfilled. Wolfhart Pannenberg has similarly renewed in Protestant circles the focus on the coming Kingdom which is the resurrection of the dead. Jesus' importance is as proclaimer of that Kingdom whose message was vindicated by the proleptic occurrence of that Kingdom in his own resurrection. For him, too, the Kingdom is a unity or wholeness in which personal transcendence is fulfilled.
As a modern Christian, I question how literally I can or should take the expectation of an actual consummation of the historical process. It seems possible that history may end in self-extinction rather than in consummation. But I am convinced that we should be guided by images of hope that arise out of our faith through serious confrontation with the problems and possibilities of our time. The Christian's attention should not be on what has happened but on what will or can happen. Of course, her or his perceptions are shaped by the past and are sharpened by repeated return to their sources of nourishment. But our judgments about how to order the life of the church and society should not be derived from how this was done in the first century. They should be derived instead from our anticipation of how they will be ordered in whatever we can understand to be the hoped for and fulfilling future, that which counts for us as the Kingdom of God.
It is true that the phrase "Kingdom of God" is masculine. But we are certainly not bound to that. Kingdom translates basileia, which in the Greek is feminine, as is the corresponding word in Hebrew. It is true also that the image of the Kingdom is associated with ideas of hierarchical authority and judgment in ways that may also be decried as masculine. But on the whole, Christian visions of the future fulfillment are less skewed in a masculine direction than are other features of Christian thought. In the End, it is recognized, there will no longer be discrimination between male and female. The wholeness that is envisaged includes both.
It would make an interesting study to examine Christian eschatology from the feminist perspective. I assume that, in addition to some fruitful images, much would be found that would prove offensive. But this is not what is important to me now. Our present visions of the fulfilled or consummated future will be informed by our new awareness of the rightful claims of women. Indeed it is they who are most convincingly envisioning a new future that will break from the past while growing out of it. They are even now trying to live toward and out of that future. It will be a future in which the masculine is subsumed within a new feminine.
Christianity as a movement will not be faithless to Jesus in following the leadership of women in the envisaging of a new future. On the contrary, it will be a more appropriate response to his call to live toward and out of the basileia than has been most of the Christianity in the intervening years. As the vision grows and changes, so the Christian movement will adjust and adapt. It cannot know in advance what aspects of its past will prove indispensable resources and what will prove to be the false riches that cannot be carried into the new age. Christianity must find its way in response to the continuing work of divine liberation.
In my own view there should be conformation between the End as we envisage it before us in our history and the inclusive wholeness that is the everlasting life of God. In this sense our prayer must be that God's will be done on earth as it is in Heaven. This means that as in God we can distinguish between the giver of freedom, who urges us to dare great things, and the assuring lover, who accepts us in both success and failure, so in history we can distinguish between Jesus, who calls us to live from the New Age, and the New Age toward which he directs us. In our view of God we can see that the two sides call forth imagery that is respectively masculine and feminine, but that it is finally the feminine that includes the masculine. So in history we can see that the male Jesus is finally taken up into a unity which we can learn to experience as a new form of the feminine.
The time has now come to bring this chapter, and this section of the book, to a conclusion. There are many loose ends. In fact, I am leaving you mostly with loose ends.
Nevertheless, my intention has been that these chapters be suggestive of a hopeful and exciting situation in regard to our conceiving of God. What has seemed distressing has been that the inherited doctrine is attacked in so many ways from so many conflicting sources. In that situation it seemed there could not be enough hands to stop the leaks in the dike. It seemed only a matter of time before the possibility of belief in God would be gone for thoughtful, open minded people.
That has been an increasingly widespread feeling in our time, and many have acted upon it by simply giving up the belief. But if it turns out that the fresh reflection we do in response to one critique leads to ways of conceiving of God that are appropriate to the response to other critiques as well, then it may be that a new understanding of God is emerging that can have wide-spread relevance and convincing power. If such conceiving of God can inspire people to creative imagination and personal dedication intelligently directed, if it can draw us into a deeper understanding of people of other traditions, if it can heal the divisions that arise in our own corporate life as Christians, then the death of God may indeed be followed by the resurrection of God.
I have certainly proved nothing so grandiose in these chapters. Each would require vast development, and the whole would need to be tested in relation to other topics of equal importance to those that have been treated. Three such topics come particularly to mind.
One is the problem of evil. The faith in God of numerous persons, simple and scholarly, has foundered in confrontation with the horrors of history or with personal suffering. They ask, how can a good God cause or allow such appalling evils. And the answers they have heard from traditional theists and popular pietists have been profoundly unsatisfactory. It is my conviction, however, that there is an answer, and that the kind of thinking about God that I have proposed in these lectures embodies it. It requires that we transform our notions of God's power. God's power is the power that makes us free. It is incompatible with the sort of power that would interfere with the consequences of our actions. At each moment God creates new freedom in the world we have made by the way we have used our past freedom. Since I cannot say more about this here, I would like to call attention to a recent book by David Griffin, God. Power, and Evil, in which he lucidly and painstakingly shows the failure of classical theism to respond to this burning question and provides an answer that is in harmony with the way of conceiving of God that I have offered.
A second topic is the environmental crisis as it has heightened our awareness of our disastrous attitudes and relations to the creatures with whom we share this planet. Again, traditional forms of Christianity have been part of the problem more than part of the solution, and even now they continue to play this role. The traditional doctrine of God has been central to the misdirection of our efforts and attention. To continue to worship God in such a way that our attention is withdrawn from our interconnectedness with the whole creation and is focused only on our own inwardness before him (again, I use the masculine advisedly) will only heighten our destructiveness. It intensifies our sense of the distinctness of the human from the rest of the created world and encourages us to see that world as simply a stage for our human drama. It neglects the extent to which the drama destroys the stage and thus also the possibility of its own continuance. It allows us to try to solve the problems of the poor by ever greater production and thus to avoid the problems of distribution. I have written at length on these matters elsewhere. I mention them here to say that the same adjustments of the concept of God that are called for in the encounter with science, Buddhism, and feminism are needed also in response to the new consciousness of the fragility of the planetary biosphere.
A third topic is political liberation, and here much work remains to be done. There is no doubt that the liberation which Christians are concerned with must be the liberation of oppressed races and classes as well as the giving of freedom to the individual. The God of whom I have been speaking appears individualistic when this contrast is sharply drawn whereas the God of the Old Testament was seen to act in historical events for the sake of the entire people. Advocates of political or liberation theology often stress this contrast and dismiss the kind of theology I have been advocating as bourgeois and pietistic.
In a new way this brings to the fore the old question as to the relation of the individual and the society. Do we change individuals through structural social changes or do we change society through changing individuals? The answer, of course, is that neither can occur effectively except in interaction with the other. A change in consciousness is required before oppressed people will assert their rights, but at the same time, if they do not see a connection between their new consciousness and a changed situation, the new consciousness will remain abstract and ineffective. The most impressive expression of this indispensable unity with which I am familiar is the work of Paulo Freire. He has developed a "pedogogy of the oppressed" that in the process of teaching oppressed peasants to read also conscienticized them, that is, made them aware of the realities of the situation. This awareness was also empowerment to establish goals and to order action to the achievement of these goals. The teacher trusts the peasants' own wisdom to set goals and to direct action. Thus the teacher functions to break the barrier to the effectiveness of God's liberating work in and through the peasants.
In the form given to political liberation by Freire a bridge can be built between the idea of God developed in these chapters and the more usual images of God that are associated with liberation theology. However, many problems remain. One cannot but wonder whether the effort to adjust the doctrine of God both in relation to the Buddhist realization of Emptiness and in relation to the demands of political theology may be impossible. But it is my hope that it is not. My hope is guided by the faith that there is in reality and truth one God who guides, directs, frees, and empowers us all, individually and collectively. If that is so, we have only to be sufficiently attentive to truth wherever we find it, and the reality of that one God should appear. The adventure of theology is to be about this business.