God is a man, the prophets are men, the angels are men, the devil, the pope, the cardinals, the ayatollahs, the monks, imams, priests, theologians, ministers……stop! Wait a minute, nowadays there are clergy women and female theologians and self-appointed (unofficial) Roman Catholic women priests.
Feminist theologians have proposed to change God’s image from a (white) male into a (black) female. This proposal seems to be very new, but in fact it goes back to an ancient tradition. Religion has only relatively recently in human evolution become men’s work, at least on the outside and in public.
Basically, religion and religious traditions are carried on by women. The primal God figure is as much the Mother (earth) as the Father (sun). In Catholicism, the almost divine figure of Mother Mary is indispensable in everyday religious life. In the countries of South America, for example, images and statuettes of Mary are even more frequently found than Jesus on the cross. Here, the church clearly blends in with an older local tradition.
In the polytheistic (‘with many gods’) religions of ancient peoples such as the Romans, Greeks, Egyptians and others, we find male as well as female gods, which were also worshipped separately. There is a great deal of literature on this subject. The heavens were populated by men and women and their sons and daughters. The origin of this idea must have been the belief that ancestors could return after their death to punish earthlings.
Of an even earlier origin are Hinduism and Buddhism, whose faith is grounded in a female entity: Mother Earth. Next to her, the sun was recognized long ago as the source of life, and the combination sun-earth (father sun as fertilizer of mother earth) as a likely origin of the universe. The God of the Old Testament (3,000 years old) is originally male and female. The first lines of the Old Testament tell us how earth was created. God was called Eloim, which is a plural form. It reads: “Like man and woman in their image, they were created.”
Many other creation myths about sexual intercourse or hatching eggs confirm that sexuality was a subject of intense intellectual interest from the earliest time on.
In the newer religions – Christianity and Islam and the different persuasions these produced, God is pictured as a man. This is intellectual progress: man liberates himself from the older primitive magical female-dominated sexual mythology. This process continued in Christianity. Whereas the virgin/mother Mary remained a major ingredient of Catholicism, the Protestant reformation abolished Mary worship, replacing it with a veneration of the real mother-boss of everyday life. Family ideology is characteristic of protestantism. This is clearly demonstrated in American culture, which at present dominates the western world.
In this modern notion of religiousness, the idea of a male (or female) God ‘in heaven’ is no longer acceptable. Increased knowledge about nature, evolution, the universe and its origin, are putting an end to the primitive belief in supernatural beings. On the other hand, superstition in many forms is part of our psychological make-up. Thus, in books and films and magazines popular images of ‘something’ or ‘someone’ out there combine with fears of the unknown. Real life offers dangers and disasters, deaths and despair, and many people in crisis find solace in religious belief. Also, God as a revenger is a potent image for the downtrodden in this world, and gives them fortitude in their (armed) struggle. Millions still believe in the influence of stars on their lives. All this superstition helps to continue the role of religion in society, even though rationally it no longer makes sense.