Thursday, June 05, 2008

A Dialogue on Gender, Metaphor and God the Father

I am posting another dialogue that transpired privately between me and an interlocutor who shall remain nameless. I have replaced his actual name with a pseudonym:

If cultures or societies decide what gender is, then
the phenomenon is somewhat arbitrary. But I would not
categorize what I believe about gender as arbitrary.
According to my paradigm, God created man as a
masculine being, woman as a feminine creature; he also
created masculine and feminine pairs of animals.
Nevertheless, sociologists and anthropologists tend to
define the term "gender" (used in a non-grammatical
sense) as a sociogenic or anthropological phenomenon. My
earlier comments reflected this common practice of the
social sciences.

Further, I deny that there can be no gender without
a bilogical entity of some kind. The sky is
masculine. The sea is feminine. Day is masculine.
Night is feminine.

Are they? How do you know (in the sense of justified true belief) that the sky is masculine or the sea is

You may be inclined to follow the pervasive nominalism
of our society in declaring this eisegetical. But on
what basis? What's to prevent this from being
exegetical--reading it out of nature? The linguistic
consensus surely seems near unanimous across history
and historical cultures.

If the sky's gender, for example, can be read out of
nature, exactly how does one go about reading it thus?
And, as I see it, the onus probandi
is not on me to say what prevents your approach from being
eisegetical. Do you not have the responsibility to
provide justificatory utterances that logically
validate your position? ;-0 Finally, IMHO, linguistic
consensus is just that.

I don't follow your point about James 1:17.
Further, I don't deny that God in Himself contains
both masulinity and femininity, since He lacks
nothing. But I would insist that (1) in relation to
us He is properly masculine, and (2) that this
masculinity is not an arbitrary or merely human,
cultural development, but revealed as properly
His nature.

My point about James 1:17 is that it seems nigh or
even downright impossible to construe the text as
saying God literally fathered the celestial lights.
Maybe you view the matter differently.

I agree that God is masculine (not sure about the term
"properly") in relation to us. And I've never denied
that the conceptual association of "God" with "Father"
in Scripture is catalogical (i.e. emanates from
above). So I'm not contending that the divine appellation
"Father" is arbitrary or merely human. What I am
arguing is that God evidently inspired humans to speak in such
human cultural terms so that "He" might be mentally
grasped, to an extent, in order that we might come to
understand (somewhat) the divine functions and
beneficences. But the word "Father" does not tell us whether God
is ontologically masculine or feminine. I tend to think God is
above gender, however, for reasons hitherto delineated.
Please explain to me how such a view is "arbitrary."

I refer you to my previous discussion in the
foregoing paragraphs. You may think that we human
beings read non-biotically based gender INTO nature,
but on what basis do you assume that? On what basis
do you assume it couldn't be read OUT of nature.

Keep in mind that we're talking about how humans press
their respective natural languages into service. I thus
make my previously mentioned claims on the basis of my
ongoing studies in human language. For example, abstract
and impersonal attributes are spoken of in feminine
terms at times (e.g. SOPHIA or hOKHMAH). A man, that
is, the Son of David is referred to in feminine terms
(e.g. QOHELETH). Both a male child and a male lamb are
described with neuter nouns (e.g. PAIDION and ARNION).
These examples could be multiplied, but I think the
point I'm trying to make is somewhat established.
Grammatical gender is largely a social construct:
it doesn't necessarily tell us
anything about a particular animate or inanimate
referent's natural gender, although it might.

Even in times of antiquity, Arnobius of Sicca wrote:

"Yet, if you consider the true state of the case, no
language is naturally perfect, and in like manner none
is faulty. For what natural reason is there, or what
law written in the constitution of the world, that
should be called ['used with'] hic, and sella
['used with'] haec?--since neither have they sex
distinguished by male and female, nor can the most
learned man tell me what hic and haec are, or why one
of them denotes the male sex while the other is
applied to the female. These conventionalities are
man's, and certainly are not indispensable to all
persons for the use of forming their language; for
paries might perhaps have been called haec, and sella
hic, without any fault being found, if it had been
agreed upon at first that they should be so called,
and if this practice had been maintained by following
generations in their daily conversation" (Adversus

None of the foregoing means that I deny God's role
in gifting us with language.

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