Freedom had been hunted round the globe; reason was considered as rebellion; and the slavery of fear had made men afraid to think. But such is the irresistible nature of truth, that all it asks, and all it wants, is the liberty of appearing.
~ Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, 1791 ~

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Did you ever wonder why God is a "he"?

God's gender

Did you ever wonder why God is a "he"?

I mean, we know how to determine the sex of almost all animals in the animal kingdom. We know how it works. We know why it is that way. That part all makes sense. If you're not sure, ask your parents.

Some living things don't reproduce sexually (bacteria, for example). We don't refer to those as 'he' or 'she'. It simply doesn't make sense to do so.

And then you realise God reckons he is male. That's weird. I have so many questions.

Or perhaps it's just that the Bible was written by males, and they thought God should be male too. Isn't it interesting how the non-divine explanation always seems to fit so well...

So many mistakes...

Did you ever wonder why the god of the Bible makes so many mistakes?

For example, Adam and Eve sinned just a few chapters in, and the entire paradise was ruined. Cain murdered his brother, and eventually the world became full of evil and we've only made it to the sixth chapter. Did God not see it coming? Is that the best or only scenario he could possibly create?

Rather than a deity who was perfect and knew the future in advance (meaning he could plan ahead, perfectly), we see instead a bumbling deity whose plans continually fail. The Old Testament continues in this cycle of epic failures, while attempting to blame fallible, mortal humans for corrupting the will of an all-powerful, all-knowing deity. How powerful is this god really, if we can so effortlessly thwart his best-laid plans?

Wait, what if we didn't mess up his plans? If we didn't thwart his plans, then it means he intended it to happen exactly like that. Every. Last. Detail. And still he blames us...

But he gave us free will, you might say. Ok, but then he cannot be all-knowing. Otherwise, even with free will, he still knew the outcome of every action and could have tweaked events in people's lives to influence them just the way he wanted. Every time he intervened, he played with the outcome. Even if he didn't intervene, he still knew the outcome, and could have changed it. With that level of power and foreknowledge, he would still be in complete control of our actions. The free will card doesn't get him out of jail.

Do as I say, not as I do...

Did you ever wonder why the God who commanded "Thou shalt not kill", ended up being the Bible's biggest killer?

Does it bother you when the Bible says God "hardened Pharaoh's heart" and then judged Pharaoh for it?

Or when God made Adam and Eve with built-in lusts, and then told Adam not to eat from the tree, which God had carefully placed there, knowing full well that he would?

As the ultimate parent, isn't it a little troubling when God's methods often boil down to "Do as I say, or I'll kill you"? Jonah's message to Nineveh was almost exactly that. If the flood story were true, many babies would have drowned along with their mothers and fathers. God sat back and watched it happen. Likewise when the Israelites were told to commit genocide. The Bible says men, women, and children were slaughtered. It was God who apparently gave the command.

Christadelphians say they want to be like God, but it seems to me that if they actually did behave like God they'd be arrested and locked up very quickly. And rightly so.

Ironically (or perhaps not, depending on your view), we find that the behaviour of God tends to closely align with the culture in which each book was written. It's also curious that for a God who "doesn't change", he is rather a lot softer in the New Testament, when the Romans were in power. Perhaps their iron chariots were too much for him (see Judges 1:19).

Women in subjection... Written by men...

Did it ever seem just a bit too coincidental that the Bible, a book predominantly written by men, tells women they are to be in subjection to men?

For example: Gen 3:16; 1 Cor 11:3,8-9; 1 Cor 14:34-35; 1 Tim 2:11-12, etc.

The main characters are also predominantly male, the deity itself is male, the saviour is male, and women take a back seat throughout most of the book. Yes, there are some notable female characters, but they are relatively few. And Solomon, supposedly the wisest man who ever lived, had very little in the way of positive things to say about women. This might give men a bit of a chuckle around the dinner table, but it's no laughing matter when the Bible has often been used to justify the suppression of women throughout history.

Once again the treatment of women in each book of the Bible tends to align with the culture and time in which each book was written. Just like it would, if it was a book written by men.

The gap between a human book and a divine one seems roughly equivalent to our creative ability to rationalise away the difficulties. Anyone can make up excuses for God. It's easy to think of ad-hoc explanations for why God's perfect plan and perfect book just happen to look somewhat imperfect. This is called apologetics.

Bible Apologetics

Did you ever wonder why apologetics is even necessary?

If God, who is perfect, wrote a book, why is the book not perfect? And if you claim it was perfect, how is it that the God who could perfectly dictate the words to write, was not able to perfectly preserve those same words?

Isn't it strange that Jesus felt the need to appear to Paul, to correct his mistaken views, but doesn't appear to people of other religions?

Isn't it weird how the Bible tells of many miracles and proofs of God's existence, but God's powers seem to have gone rather silent, especially since the invention of video cameras? Miracles apparently don't work very well under controlled scientific conditions.

Apparently God wants us to have faith. Or perhaps the humans who wrote the Bible just didn't want us asking too many questions. Requiring faith is very convenient when you don't have sufficient evidence to convince people. It's doubly convenient when you don't have sufficient evidence to convince yourself.

But faith carries a fatal flaw. It is indistinguishable from self-deception.


  1. Did you ever wonder why God is a "he"? Yes.
    However, I'm not sure how much of it is original scripture, and how much is translation. There are plenty of "male" references in Hebrew/Greek that are translated gender neutral because they are obviously not gender specific. It has to be a translation choice because Ancient Hebrew and Greek don't treat gender neutrality in the same way as English. God could actually be the same.

    1. This seems a bit hand-wavy.

      Are you saying all the references to God as a "Father" are there simply because they didn't have the right word to use?

      Or are you going further still and claiming that the authors actually never thought God had an associated gender at all, and the gender association is purely a later development due to translation?

      It doesn't really matter either way. I just see this as evidence that better fits the "man created god" hypothesis than the "god created man" hypothesis. You could argue either way, but the "man created god" explanation is far simpler.

    2. Sorry, if it's hand-wavy I must have been in a hurry.
      No, I suspect you are right that the original writers thought God was male because they were the dominant gender, and why would you have a powerful female? But we can't know for certain. Part of the reason "gender neutral Bibles" are such a battlefield in translation is because there is no 100% reliable way of guaranteeing which uses were intended by the author as gender neutral, and which as gender specific (though many have tried to specify rules).
      Other systems with multiple gods did have male and female distinctions that made some sense because they did have children and do other traditionally "male" or "female" things. None of this fits well with a monotheistic god. I'm not sure that those now who insist on God being male have really thought through the implications.

    3. I don't know if I'm right or not. This article is not really about firm conclusions. It's just about exploring some ideas I've had over the years.

      The title only refers to the first bit, not the whole article. It really doesn't matter to me one way or another, but you've raised some interesting points - so thank you for that.

      //there is no 100% reliable way of guaranteeing which uses were intended by the author as gender neutral//

      It seems you've touched on the problem of interpreting a somewhat ambiguous text when the author is no longer around to correct your mistakes and clarify what they meant.

      I see this much wider issue as a real issue with biblical interpretation in general, but this particular case is interesting too.

      I tend to think that the idea of a monotheistic god actually evolved from polytheism in a sense. If you're familiar with evolution (and I'm pretty sure you are), it seems that mutation and selection of a kind were at work in the progression of theistic ideas over time. Just another rabbit hole of ideas I've had. :)

    4. But I've heard that there's no way life as we see it could have evolved in 6,000 years. How could an all-powerful god evolve in that time?

    5. I hope that was tongue in cheek :-P

      The god didn't evolve. The idea did.

  2. A friend shared an article on this that I found interesting.
    Though I find the conclusion somewhat uninspiring (basically: of course God's not male - but since he chose to reveal himself that way we have to accept it).