Saturday, October 29, 2011

Religious radicalism and the masculinization of God

Religious radicalism and the masculinization of God
Satrio Wahono, Jakarta | Mon, 10/24/2011 6:56 PM
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We apparently live in fear now that terrorist bombers are flourishing in the country. Less than a year after the suicide bombing of the police headquarters in Cirebon, West Java, we have again been shocked by similar acts of terror at Bethel Injil Sepenuh Church (GBIS) in Surakarta, Central Java, in late September.

This series of events inevitably leads us to the gloomy conclusion that the movement driven by radical religious doctrine has not disappeared in Indonesia. Such a doctrine believes that any means — including the use of violence — are justified to overthrow an order perceived as secular and corrupt. In exchange, followers of the doctrine aspire to establish an ideal order that they believe will be approved by God. Therefore, analyzing such a doctrine is important for us in an attempt to neutralize it.

If we assume that radical doctrine justifying the use of violence is a dependent variable, a possible independent variable is what I call the “masculinization of God”, which means a doctrine that perceives God as a “He” or a “Man” who is strict, violent, reason-oriented and shares typical male characteristics.

Any gender theory will teach us that there is a distinct demarcation between masculinity and femininity. The former is identical with reason, which leads to an ambition to have control over nature and seek singular truth. It is also emotionless and violent. In short, the spirit of masculinity is the spirit of domination.

On the other hand, the latter is identical with emotion, leading someone with a feminine nature to develop peaceful and caring characteristics. In other words, the spirit of femininity is the spirit of restoration.

Based on the binary opposition, the masculinization of God inherently contains two erroneous assumptions. First, the process assumes God, which is supposed to be gender neutral, as a substance that recognizes sex. In the context of Islam, for example, as illustrated by Dr. Kaukab Siddique in Menggugat Tuhan yang Maskulin (Critiquing Masculine God), this is partially because the Koran refers to God as huwa (“He” in Arabic).

Second, the first erroneous assumption perceiving God as dominantly male in turn generates a masculinized version of Islam. This means that such a version of Islam venerates physical power and justifies any means to achieve dominance over other parties, especially over those that are different or a minority.

How unfortunate it is since the two erroneous assumptions can actually be overcome if Muslims realize that the Koran doesn’t always use masculine terms to refer to Allah. For example, every chapter (sura) in the Koran always begins with “In the Name of God, the All-Compassionate and Merciful (rahîm)”.

The word rahîm is derived from rahm or womb, which is identical with women and femininity. As a consequence, God essentially also has feminine attributes that prioritizes restoration over domination, caring and nursing people over coercing them. In turn, this creates a possibility to postulate a version of Islam that is more peaceful, tolerant, inclusive, kind and caring for people who are different and in the minority.

Since one of the factors causing the religious radicalism that is behind the suicide bombers is the masculinization of God, a logical solution to the problem should be to restore the perception that God is the omnipotent substance that should be gender neutral. In short, this means that we have to demasculinize God.

Based on the perspective, God or Allah is neither a male nor a female. Therefore, God actually has feminine as well as masculine attributes. Moreover, the Mercy of God covers all creatures, making God only see the deeds of people, not their gender, in passing His judgment.

As a result, the demasculinization of God should be conducted by recognizing and incorporating feminine attributes into religious doctrine in order to promote a balanced version of religion.

That is, a version of religion that aligns emotion with reason, peaceful attitude and strictness, domination with restoration. Hopefully, such a version will bring us an inclusive religion that believes other religions can also offer ways to achieve salvation in the afterlife.

Such an inclusive version of religion is not impossible. For example, one clause in the Second Vatican Council reads that Christianity believes there are other means of afterlife salvation in other religions, since the mercy of God transcends and surpasses the boundaries of theological doctrine.

All in all, it is the right direction for us to avoid classifying God as a masculine substance, since God should indeed be gender-neutral. Besides, the masculinization of God will only bring us a dangerous version of religious radicalism whose side effects can assume a destructive form such as a suicide bomb.

So, it will be better for all of us faithful to believe in a gender-neutral God to promote a future version of religion that can provide mankind with hope and enlightenment instead of destruction.

The author is a columnist and writer.

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