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She Who Changes; re-imagining the divine in the world.
Carol Christ.
 Palgrave Macmillan 2003.  Hb $24.95.

Carol Christ is a thealogian whose essay Why Women Need the Goddess has influenced a great many women towards a Goddess path.

In her previous book, Rebirth of the Goddess, she endeavoured to develop a formal theology of Goddess.  When showing her book to various theologians, she discovered that the approach she had developed for herself was very close to that of a form of theology known as process theology. Unlike conventional theology, this is compatible with feminism, and Christ argues that it is enriched and deepened when a feminist approach is taken into account. One of its founders, Charles Hartshorne, at the age of ninety-nine, was happy to revise his work of seventy or so years earlier so as to get rid of the use of male pronouns; even in his earlier work he sometimes referred to the divine as He-She.

The first issue Christ discusses is whether a theology or a philosophy of religion is relevant to most of us. Many would claim that a feminist spiritual practice and a relationship to the Goddess is all that we need. Christ argues that, though this has been and still is of value, we need to go further. “Philosophical assumptions underlie everyday statements we make about the relation of Goddess or God to our everyday lives.” (p. 10). For instance, the idea that all suffering has a purpose is based on a particular notion of the divine. And references to the Goddess as Queen (replacing references to God as King) still use a hierarchical language that perhaps should be rejected. “[P]hilosophical conceptions are involved in all feminist constructions and reconstructions of religion. As I will show, we are implicitly making philosophical judgments or assuming philosophical positions all the time. Since we are doing so anyway, I believe it is better that we do so consciously.” (p. 7). The problem with much philosophy (including the original works of process philosophy) is that it is extremely technical and elitist, and does not offer much to people who are reflecting on the meaning of life. So philosophy is important to us all, if only it can be presented in an understandable way. One of the great virtues of Christ’s book is that she makes difficult ideas comprehensible to us. I am reminded of Mary Midgley, another philosopher I like greatly who also does this.

“[P]rocess philosophy states that all life is in process, changing and developing, growing and dying, and that even the divine power participates in changing life. Human and other beings are not things … but are active process ever in relation and transition. … Process philosophy’s divinity has a body, which is the whole world. In process philosophy all beings are connected in the web of life. Process philosophy makes no absolute distinctions between human and other forms of life.” (p. 3). All these ideas are similar to ideas from feminist theologies and thealogies. I would add, that they can also be found in much paganism. I was listening the other day to The Moral Maze on BBC Radio 4 where there was a discussion of paganism. The spokeswoman for paganism made a good case, but this was completely rejected by the panel. As is common with that program, members of the panel seemed ignorant even of traditional philosophy, but I also felt that the pagan speaker might have got a more positive response had she been able to refer to process philosophy.

Hartshorne identified six common theological mistakes of classical theism. These are: God is perfect and therefore unchangeable, omnipotence, omniscience, God’s unsympathetic goodness, immortality as a career after death, and revelation as infallible. (p.33). The issue with God’s “unsympathetic” goodness is that (p. 35) “If God cannot change, then how can God be intimately involved with the creation and the creatures, whose very nature it is to change … If God cannot be intimately involved with the changing world, then what can it possibly mean to say that God is love?”

Christ devotes a chapter to each of these mistakes, looking at process philosophy’s alternatives to them. In each case, “process philosophy values qualities or capacities that traditional thinking has identified with vulnerability, weakness and women.” (p. 44). At the end of each chapter she asks whether the source of the mistakes lies in a rejection of women and the female body. These chapters explore process philosophy, showing how feminism can deepen its approach. The next-to-last chapter begins with a descriptive vision of Goddess (contrasted with an earlier conventional descriptive vision of God), and is particularly addressed to feminists, indicating how process philosophy can help in forming feminist theology. The last chapter, on re-imagining symbols, contains a discussion of symbols and how we may change old ones and create new ones; it concludes with some new blessings and prayers.

Those whose main interest is in specific goddesses, or in finding a personal connection with the divine experienced as Goddess, will not find much to interest them in this book. But I was very taken by it. If you want to try to understand the nature of Goddess/God (the term Christ uses), and the relationship of Goddess/God to creation and creatures, this is an important book, making complex ideas clear. I would like anyone interested in theology to read it, as I believe it has the capacity to show theologians that there is a solid philosophical basis on which conventional theology can be transformed.

Wood and Water 84, Winter Solstice 2003
© Daniel Cohen                    

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