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Religion Column

March 3, 2012

Religion column: God created 'human beings' in his own image

"So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God, he created them; male and female he created them." The Hebrew Scriptures, Genesis 1:27, New Living Translation

What a powerful message _ we are made in God's image. Many religions have taught that humans were made in the image of their god or gods. It's an obvious, if not somewhat egocentric, means of experiencing and understanding the divine. What does it mean if we look like God? If God looks like us? It certainly puts humans in a place of supreme importance. All humans? Well, that's another question entirely.

I chose this particular translation purposely. It is a modern translation of the scriptures from 2007. The translators chose to use "human beings" in place of the more traditional, less inclusive "man." In the last 40 years, we've paid more attention to our use of language. We've come to realize that words matter. Some words divide us and exclude parts of the human family -- even when they are intended to convey messages of love and inclusivity. This scriptural passage was updated to make room for all of humanity within the image of God. It is a good start _ but it hasn't gone far enough.

In the late 1700s, as a part of the enlightenment, many Christians started reading their sacred texts rather than relying on the clergy for interpretation. Some went even further, finding early translations to read. The Universalists, an offshoot of the Christian tradition, were quite interested in these early texts. In them, they discovered God referred to with both male and female pronouns. God as man AND woman? This was a powerful expansion of their understanding of God. They wrote hymns to give praise to both Mother God AND Father God. This reminded them that God was in everyone _ men and women; that all were beloved children of the creator; that neither gender was greater in the eyes of God. It was a radical message in 1790. Sadly, it seems to still be radical today.

Even in this modern translation, God is male. Perhaps that was the pronoun used in the earlier texts. Perhaps it is part of the male-centric nature of the tradition _ of most faith traditions. This imagining the divine as exclusively male often leads to a bias in our beliefs and actions. Recently, there has been a rash of disrespectful and even harmful actions taken against women by men claiming to be acting according to their religious beliefs. Men have lied about Planned Parenthood and its efforts to provide safe, affordable health care to women. Male clergy have objected to insurance companies providing birth control to women. Male and female legislators in some states have passed laws that make it harder for women to sue for sexual discrimination. Examples such as these are depressingly abundant.

I find myself wondering, as I watch these attacks on women's rights by religiously minded men, how their actions are informed by their understanding of their god. How might they act differently if the god they worshipped was not just the Father and the Son, but also the Mother and the Daughter? What if God was a woman ... and we were made in her image? Who's rights would be in danger then?

The Rev. Craig Schwalenberg is minister at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Oneonta.

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