Monday, May 27, 2024

God's Pronouns

 Annamaria (she, her, hers) on Monday

I am potentially going to get myself into a lot of trouble with this.  My thinking about the subject is serious and heartfelt.  An inquiry into an important topic that might, on the page, come across as flippant.  Or blasphemous (more about which later).

I went to Catholic school for seventeen years.  In fact, except for a couple of  graduate courses at Columbia University in statistics, all of my formal education was under the auspices of the Church.  At college level, the nuns gave me a full scholarship, for which I am profoundly (not - under these circumstances - to say "eternally") grateful.  Theology and comparative religion courses were required.  I got A's. I tell you this to reassure myself that I have spent a lot of time learning about and thinking about an all-powerful, omniscient, eternal deity.

Of late, though, I have been wondering how the Supreme Being got to be male in gender.  I ask this, I swear to you, not out of envy, though it does mean that human men get to be the same gender as God.  There is not a cell in my body that wishes it were male.

But, for Earth's three dominant religions, God is male.  The Lord.  God, the Father.  So in English, God's pronouns are he, him, his.  I don't know of a language in which this is not the case. Perhaps in Aramaic or Ancient Hebrew, there were pronouns that applied only to God.  Or perhaps those languages don't have pronouns at all.  The only nonEuropean language that I know at all is Mandarin.  And it has pronouns.

Considering that God is not a person, in the normal meaning of that word, wouldn't it make more sense to refer to that powerful, but in a lot of ways unknowable being as "It."  Shouldn't God's pronouns be It, It, Its?  Christians believe in the Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the son, and the Holy Spirit.  Two of those parts of God have the masculine gender (father and son, not mother and daughter).  But collectively couldn't they be spoken of as They, Them, Their? Or perhaps, shouldn't the Supreme Being have pronouns that apply only to God?


How do we know that God is masculine?  Is it because men have dominated so much a human history for so long that they endowed God with their masculinity.  In the Old Testament recounting, God speaks, gives voice to requests and admonitions.  As far as I recall, God had spoken only to men.  (When God had a message for Mary, he sent the Angel Gabriel.)  When God spoke to Abraham, Moses, and Elija, did they hear a man's voice and therefore conclude that God was a man.  Or were God's pronouns already masculine.

I should stop here, before I stray into even more dangerous musings about how God got to be masculine.  I might be accused of blasphemy.

But now I am going to do something really cheeky, that also might be considered offensive.  I am going to stray into a plug for a book.  As many of you know, my Africa series follows the Ten Commandments.  Each plot revolves around the sin that is forbidden by the commandment. But the central crime also involves a sin that has no Commandment, that I think should have one.  June 1st is the launch date for a beautiful new edition of Vera and Tolliver #3: The Blasphemers.

The Third Commandment forbids blasphemy, the sin of misusing God's name, something I have noticed that happens a lot.  Just as I was beginning work on that story, a friend put up a picture on Facebook that was a case in point.  It was at the time when there was a lot of public noise about the legality of gay marriage.  The offensive picture in question was of a storefront in Alabama.  The entire front window was covered with a huge sign that said, "Jesus Hates Gays." Blasphemy, I said.  With all those years in Catholic school, I knew all of Jesus' words.  Never did he say he hated gays.  In fact, he never said anything about gays at all.  And he came out strongest against hate. Jesus preached radical love.  The Third Commandment forbids taking the name of God in vain.  Putting word's in God's mouth is a forbidden sin.

In The Blasphemers, the worst villains give their religion as a reason to murder.  The other sin in this book is the subjugation of women.     


  1. Congratulations and Much Success on bringing back "The Blasphemers".... and for your erudite bible-based exploration of the need to replace he/she and him/her with it and they. By the way, in Hebrew there is a name for God that's spelled out, but forbidden to least that's what I (think I) remember from my many years of sectarian education, Sis.

  2. Thank you, bro! I have known from Orthodox friends that they do not say God's name. Perhaps your son (my nephew?) the rabbi can tell us if the deity is generally seen as masculine.

    Speaking of the biblical, this week one of my favorite funny podcasts was joking about Justice Alito blaming his wife for the upside-down flags at their residences. Somebody on the show quipped that Alito was following the practice of Adam and blaming the sin on his wife. "Cherchez la femme" has a LONG and Ignoble history!