About ten years ago a heated discussion broke out in class over the gender of God. Some of my Christian students were arguing that God is clearly male, and that the Bible was very clear on this matter. “So what are you saying,” a female student fired back, “God has a penis?” It was a good question. And she did not raise the question disrespectfully or sarcastically – she honestly wanted to know “how much of a man” God was to these others students. Other students quickly jumped in and argued that God is neither male nor female. At this point I intervened and called everyone back to the original topic: Taoism and the issue of personification.
Oh, before I go on, I should point out that one God who obviously has a penis is the Greek God, Priapos. Statues of him were traditionally set up in vegetable plots to promote fertility with the added benefit of functioning as a type of “scarecrow.” In the below painting he is depicted weighing his enormous member on a set of scales against the produce of the fiel.
Okay… Um, let’s get back to Taoism. Shall we? I’m starting to feel uncomfortable. Scroll down…quickly.
One of the major differences between Taoism and Western religion (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) is in the area of personification. My students generally show up on the first day of my religion class with an understanding of the concept. In other words, they understand that Uncle Sam is the personification of the United States. However, the idea that the devil is the personification of evil is a strange idea to them. And the idea that God is the personification of both goodness and the creative energy that has brought everything into existence is even more radical and strange to them. Most of my students think there are only two ways to think about God and Satan; they are either real in the literal sense with human-like qualities, or they are not real. But, as I point out to them, there is a third way.
During my unit on Taoism I make it very clear to my students that Taoists do not talk about God, they talk about the Tao. And, unlike the God of the West, the Tao is the impersonal energy of life that flows through everything and is that which has brought the universe into existence. It is not human-like. It has no ears to hear prayers, nor eyes to watch over us – and it certainly does not have a penis! It is, in many ways, identical to the Force as described in Star Wars. In the Star Wars films no one ever prays to the Force – the Force is the impersonal energy of life. And, as a matter of fact, George Lucas was heavily influenced by Taoism, and it is obvious in his films. Needless to say, my students find this all pretty amazing! And they are very curious as to why God is depicted as a male in the Bible. Would anyone like to offer their explanation?