I have longed for thy salvation, O L-RD; and thy Torah is my delight. Let my soul live, and it shall praise thee; and let thy judgments help me. I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek thy servant; for I do not forget thy commandments. Psalm 119:174-176

23 December 2012

The Girl Effect, part 24 - Neutering G-d

Image photographed from Die Illustrierte Bibel - J. Stahl

If you live in Germany, no doubt you've heard the recent controversy surrounding German Federal Minister for Family Affairs, Kristina Schröder.  If you don't, you're probably immune to the absolute hilarity that has become the concern over Ms. Schröder's choice to call G-d in a neutral German term ("Das lieber Gott") when asked how she would explain G-d to her daughter (who is now 18 months old) - which was a question in passing that she was asked after she was questioned as to how she handles censoring Grimm's fairy tales and Pippi Longstocking when she reads it to her daughter.

 For those unacquainted with Pippi Longstocking and the books associated with it, it was written in a time that issues of culture and racially sensitive speech was not something quite common. So, there are terms in the book such as "Neger" (Negro/Nigger) - which obviously in this day and age needs to be updated or censored if reading the older books to young children.   For those who have not read the original German Grimm fairy stories - some of them are "quite sexist" to borrow the phrase Ms. Schröder used. Obviously you won't want to tell your young son or daughter something that is not only incorrect but sexist while raising them, even if the story is nigh on 200 years old - right?

Well, the upset surrounding Ms. Schröder is that she explains to her daughter (quite theologically correctly) that G-d is without gender, and that it is quite alright to refer to G-d as "Der lieber G-tt" as it would be also to refer to G-d as "Das lieber G-tt".  "Das" being the neuter article in German which could be used as "the" or "it" depending on context.

Well, it's scarcely been a few days since she made this comment and half of her political party is up in arms and accusing her of saying something heretical.  Quite honestly, I'm welcoming the distraction from the crazy talk I've heard out of the American Bible Belt since  the terrible shooting that took place in Newtown, CT.

What is terribly frustrating though, is the apparent lack of knowledge people have of the original languages of the Bible - and for the Catholics upset about this issue - what Pope Benedict has to say on the matter and how what Ms. Schröder said was and is not heretical.

I'll leave the commentary away and then explain a little more afterwards. I've been discussing this on an online forum, and I think I'm ready to discuss it here. So here I go. I've put on my flame retardant, bunch-resistant underwear. Like what I have to share or not, but certainly don't go calling someone a heretic and be ready to burn their political career or otherwise until you've fully researched the position.

Germany's conservative Family Minister Kristina Schröder has angered colleagues in her Catholic-influenced Bavarian sister party for saying that the masculine definite article "doesn't mean anything" when it comes to God.Asked in an interview with Die Zeit weekly how she would tell her 18-month-old daughter Lotte that the German word for God, Gott, takes the masculine definite article der rather than the feminine die, she answered that the word had no bearing on God's gender. "You could just as easily say, das liebe Gott," she said, using the neuter article.
German Family Minister in trouble for "neutering" God

The Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church correctly states that God is neither man nor woman. God is pure  spirit in which there is no place for the differences between the sexes. But the  respective “perfections” of man and woman reflect something of the infinite  perfection of God: those of a mother (Isaiah 49:14-15; 66:13; Psalm 131:2-3) and  those of a father (Job 31:18; Jer. 3:4-20) and husband (Jer. 3:6-19). (CCC  370.)

 From here out, I do ask that you go gently on my translations. I'm trying hard with the little German I do speak and read to get this over to an understandable English. I have edited a few things and am unsure if I understood it all correctly, and some things I have translated as dynamically as possible without terribly ruining the original German. (ok, I hope I did not terribly ruin it!)

 "Bavaria's Social Affairs Christine Haderthauer (CSU) said to Das Bild on Friday: "This stupid nonsense makes me speechless. I find it sad when our children are told out of sheer insecurity and political correctness a different story than the strong images already in place, which are so important for their imagination."

"The CSU interior expert Stephan Mayer said to Das Bild, "Instead of always instigating completely pointless debates, the Minister should just do her job. We also do not say, the Mother of God ' in neutral form."

"The Hessian CDU deputy Klaus-Peter Willsch told the paper: "For those to whom only  a gender-neutral access to the Lord seems to be possible, I recommend just at Christmas tide THE Christ Child."
Streit über political correctness: „Das Gott“: Rückendeckung für Kristina Schröder - weiter lesen auf FOCUS Online

"I was asked in the interview about this. Perhaps in my answer I thought more about my little girl and not about the many adults who would trip over my words.", said Family Minister Kristina Schröder
"Man proposes to God the way he wants things, but God will always be the way he is." That is a beautiful and famous phrase of Francis of Assisi, which one has faith and trust in God, not knowing what they may missing. And, in principle, the Federal Minister for Family Affairs is of course right when she says that it would not necessarily be wrong to call "the [masculine article] God", but that you could also say "the [neuter article] God". In principle..."Das Abendblatt: Ministerin Kristina Schröder und das Gott

"Imminent danger! Due to unfortunate gender mainstreaming, those who call everything into question, also biological differences between men and women - this important question has arrived in the middle of society! The chancellor's office must now declare to the government spokesman, why he as a devout Catholic had no problems with [the issue], and does not call him "the [male article] God", but also "the [neuter article] God"."

"And why in the end, not "the [neuter article] God"? My God, she did not understand the difference between grammar and sex! This has nothing to do with theology anyway."  exclaimed half of the Bavarian Party members except Horst Seehofer."
Die Welt

This next article has me thinking of the German sesame street (Sesamstrasse) song. I'm sure this is not a coincidence. (Der, Die, Das! *clap, clap* Wer, wie, was *clap, clap* Wieso, weshalb, warum? *clap, clap* Wer nicht fragt - gleich dumm!)

"As if that was not everything in the Bible (in appropriate language) would be. It's good that at least Mrs. Merkel's girls can imagine the questions tormenting our offspring while waiting for the Christ Child. It does not say no "to the [gender neutral] Sams."[ Christine] Haderthauer's just mad because it is not such a popular tune one would think of which startled even an apostolic protonotary from hibernation."
" this spokesman assured that you may have read that the Pope himself said, 'that God was neither man nor woman.' Jesus, Mary and Joseph, from bad to worse! We can already see the headlines in the colorful pages in front of us: New plagiarism case! O Dear Lady, let it be Christmas!"
FAZ: Christdemokraten streiten über der, die, das liebe Gott

[Das Sams is a literary character that is an alien. He is referred to as "das Sams" as he arrived on a Saturday (Samstag) and was dubbed such by Herr Taschenbier in the book  (and movie) series by Paul Maar]

"The outrage over alleged adulterations of the sacred texts is therefore also associated with ignorance. It's a bit like the people who make "the Luther Bible" above everything else, but do not know that the current Protestant Church is as inspired by popular  text written by Martin Luther, is as little about Luther just as Bismarck has nothing to do with a Bismarck herring.

 God's Word has been modernized  repeatedly for 500 years. The  New Protestants would understand the original Luther text just as most Jews their Hebrew Torah or most Muslims, the Arabic text the Koran."
Die Welt - Eine Ehrenrettung Für Kristina Schröder

[In other words: All this is lost on neo-evangelicals who have lost touch with the original German of the Luther Bible (Like those who are KJVO have been lost on the King James) and lost touch that Luther set out to make the Bible available to Germans in their common tongue and that people do not read the original Hebrew/Greek texts. They have no idea to what they are protesting exactly. A Grammatical error or a Biblical truth.]

"Scathing criticism from the Catholic Church is expressed. "When I hear Mrs Schröder, she is reflecting a terrifying religious illiteracy. She does not know the basic theology of the faith," said the Vatican adviser and director of the Bavarian pilgrimage town of Maria Pieta, Monsignor William Imkamp. "The remarks are 'SB'', stupid and brash, and also bear witness to an unrestrained opportunism"."
Bayrisches Rundfunk

Wow. Really. Pardon me a second.

(Why yes, I am a fan of this Anime Series.)

Technically, it's not grammatically incorrect what she said. It *could* work if grammar rules were updated. Practically, it is grammatically incorrect. But, theologically - its a dogmatic point that "everyone has always done it" and this now has people possibly questioning which god or G-d you mean, OR because you say "THE G-d" (Das lieber G-tt) that you are being dogmatic to others who might hold other points of view.

I asked my husband (my local German guru when I have questions and my resources from schooling on this subject are limited) and he says "From strict grammar definitions it is wrong because G-d as a word itself in German is masculine only. . . unless you say göttin (godess). There is not a "the" form for god/G-d.  HOWEVER,  when you think about it and work with it, it makes G-d genderless. It could work but... it sounds odd to the ear. It's accurate for the Hebrew though. She is referring to G-d in the way that the Bible says - unlike how the church says."  

She's not referring to G-d as "it" but "The". Das encompasses both. It's people picking at nits and saying that they don't want to change the language terminology to be more accurate with a mindset contained in the original texts to keep "Der" as the article referring to G-d, forever keeping him masculine.

They're accusing Kristina Schröder of being a feminist and trying to make G-d female (which she did not) - but the thing is, Kristina Schröder is making waves in her party and in Germany.  She is from a Independent Evangelical Lutheran (SELK) background from here in Hessen.  She is the first German cabinet member to ever give birth to a child while in office.

This is the second time she says something that might be taken as feminist, the female members of her party who are Christian, as well as a few male members who are strict Christians get their undies in a bunch because they do not understand the Hebrew and Greek rules underlying the German Bible texts, which have G-d as strictly male only from the translator's point of view.

"From the time I was a little girl, God has been uniquely and unequivocally male. I have prayed for decades to God my Father in heaven; images of male heroes and God as a Warrior King dominate nearly all the Bible stories that I've learned and studied over in the past thirty years. It has not been lost on me that when Jesus, the Son of God, gathered twelve friends to be his inner circle, they were all men...
...Modern Christianity, at first glance, is a spiritual path to a male God who gives privilege to the gender blessed with male chromosomes...

...What does happen to a woman when the spiritual imagery of her life is dominated by male vocabulary?

.... If women of faith are constantly given a male-only image of God by male-dominated voices, it is going to take a toll on a woman's identity. If this isn't enough, there's also the marginalization that women experience within their faith tribes... because of femaleness.
What do these omissions tell women and men?"

Pam Hogewide, Unladylike, Chapter Six: The Bible Tells Me So (Part 2)
 I won't ruin the rest of the book - but suffice to say that Pam's experience; her friends' experiences - are not lost on me and many other women and men in our "faith tribes" as Pam puts it.  What Pam is saying here, is exactly what the snippet of Mrs. Schröder's statement conveys.


  1. I hadn't heard anything about this controversy (from here in China so that might not mean much) bit its rather fascinating!

  2. It's definitely been fascinating. I'm not sure if it will get carried far other than through the ex-pat community, due to the fact most internal German news tends to remain in German and not adventure into the English news market.

  3. This is incredibly interesting to read about (especially auf Deutsch :) ). And I'd be really interested in reading Pam's book, based on the quotation you provided.

  4. :) I'm glad you found it interesting as well. I found Pam's book at a time I really needed it the most. It's different, and surprisingly, hasn't sold over 1,000 copies yet.

  5. I didn't know about this situation. How interesting! Thank you for all the information you shared.