Friday, March 03, 2006

Gender and Divinity

In one of our arresting dialogues many aeons ago, I wrote:
Making divine triadic relations the basis for gender content may seem perplexing to those who analyze gender scientifically. Volf's analysis may also lack cogency or persuasiveness for non-Trinitarian Christians. Nevertheless, his notion that gender is rooted in a sexed body appears to have potential explanatory power. Since God the Father evidently does not possess a corpus that is biologically sexed, it evidently follows that He no doubt transcends gender. See Volf's Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 172-176. For an alternative approach to the question of gender, see appendix [not yet numbered]."
You then offered the following rejoinder:
Nice point: and the inference is a bit like asking how a business corporation like Microsoft could possibly have any legal rights like a human person, since, unlike a human person, it has no physical hand with a pinkie on it.
In my opinion, Volf's argument that one should not ontologize gender in God because deity does not possess a sexed body is not analogous to denying legal rights to Microsoft because it does not possess a physical hand with a pinkie on it. According to Volf and other thinkers, gender appears to be rooted in a sexed body. The very concept of gender presupposes a sexed body (e.g. a corpus informed by hormones, genitalia, or chromosomes). On the other hand, it does not seem that legal rights are rooted in a sexed body. Legal rights may be rooted in human personhood; but that is not the same as contending that sexed bodies are requisite for the extension of legal rights.
Nice point, again. Analogies always work only to a point. Obviously a corporate legal 'person' is an eidetic abstraction (the adjective 'eidetic' here serving no purpose but to appeal to yo salubrious nomenclaturological appetite) and not a concrete reality, as God is. The claim Volf is making is that gender presupposes biological specification, and from that I surmise that you're wishing to infer or argue that gender cannot be specified in any other way but biologically. Would that be fair?

Again, I think Volf has a point. Human gender is certainly expressed biologically in our experience. I'm not sure that's enough to claim that its 'rooted' in biology in the sense that, say, gender differences that might express themselves in one's psyche are exclusively dependent upon biological gender differences. One would have to make that case, it seems to me, which would require further assumptions about the nature of a body and its possible relation to a mind or soul, even if one wishes to go in a holistic or non-dualistic direction.

I guess what I might contend is that the question of whether the Persons of the Godhead can be conceived of as gendered in some way might be analogous to the question of whether human minds can be conceived of as gendered in some way independently of the body. As far as the Godhead is concerned, of course, Trinitarians are stuck with one Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, whose gender is already accepted as specified, however the psycho-somatic question is settled.