How the Bible would have opened if God were a woman:
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God hesitated and said, Could I just see the darkness again, please?”
Apart from the possible accusations of blasphemy, or at least irreverence, I am fully aware why some people may consider the above offensive. For one thing, it perpetuates a patriarchal conception of the Almighty. I’d therefore like to make it clear that, theologically, I am fully aware God is neither male nor female. However, Jesus referred to God as “Father” and I don’t feel qualified to argue with Him (assuming we agree that Jesus was a man).
It could be that I’m tilting at windmills of my own creation, but I expect that somebody will take offense at the arguably sexist generalization on which the “humour” is predicated. It isn’t even the nature of the generalization as much as its very existence. It could reasonably be said that I wouldn’t — or wouldn’t dare — joke in print by generalizing about, say, gays or Jews, or gay Jews.
Fair enough. The danger of jokes like the above is that they offer a loophole to more malevolent comments, with the person taking offense dismissed as having “no sense of humour.” But I wonder if our efforts to fight discrimination are weakening our powers of discernment. It’s The New York Times and the Yale Daily News, the Statler and Waldorf of my own mental Muppet Show, which have made me more racially aware than I ever was back home in England. It’s very complicated to live in an environment when I simultaneously have to be culturally sensitive and respectful of minorities, and also not to care about people’s backgrounds. There’s a very fine line between identifying somebody as a member of a collective and judging them on it, but condemnation of the latter should not preclude the former.
People are jigsaws and their race, class, sexuality and religion are pieces in the whole picture. As an infinitely greater writer noted, one man in his time plays many parts, and in my time I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king as well as a plagiarist. Friday is St. George’s Day and, as a deracinated Englishman, I would like to celebrate my country’s patron saint like the Irish celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, although even if the entire New Haven English community turned out it would scarcely amount to a parade.
The point is that I identify myself as English in a way that requires me to identify with a collective. Trying to define the culture of a collective is like trying to grasp fog, but as the judge famously commented, he couldn’t define pornography but he knew it when he saw it (a simple definition is that where erotic uses feathers, porn uses the whole chicken). I don’t subscribe to Kumbaya theology and call myself a citizen of the world because I feel no loyalty to a collective with which there is no contrast; I embrace certain pieces of the jigsaw precisely because they make me different from other people. I don’t expect you to judge me because I’m English, but nor do I want you tied up in mental knots studiously ignoring the fact. And, in general, the English are different from the French, the Germans, the Americans and so on — and of course you can easily find contradictory evidence, but it’s as true as to say that, in general, men are different from women and gay is different from straight.
Generalizations, like cliches, are not only useful but vital. Public policy couldn’t work without generalization — the legal voting age, for instance — and nor could Affirmative Action programs, based as they both are on assumptions regarding the mass of people rather than the individual. In general, the following are true: educated people are more likely to vote Democrat, women spend more time than men in clothes stores, Englishmen are more reticent than Americans and elephants are kindly but they’re dumb. And I get too much of my material from other people’s lyrics.
Fortunately, given Yale’s commitment to diversity, I can feel comfortable about asserting my minority culture, providing I remain within the approved boundaries of non-sexist, racist or homophobic thought. Therefore, given my national characteristics, I shall politely celebrate St. George’s Day with a cup of fairly traded tea and a book about women’s cricket. That should keep everyone happy — including my two adorable gay Jewish friends.
Nick Baldock is a first year graduate student in the history department.