Yesterday evening in Washington Square Park (or what’s left of it), just after getting off the phone with my mother, a man and a woman approached me and asked if I knew about God the Mother. At first, forgetting myself, I said I didn’t want to have that conversation. Thankfully, the man (who did all of the talking) insisted, and I remembered that there are few joys greater than discovering a new line of belief. So, at least until my friend came to roll her eyes at me and truck me off to dinner, I sat and talked Bible with the Mother-lovers.
The guy, who later said his name was Arturo, got out his Bible, made sure that I believe the Bible in the first place (knowing a qualifying discourse on Higher Criticism could prove a hang-up, I assured that I did), and took me on a whirlwind tour of the passages he had underlined in red. First, of course, Genesis 1:
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
The bolded portions were Arturo’s favorites. These elusive first-person-plural passages in the Word, he insisted, prove that there are two images of God—when people were created in God’s image, they were made male and female. Therefore so must be God, male and female, Father and Mother. (I mentioned the ideas of Zechariah Sitchin, who believes that the plural-ish construction Elohim, the Hebrew word for God, refers to the race of aliens who seeded the human race. My interlocutor was not amused.)
Next we went to the end of the Book, to Revelation.
And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife.
And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God, having the glory of God
And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.
So he asked me, Who can give eternal life? Can people give eternal life? No. Who gives eternal life? God. And here the bride is talking about the water of life. Well the bride is usually interpreted as the Church, I said. But a community of people can’t give eternal life he replied. Only God can, so the bride must refer to God. Jerusalem as well, one way or another.
There were more Bible passages sandwiched between those. A pretty nice piece of exegesis, if you ask me. Someone should hold an annual contest for the most creative, pretty consistent, and wholly original reading one can get out of the Bible. There’d be billions of entries.
Over the course of my lesson, I kept asking what the consequences of this belief were. Does the Mother God change the way one acts? Toward women, perhaps? He all but said no. This is justification by faith alone, apparently, and not works. To these questions he started speaking of the second coming, even suggesting that Christ may have already arrived on earth. Like most prophetic talk, I couldn’t follow what he was getting at.
As Arturo led me through, questions came in a hurry, with no time to consider a reply. Like a Jehovah’s Witness study service, there is only one answer to every question, and it is what’s written in the book in front of you. No opportunity to think—not that I have such great hope for what thinking can accomplish. Sometimes there are better things than thinking. It is a striking performance, that’s all.
When I mentioned that I write about religion, which I often do to get reactions, he said, as do many Biblical literalists, This is not religion, this is truth.
When my friend came and I had to go, Arturo invited me to a Bible study at their “Elohim Academy.” I asked if they had any pamphlets (I keep a collection of those). No. A website? It’s under construction. I got the sense he didn’t want me trolling after them on the web. He gave me his email address and I shook his hand. The Asian woman with him, who said not a word, left me hanging.
Of course, this morning, I jumped out of bed and onto Google. Here’s what I’ve learned, in interesting-fun-fact form:
- The World Mission Society Church of God was founded 1964 in Korea.
- The founder, Ahn Sang-Hong, was believed to be Christ’s second coming, but he died in 1985 and was succeeded by Zang Gil-Jah, “the heavenly Mother.”
- Ahn sang-hong was previously a Seventh-Day Adventist, and his new church retains Adventist beliefs about the Saturday Sabbath and not celebrating Christmas.
- When they say “Holy Land,” what they mean is the Republic of Korea.
- Not surprisingly, edgy Christians call the World Mission Society Church of God a “cult.” (I insist on the less judgmental formula “new religious movement.”)
- The church received an award from the Korean government.
Anyhow, there is so much more to learn, as always.
Over the years I’ve heard a lot of impassioned feminist arguments against the maleness of the Christian God. Even at the most permissive orthodox formulation, only the Holy Spirit gets to be female, and she is only 1/3 and the least anthropomorphic part of the Godhead (a dove, for goodness sake). Here is an opportunity to change that: a biblically-certified Mother God, no Erich Neumann necessary.
It is fascinating that this exegetical move comes to us from Korea. The West (by which I also mean the Near East), after tiring itself out in the Trinitarian debates of the fourth century, seems to have closed the door on any more dividing up God. But first-generation-Christian Koreans may see things more liberally. Maybe, after stretching to comprehend for the first time one God in three persons, one of whom has two natures, adding on an extra female image doesn’t seem like such a stretch. The West solved the “problem” of femininity in the forth century by proclaiming the theotokos—Mary, the Mother of God. But Koreans, evangelized mainly by Protestants weary of the divinization of Mary, might have had to fend for themselves a bit more creatively.
(Exception: the Shakers, in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century England and America, believed that their leader Ann Lee was the female manifestation of Christ. What I don’t know is whether they used any of the biblical explanations that the World Mission Society employs.)
Arturo, one way another, was positively thrilled about the Mother God; there is no doubt about that. If anybody in the New York area would like to learn more, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind you emailing him. I just might.