The Church, called to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, is also to
be a prophetic voice to those enmeshed in the evils of this world’s
structures and philosophies. Yet sadly, sometimes worldly-structures and
philosophies invade the Church. Paul, in sorrow, told the elders of Ephesus,
‘I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not
sparing the flock.” He explained that even among those particular elders
there would arise those ‘speaking perverse things to draw away the disciples
after them.” (Acts 20:29, 30) Today in many mainline churches several
conflicting religious views are troubling the peace and unity of God’s
people. One particular religious view, Radical Feminist Theology, is in
conflict with the biblical teachings of the Church. I believe Radical
Feminist theologians are closer in intention, structure and system to the
views of Neo-Pagans. In this article I will explain the many similarities
between Radical Feminist theology and pagan beliefs. Both religious views
begin from some of the same intentions and those intentions lead to the same
theological conclusions. Theologically I will focus on revelation, deity and
the incarnation when making the comparison. Both of their structures are
also similar and I will explain why.
Radical Feminist theology embraces many definitions, including Womanist
theology and Mujerista theology.1 However, I want to exclude from my
categories those women doing theology in such movements as ‘Christians for
Biblical Equality,” that is, those who are Orthodox in belief but are
writing for the sake of women’s equality in ministry. As theologian, Thomas
C. Oden has stated, ‘Feminist and Liberation theologies that remain faithful
to that Word are to be received and lauded, and some do.” Oden further
states, ‘There are many feminist theologies, one of which is evangelical.
Another with similar interests is better [known] as orthodox.”2
Like Wicca,* the most prevalent group within the Neo-Pagan movement, the
intention of most Radical Feminist theologies is to speak to a perceived
patriarchal oppressiveness in sacred texts as well as religious institutions
and society in general. The whole focus of intention is toward solutions,
affirmations and celebrations for women who are seen as victims of male
domination. Other groups of oppressed peoples as well as the environment and
animals are seen as victims included in the heading ‘oppressed women”. For
instance in Dictionary of Feminist Theologies, the author of ‘Rights,
Animal,” writes, ‘3Western feminism inevitably confronts the status of
animals, because historically, the ideological justification for women’s
alleged inferiority was made by appropriating them to animals: women were
seen to be closer to animals than to men.” Christine Gudorf’s article
‘Rights, Children’s” in the same book is another example. She writes, ‘The
issue of Children’s rights arose as a secular concept within late
twentieth-century liberalism, largely as a consequence of the
feminist-inspired rethinking of patriarchically defined family roles.”4
Radical Feminist theologies that focus on Christianity bring all of these
concerns to the biblical text. Some Radical Feminist theologians find in the
Hebrew Bible a picture of an oppressive patriarchal society that develops a
tyrannical male god as a means of enforcing their authoritarian positions.5
They picture Paul and other apostles in the New Testament as advocates of a
male dominated church. All theology done by these feminists is defined by
concerns about a patriarchal religious view. The biblical texts are
approached using a ‘critical feminist perspective.” Different methods are
meant to expose ‘the biases within the biblical story,” and in some cases
‘open the canonical texts to meanings not considered by the biblical
In the same manner Wicca devotees approach their religion with a goal toward
affirming women and rejecting a perceived male bias in almost all other
religious choices. Their symbolism, ritual and texts of choice are meant as
affirmations of the female. Carol Christ evaluating women’s perspectives of
the Wicca symbol of the divine, the Goddess, writes:
(1) The Goddess is divine female, a personification who can be invoked
in prayer and ritual; (2) the Goddess is symbol of the life, death, and
rebirth energy in nature and culture, in personal and communal life; and
(3) the Goddess is symbol of the affirmation of the legitimacy and
beauty of female power. . . . 7
Both Feminist theologies and Wicca beliefs, based on the same intentions,
understand knowledge about God in the same manner. Neither group accepts the
orthodox position that it is God who reveals Himself. Revelation for both
groups is centered in human experience, and generally that experience is
women’s experience. Both groups feel that using the experience of women
voids and challenges the problem of a male shaped theology. Rosemary Radford
Ruether, a feminist theologian, believes that ‘human experience is the
starting point and the ending point of the hermeneutical circle.”8 Mary C.
Grey insists that, ‘contemporary theologies of revelation attempt to move
beyond the God who is remote from the world and to be inclusive of human
experience,” but she believes they will not succeed since they have
excluded women’s experience.9 Starhawk, a Wicca devotee, writes:
Witchcraft has always been a religion of poetry, not theology. The
myths, legends, and teachings are recognized as metaphors for ‘That
Which-Cannot-Be-Told,” the absolute reality our limited minds can never
completely know. The mysteries of the absolute can never be
explainedonly felt or intuited. Symbols and ritual acts are used to
trigger altered states of awareness, in which insights that go beyond
words are revealed.
Starhawk elaborates farther, ‘We mean that the inner knowledge literally
cannot be expressed in words. It can only be conveyed by experience, and no
one can legislate what insight another person may draw from any given
Understanding theology or religion from human experience often leads to some
form of pantheism since the vision of deity can go no further than human
images drawn from creation. In the final version creation becomes god or
goddess. C.S. Lewis explains, ‘So far from being the final religious
refinement, Pantheism is in fact the permanent bent of the human mind.”
Writing of how ‘congenial” it is to the human mind, Lewis states, ‘If
religion’ means simply what man says about God, and not what God does about
man, then Pantheism almost is religion.”11 It is the age- old descent of
religion, and both Radical Feminist theologies and pagan beliefs are filled
with the downward spiral. Any concept of deity within these two groups
mostly fits within a pantheistic or panentheistic view. Women developing
Radical Feminist theologies, while troubled with the problems of pantheism,
still explain theology in terms that better fit that model of the universe.
Many use a kind of panentheism that in reality dissolves into pantheism.
Panentheism sees God in relation to the world as the head is to the body. In
such a case, the universe is a part of God, but not all of God. In many
feminist theologies it is creation that forms the being of God. The Holy
Spirit plays an important part in this kind of theological thinking. Sallie
McFague writes, ‘While the Holy Spirit has often been seen as the immanent
side of God, feminists see God as basically and radically immanent and the
Holy Spirit as a central, if not the primary name’ for God.”12 To say that
God is ‘basically and radically immanent” is to say that God is not
separate from creation and only personal when the voice of humanity and/or
creation expresses the words of God.
Rosemary Radford Ruether understands deity as ‘the Primal Matrix, the great
womb within which all things, Gods and humans, sky and earth, human and
nonhuman beings, are generated.”13 Since she believes that at death the ego
‘dissolves back into the cosmic matrix of matter/energy” she has developed
a pantheism that is almost classic Hinduism. 14 Carter Heyward sees God as
_’radically loving community, ever unfolding, changing, living, dying, and
yet ever-living. In a literal sense—embodied, sensual,
transformative—God is holy communion.”_15 She explains her several
definitions in her notes, ‘I suggest that radical _immanence_ (which is very
close to pan-en-theism) and radical participation are by no means mutually
exclusive experiences or images of divine and human and creaturely
involvement.”16 Heyward is saying here that the picture of God coming along
side of us with comfort and help is not different than a God who is a part
of us. This is a redefinition of classical theology into panentheism.
In the same way Pagan devotees see deity and creation as interchangeable.
The goddess, the main deity of Wicca is defined in Pantheistic terms.
The Goddess has infinite aspects and thousands of namesShe is the
reality behind many metaphors. She is reality, the manifest deity,
omnipresent in all of life, in each of us. The Goddess is not separate
from the worldshe is the world, and all things in it: moon, earth, star,
stone, seed, flowing river, wind, wave, leaf and branch, bud and
blossom, fang and claw, woman and man.17
Judy Harrow, High Priestess of Proteus Coven in New York City, both a
pantheist and a polytheist, describes her beliefs this way:
From the perspective of immanence, I experience the sacred as a very
present Source, the life within my every living moment, rather than as a
Creator from long ago and far away. I neither perceive nor acknowledge
any kind of division between the Creator and Creation. . . . My Pagan
faith on the other hand, honors the diversity of Divinity and the
Divinity of diversity.18
Tied to these several forms of pantheism is a multiplicity of divinities,
which are seen as metaphors or in some cases archetypes. Harrow’s statement
about ‘the diversity of Divinity and the Divinity of diversity” is an
example. She also writes, ‘Our many Gods, or, if you prefer, many models of
the sacred, show us an inclusive holiness that crosses all lines, including
gender, age, and occupation.”19 This need to have a multiplicity of models
of deity is also a part of Radical Feminist theologies. And it is often
worked into a radical feminist understanding of the incarnation.
Believing that the incarnation of Jesus is not unique, Radical Feminist
theologians use the concept of incarnation, God in human flesh, to weave
together a religious voice for their own various concerns. Anne Bathurst
Gilson writes, ‘God becoming incarnate in human flesh has been reinterpreted
to mean that humanity, bodies, females, sexuality, and the earth are
good.”20 In the same article Gilson referring to Rita Nakashima Brock,
writes, ‘When our concrete particularities are affirmed as part of our
connection to others, we continue to become the fullest incarnation of
erotic power.’ ”21 In the search for models of divinity neither earth nor
creature is ignored. Seeming to reach back to very ancient paganism, Radical
Feminist theologian, Carol Adams, expresses the concerns of feminist animal
advocacy. One concern is, ‘that an anthropomorphized God excludes animals
from the godhead.”22
At this point there is little difference between Pagan beliefs and Radical
Feminist theologies. Having excluded Jesus Christ from His unique
incarnation, radical feminist theologians offer modals of deity that are no
different than those of Pagans. Even their liturgies become pagan. Ruether
offers various rites in her book _Women-Church: Theology & Practice of
Feminist Liturgical Communities,_ including a ‘Croning Liturgy;” which
includes casting circles and incantations.23 This is not a church
celebration; this is a neo-pagan rite, and a crone is not a saintly older
woman of the church but an older pagan woman.
Likewise, since there are many models for deity in both Paganism and Radical
Feminist theologies, both groups are constantly multiplying different
theologies, belief systems, sacred celebrations and groupings. Their
religious structures are in constant flux. Religious beliefs based on human
experience are prone to multiply and change. Also, religious tenets formed
out of human experience are not only shaped by human goodness but by human
sin. In the Wicca movement small inklings of that are visible. In a recent
edition of _Gnosis_, Carol LeMasters, writing about ‘The Goddess Movement:
Past and Present,” expresses hope in those who are ‘drawing attention to
the darker aspects of the Goddess and offering more complex mythological
interpretations.” This is in answer to her concern that within the
movement, ‘acceptance has never extended to promiscuity or anonymous
encounters or kinky sex.”24 Neither movement has any true way of preventing
the dark shadow of human sin from infecting their theologies and beliefs.
Radical Feminist theologies as alternative ways of understanding God and His
word within the Church is blasphemous. The faithful will be shamed and hurt
by such theology. Those promoting such teachings will find no place for
redemption in their own words since the Holy Word of God has been stepped
on, insulted, and obliterated. Pastor Hans Asmussen when addressing the
members of the Synod of Barmen stated that those who seek God ‘without
Christ from and in the creatures and events” of history have become
‘heathen”. He further stated:
Whenever that happens, whether under a pagan or Christian guise, there
exists man’s own wisdom, his self-righteousness, self-sanctification,
self-redemption. Other lords than Jesus Christ, other commandments than
his commandments, acquire dominion over us. They offer services to us as
saviors, but they prove to be torturers of an unredeemed world.25
Radical Feminist theologians have called sin, patriarchy; they have called
creation, deity, and Christ the various qualities and/or connections within
the community of women. We as the Church must proclaim Jesus Christ, His
unique incarnation, His death on the cross for our sins, His resurrection
for our eternal good. We are all sinners and we are all called into His
safety. In Christ the lost people of this world will find salvation,
righteousness, protection from the evil designs of Satan, comfort and
eternal life. Let us proclaim the holy name of Jesus Christ.
* Wicca is a religious movement within the current Neo-Pagan movement. Most
Wicca members consider themselves witches and believe in a Goddess and
sometimes her consort, the Horned God. For most Wicca devotees these two
deities represent or are symbols of creation. A Wicca group is called a
Coven and is generally lead by a priestess. The priestess generally develops
and leads the ritual of the coven. Wicca devotees have designed their own
rituals using the traditions of various cultures and religions. Some of
their rituals resemble the ceremonies of literary and mythical witchcraft
such as casting a circle,(considered a sacred space), and using a cauldron,
(a cooking pot used for ritual). The ceremonies preformed within the circle
are a way of experiencing union with the Goddess, and as a way of focusing
power on individual or group needs. The rites may be preformed in clothes or
‘sky clad,” that is, in the nude. For additional information see:
1 It is in fact difficult to use the term Feminist Theologies since as
Malanie A. May has pointed out ‘Recognizing that women’s right to and
responsibility for self-naming is integral to the theological task, it is
unclear whether or in what way the term _feminist_ can or will refer to
women who are not white, European-American, and middle-class.” Letty M.
Russell, J. Shannon Clarkson, Eds. _Dictionary of Feminist Theologies_,
(Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1996) 107.
2 Thomas C. Oden, The Confessing Movement [Methodist] ‘Response To The
Critical Challenge’: An Open Letter to readers of A Critical Challenge to
the Confessing Movement,’ ‘ http://www.confessingumc.org/doc_critics.html.
3 Carol J. Adams, ‘Rights, Animal” in _Feminist Theologies_, 246.
4 Christine Gudorf, ‘Rights, Children’s,” Ibid., 247.
5 Under the heading, ‘Anti-Judaism/Anti-Semitism” Susannah Heschel gives a
concerned warning to Christian Feminists. She writes, ‘Most of the negative
depictions of Judaism in Christian feminist writings are inaccurate
distortions that draw on age-old stereotypes rather than reliable
scholarship.” Among some of her concerns is the feminist view of Judaism as
the originator of patriarchy, ‘the rise of war and violence.” In _Feminist
6 Dianne Bergant, ‘Canon” _Feminist Theologies_, 35.
7 Carol P. Christ, ‘Why Women Need the Goddess: Phenomenological,
Psychological, and Political Reflections,” W_omanspirit Rising: a Feminist
Reader in Religion_, Carol P. Christ & Judith Plaskow, Eds. (San Francisco:
Harper and Row, 1979), 278.
8 Rosemary Radford Ruether, _Sexism and God-Talk: Toward a Feminist
Theology,_ 10th Anniversary edition, (Boston: Beacon Press 1993), 12.
9 Mary C. Grey, ‘Revelation,” _Feminist Theologies_, 243.
10 Starhawk, _The Spiral Dance: A Rebirth of the Ancient Religion of the
Great Goddess_, 10th anniversary edition, (San Francisco: Harper & Row
11 C.S. Lewis, _Miracles_, (New York: Simon & Schuster 1996), 110.
12 Sallie Mcfague, ‘Holy Spirit”, _Feminist Theologies_, 147.
13 Rosemary Radford Ruether, Sexism and God-Talk, 48.
14 Ibid., 257.
15 Carter Heyward, S_aving Jesus From Those Who are Right: Rethinking What
It Means to be Christian,_ (Minneapolis: Fortress Press 1999), 64.
16 Ibid., 222.
17 Starhawk, _The Spiral Dance_, 22.
18 Judy Harrow, ‘Explaining Wicca: An Overview of the teachings of today’s
predominant form of NeoPaganism”, _Gnosis: A Journal of the Western Inner
Tradition_, no.48 (Summer, 1998), 23.
19 Ibid., 23.
20 Anne Bathurst Gilson, ‘Incarnation,” _Feminist Theologie_s, 151.
21 Rita Nakashima Brock, _Journeys by heart :A Christology of Erotic Power_,
(New York: Crossroad 1988/1992) 63, in Feminist Theologies, 151.
22 Carol Adams, ‘Animal,” Ibid., 246.
23 Rosemary Radford Ruether, _Women-Church: theology & Practice of Feminist
Liturgical Communities_, (San Francisco: Harper & Row 1986), 206-209.
24 Carol LeMasters, ‘The Goddess Movement: Past and Present,” _Gnosis_, 48.
25 Hans Asmussen, ‘An Address on the Theological Declaration Concerning The
Present Situation in the German Evangelical Church”, in _The Church’s
Confession Under Hitler,_ Arthur C. Cochrane, (Philadelphia: The Westminster
Press 1962), 256.