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Lauren F. Winner’s worrisome decision to ignore God (as a rapist, in the Bible)

June 5, 2015

My favorite book by Lauren F. Winner so far is her newest one, Wearing God: Clothing, Laughter, Fire, and Other Overlooked Ways of Meeting God. When it’s all over, she writes “A Short Note from the Women’s Prison” to confess this fact:

There is a chapter missing from this book.

The chapters are worth reading. The note goes on for several pages and is worth reading. Here are four paragraphs from one of those several pages, and you be the judge of their worth:

Well, you see what Winner is doing. She’s really ignoring very little at all. And neither should we when reading (about) all the various images of God in the Bible. The question begged is our response.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Jay permalink
    June 5, 2015 6:48 pm

    Sometimes when men are drawing pictures of their gods they don’t realize the image they are seeing is from the closet mirror.

  2. June 5, 2015 7:42 pm

    A great book that analyses the various images of God presented in the Bible is Thom Stark’s, The Human Faces of God. One of my profs in school said it best: my biggest problem with the Bible is God! Of course the problem is made worse when people read the Bible as an inerrant handbook to the Absolute Truth about God, the World and Everything Else the Bible Talks about. A lot of stuff in the Bible, however, is material that us intended to be provocative and disconcerting! It is a book that can be used to awaken a moral conscience and inspire selfless love. And, I think that there are a lot of dead-end visions of God that the reader should reject and move on. Yet, as Stark notes, we can’t just move on from some stories about God, just as we can’t just move on from certain stories in our family history. For example, many of us have abusive relatives in our family histories. Those stories cannot simply be by passed or forgotten in silence, because silencing the stories has the potential to perpetuate those terrible things. Rather, we rehearse these stories because they are so bad and in order to provoke, once again the discussion about how they are part of our family story and they represent horrible things, yet rehearsing them also empowers us to imagine a different God. One of my favorite examples is the picture of God that Yahweh himself presented to Moses one day. “I will wipe out this people and start all over with you!” Moses dutifully rejected this as an inadequate representation or marketing tool for God to use! And God relented. The levels of comic irony are astounding! In order for the Bible to be useful to prepare people for a good life, it must be read in some other way than a straight-forward handbook of answers. So, I suggest to people that it is a sophisticated book of problems, questions, images, narratives, proverbs and provocations. It is a torah, a moral curriculum with a lot of beautiful and miserable and awful stuff. And it can be read in a way that poses the problems that support a good life. See

  3. June 6, 2015 9:39 am

    Jay and Yancy,

    Thanks very much for your respective insights!

    Winner’s startling confession of omission — her Catherine-Keller-like “actual saying of what she cannot, ostensibly, say” — is one of the most powerful parts of her book.

    “The image whose absence (to me) is most conspicuous.” What a subjective construct! Whose conspicuousness is it? The Bible’s or Winner’s or that of both? Isn’t it a conspicuousness of all of ours? If we will read the Bible! How can we miss it? Isn’t “IT” the proverbial elephant in the room if we sit in silence about it, or talk about other images of deity in the Bible in preference to IT? Or relegate it to a post-chapter “short note,” to a quick comment about an absence, a missing chapter, an intention to talk about IT only by intending, at first, not to say a thing about it?

    I’ve read Winner’s book as I’ve read Wally Lamb’s novel, The Hour I First Believed. “A woman who surrenders her freedom need not surrender her dignity” is the sign at the entrance of a prison for women in the book, a first of its kind American institution in which women are given justice that is restorative not punitive, in which there was acknowledgement that the women imprisoned in the USA at the time, with men, were there because they’d been raped and had contracted a STD or had become pregnant or were “insane” for various reasons – and when then in prison with a male population, and/or with male only guards, were further abused sexually, were regularly raped.

    I’ve also read Winner’s book as I’ve been reading two others:

    Paul Tournier’s The Violence Within (translated by Edwin Hudson). This morning I read:

    No one can develop his own personality except at the expense of other people. Even the most saintly and humble man — the revered and much loved leader of a devoted congregation, for example — inevitably makes his followers dependent upon him like little children. It is not his faults [so much], but his virtues, his fame and his richness of spirit, which hold them back and prevent them from growing up themselves.


    In the margins, I wrote Jesus Christ, and Joseph of Exodus, and MLK Jr. and Gandhi and, even, Mother Teresa.

    A few days ago, I had to stop reading Tournier’s book. It was just too profound to turn another page. For days, I’d been reflecting on this:

    Even the unbeliever recognizes Jesus [in the gospels] as one who always knew when [and that] he must use violence… He was quite capable of being violent. Not only did he use a whip of cords to drive the money-changers from the temple…, but he inveighed against the Pharisees themselves with unheard-of violence!…. Even toward his own mother he was capable of adopting an attitude which any other mother would consider offensive: read again the story of hos his mother approaches him in an attempt to dissuade him from entering further into violent conflict with the authorities, a conflict which she perhaps foresees will lead to his death. He will not even see her, and while she stands outside he…. He is no less hard on his disciple… ‘Get behind me, Satan!…. to those who … are dearest to him… he shows himself implacable and violent

    While reading Winner’s book, a third book I’ve been reading is Seek the Face of God: Discovering the Power of Your Images of God by Karl Frielingsdorf (translated by Albert Wimmer). The theologian asserts this mixture, in us, of both good and bad, of peace and of violence, and somehow we can admit, in the Bible, there seems to be both in Jesus and in Joseph, in Moses and in Miriam, in the Creator and in the Judge and King of the Universe:

  4. June 6, 2015 9:50 am

    Jay, Yes, the mirror is often the best place to find our worst image of deity. Winner says early in her book the following:

    Yancy, I love your point about Moses being more humane than God, about his having to use rhetoric to persuade the LORD to be more like him, to be more kind towards others. At first glance, such a god seems inhumane and weak and horrific; and yet the one who inspires Moses to do such a thing (and as evangelical Christians would have it, Who inspires Moses inerrantly to write such a thing even) is the one inspiring humans made in God’s image. 🙂

  5. yancywsmith permalink
    June 11, 2015 3:27 pm

    Thanks for this post. In so many ways Ludwig Feuerbach was right.

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