The concept of God has fascinated humanity since the dawn of civilization. Nearly every culture and religion has its own take on who or what God is. One commonality across many faiths is the use of masculine pronouns like “He” and “Him” when referring to God.
If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: God is most often referred to as “He” because of historical and cultural traditions stemming from a patriarchal society where men held positions of power and authority.
Historical and Cultural Roots
Patriarchal Societies Where Men Dominated
In ancient times, most civilizations around the world were patriarchal, meaning men held primary power and predominated in roles of political leadership, moral authority, and control of property. Women were excluded from many areas of public life and had more limited rights and freedoms compared to men.
This male dominance extended into the family structure, where the father or husband was the head of the household.
In these patriarchal societies, depictions of the divine were also typically masculine. Gods were portrayed as powerful male figures who ruled over various domains of nature and human existence. The supremacy of male gods reinforced the idea that authority and moral governance should likewise be vested in men rather than women.
Masculine Depictions of God in Early Texts and Art
The Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all trace their origins back thousands of years to patriarchal societies in the Middle East. In the Torah and Old Testament, God is referred to with masculine pronouns and described in paternal terms as a father figure to the Jewish and Israelite people.
He is depicted as commanding armies, speaking from mountaintops, and issuing laws.
In early Christian art, God is often portrayed as an old, bearded man in flowing robes – imagery that conveys divine wisdom and authority. Jesus refers to God using masculine terms such as Father and Lord in his teachings.
This reinforced God’s identity as a masculine authority figure for countless generations of believers.
Legacy Passed Down in Monotheistic Religions
The monotheistic conception of God as a supreme male deity has continued in the three Abrahamic faiths to modern times. Although women have gained rights in society, these religions have retained the use of male pronouns and imagery when speaking of God in scripture, worship, and theology.
For instance, the first Surah of the Quran refers to Allah with the pronoun “He.”
Some argue this default to masculinity when imagining the divine shapes cultural attitudes about gender roles and identity. Others contend that God transcends human concepts of gender or that male terms reflect historical context, not divine reality.
Nonetheless, the long-established tradition of masculine divine depiction continues to influence perceptions today.
God Has No Fixed Gender
As an immortal divine being, God transcends human attributes like gender. However, the predominant use of masculine pronouns like “He” and “Him” in religious texts shapes perceptions of God as male rather than female or genderless.
Still, views are evolving with growing openness to feminine and gender-neutral depictions of the divine.
God as an Immortal Divine Being
Most faiths conceptualize God as an eternal, omnipotent creator and cosmic force beyond human comprehension. As such, God exists outside the confines of fixed identities tied to mortal forms. Using a specific gender pronoun suggests God conforms to man-made social constructs, which is fundamentally incompatible with conceptions of divinity in major religions.
Moving Away from Binary Gender Constraints
The traditional emphasis on God’s masculinity is intertwined with historical patriarchal norms. However, contemporary progressive theology seeks to move beyond binary gender stereotypes. According to a 2021 Pew survey, 33% of U.S. adults now see God as “not having a gender”, up from 24% in 2017.
Growing Openness to Feminine and Gender-neutral Depictions
There is also rising openness to explicit feminine imagery for God across Abrahamic faiths. Figures like “God the Mother” have over 7 million followers globally. Secular society is also moving toward gender-inclusive language for God.
For instance, the replica U.S. House of Congress Chamber opened in 2022 at the National Susan B. Anthony Museum refers to God with “She” and “Her” pronouns.
Alternative Ways to Refer to God
As cultural sensibilities evolve, many spiritual communities are reconsidering the pronoun used for the divine. While God has traditionally been referred to with masculine pronouns, gender-neutral alternatives are gaining acceptance.
Gender-neutral Terms Gaining Acceptance
Many congregations are embracing gender-neutral language when speaking about God. Terms like “Godself” and “Divinity” avoid assigning a gender. Others use imagery like “Creator” or “Source.” This helps worshippers connect to the divine in a way that feels true for them, regardless of gender identity.
Recent surveys show 17% of American Christians support gender-neutral divine language. Use is even higher among young adults. As new generations join faith communities, inclusive God-language will likely become more widespread.
Regional and Cultural Variations
Preferences around pronouns for God differ globally. Some Native American and Aboriginal Australian traditions have long seen the divine as gender fluid. In India, gods are sometimes depicted as integrating male and female traits. Even in the West, God is occasionally referred to as “she” or “mother.”
Within denominations, acceptance of gender-neutral language differs too. More progressive congregations tend to welcome it, while traditionalists may resist change. Policies also vary: some allow flexible language, some explicitly prohibit it.
Implications for Spirituality and Worship
Reimagining God as gender inclusive has theological implications. It shifts focus to the divine’s transcendence of human categories. Some worry it obscures valuable imagery and symbolism associated with fatherhood. Others feel it expands concepts of the sacred.
Practical impacts include things like altering liturgy, hymns, prayers, and sermons. Teachers must decide how to characterize God to children. There are also questions around sacred texts and interpretations. Can wisdom passed down through millennia be adapted to suit modern sensibilities?
While opinions vary, reconsidering language about the divine reflects a spirit of open-minded inquiry fundamental to many faiths. As humanity’s understanding grows, so too may our relationship with the sacred source from which everything springs.
In the end, the common use of masculine pronouns reflects the contexts in which prevailing concepts of God developed. But the divine transcends gender. Moving forward, we may see more inclusive ways of referring to God that don’t privilege one gender over others.