A Big-Enough God by Sara Maitland (thoughts)
A Big-Enough God by Sara Maitland is a deliciously academic approach to feminism and traditional Christian theology, although with its avoidance of technical details and jargon it’s clearly aimed at an intelligent general audience. If A.S. Byatt suddenly decided to turn from novel writing to feminist theology, I suspect she’d sound rather like Maitland. Wryly humourous, intimidatingly intelligent, and always thoughtful, I got along splendidly with A Big-Enough God, even if I don’t agree with Maitland on every particular. I suspect she’d respect me more for that disagreement, even as she marshalled her arguments to prove me wrong.
What I found most fascinating about A Big-Enough God is that Maitland is both a clearly committed feminist and a surprisingly orthodox Christian believer (she believes in a literal devil and literal angels). As she explains her reasoning, and why she doesn’t think these two facets of herself are at all opposed, she of necessity broadened my thinking and beliefs. I love that her theology is firmly grounded in awe and wonder, that the God she believes in (and describes using ‘she,’ a topic Maitland explores in the book) is a wide, expansive, surprising, mysterious God who, far from being threatened by advancing human knowledge, merely delights in our discoveries.
I did raise an occasional eyebrow at her language, which at times implied that Christianity is the one true religion. This was never explicitly addressed, so I’ve no idea whether Maitland actually believes that, or if it’s just that a more traditional way of speaking about Jesus necessarily portrays him as the only path to God. The references weren’t terribly frequent, and as the book grew out of lectures addressed to priests, I easily overlooked them. But I thought I’d mention it, regardless.
I wanted to read A Big-Enough God to reassure myself that I could be feminist and Christian, that I could somehow find within my intellectual self a ‘believer’ (a word I find myself squirming even while writing, I have such a strong instinctive antipathy to it and institutionalised religion) and I found far more than mere assurance. I found a woman who is intelligent and devout, feminist and believer, engaging with a God I can certainly see myself also engaging with. Moreover, I found an excellent author, one whom I’m excited to read more of. Luckily for me, I’ve finally made it to the top of my library’s hold list for her most recent book, about fairy tales!
Suggested Companion Reads
- Through the Narrow Gate by Karen Armstrong : another strong, intelligent woman writing about her relationship with religion. In this case, she goes on a bit of a reverse journey from Maitland.
- A Border Passage by Leila Ahmed : one of my favourite books, that I sadly didn’t blog about, while not explicitly about religion, Ahmed does address Islam from a woman’s perspective, and a fascinating one it is.
- Taking Back God by Leora Tanenbaum : a fascinating, wonderful look at how American women are reconciling their feminism with their religion. Tanenbaum (herself an Orthodox Jew) includes Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, and Muslim women.