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A Big-Enough God by Sara Maitland (thoughts)

May 27, 2013

A Big Enough God
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.
20 Comments leave one →
  1. May 27, 2013 8:56 am

    I have read several books by Karen Armstrong and so I cannot remember what was said in each book. What I do remember is an ecumenical spirit which sees the commonality of all spiritual journeys.

    • May 27, 2013 1:17 pm

      I agree re: Armstrong! I haven’t read enough of Maitland yet to know whether she has a similar attitude.

  2. May 27, 2013 9:51 am

    This sounds like it would be right up my alley – thanks for your thoughtful review.

  3. May 27, 2013 12:49 pm

    I definitely believe it’s possible to be a feminist and a Christian, since I’m both :) (But you’re probably not surprised to hear me saying it.) I’m not at all familiar with Maitland–I’ll have to look into her.

    • May 27, 2013 1:17 pm

      And you are definitely one of my inspirations Teresa! :D BTW, have you read Diana Eck? I’m in middle of Encounters with God and loving it so much.

      • May 27, 2013 5:51 pm

        I’ve not read Diana Eck. The name is only vaguely familiar, but I’ll look her up!

      • May 28, 2013 11:15 am

        It’s actually Encountering God, not Encounters with! But well worth a read. :)

  4. May 27, 2013 4:36 pm

    Glad to learn that such books are still appearing. Books like this were important to me when I was first encountering feminism and deciding to go back to grad school. I’ll check some titles and send you an email about them.

    And I too love Ahmed and Armstrong.

    • May 28, 2013 11:15 am

      I think this was an older book, published in the 90s. Not sure though! I’ve LOVE to see your list, thanks so much Marilyn!

  5. May 27, 2013 5:09 pm

    So glad you found SM I read her columns in The Tablet the British magazine and always find her most humane and stimulating

    Karen Armstrongs Spiral Staircase is one of my absolute classics Read it spellbound. Highly recommended

    Loving this thread Eva
    Sending you good wishes for your health

    • May 28, 2013 11:16 am

      Thanks Ana! Jealous you have access to her columns. :) Do you have a blog? Your name doesn’t link to one so I want to make sure I’m not missing something.

      • queenofthepark permalink
        June 3, 2013 2:13 am

        Lovely to have your comment Eva No blog of my own I am sad to say. Perhaps this kind question may prompt me to dip my toe in the water. I just love your blog, your Library vlogs and particularly your inspirational response to such significant health challenges. My CFS limits how much cognitive effort I can expend, so I am always deeply impressed by the range and amount of your reading and your courage and optimism. Lots of pats to Thistle and very good wishes to you

  6. May 27, 2013 6:15 pm

    I’ve never heard of her before but I’m excited to.give her a try. I’m a feminist and a Christian too, and while I don’t find those two things difficult to reconcile, I do find it a bit difficult to find writers with beliefs similar to mine who write about their beliefs. So hooray! (Only hooray if Maitland does not, in fact, believe that Christianity is the only true religion. In that case less hooray.)

    • May 28, 2013 11:18 am

      Maitland’s beliefs are definitely not exactly the same as mine, but I enjoyed reading her anyway!

      I want to make it clear that I completely understand how OTHER people can be feminists and Christians, just for me personally it’s a bit tricky. In large part, this might have to do with me rejecting organised religion when I was only 11, and only really being interested in it again in the past 3 or 4 years, which means I came to adulthood and formed all of my core principals/beliefs outside Christianity. So rather than having my religion grow with me, I’m having to meld it all together now. Does that make sense? Also, for some reason I find referring to God as ‘he’ very, very difficult. It snaps me right out of worship and leaves me cranky. :/

  7. May 27, 2013 6:53 pm

    While I don’t consider myself a believer or a Christian, I am interested in reading about religion and Sara Maitland’s views sound like something I’d really enjoy reading. (And something I might be interested in passing on to my very religious aunts and sisters!

    • May 28, 2013 11:19 am

      I’ve always been interested in religion, even during the decade plus when I wasn’t a believer, so I understand where you’re coming from! I think there’s definitely enough here to satisfy you. :)

  8. Vanessa permalink
    May 28, 2013 4:09 am

    Thank you for your review, Eva. I shall look Maitland up.

  9. May 28, 2013 11:43 am

    This looks rather fascinating!

  10. Alex in Leeds permalink
    June 2, 2013 6:25 am

    I *loved* Gossip From The Forest, such an unusual and thought-provoking read, I recommended it so much last year as it was one of my favourite non-fiction reads of 2012. Hope you enjoy it as much as this faith-oriented book. :)

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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