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Age makes women grower fonder of God, but not Church

Women's images of God get more positive as they get older, while their images of the Church tend to become more negative, according to research conducted by an Auckland theologian.

NZ Catholic reports on research Dr Mary Betz (pictured) of the Catholic Institute of Theology conducted for her doctoral thesis titled Who is God for us? Images of God in a group of Roman Catholic lay women in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Dr Betz, the co-ordinator of Continuing Faith Education at CIT, said she found that the women's images of God early in life were both "taught" and "caught".

"They catch images of God mostly from their parents and also from other close caregivers."

She said it is the caught images that the women carry the longest through life.

With many of the taught images, unless they were also caught at some time, the women had a harder time understanding or including them among their images of God.

Some of the women grew up with positive images of God, some with mixed images and some with very negative images.

"But by the time the women are in mid-life . . . their images were almost wholly positive."

On the other hand, she noticed early on in her interviews that, usually starting in teenage years or young adulthood, the women's understanding of God and Church diverged.

"They began to see God as an inclusive God, where they saw the Church as male-dominated and unequal," she said. "They understood God as enabling power, where the Church was powerful. So God was really all-empowering . . . and the Church exercised control."

Dr Betz said the women's top 10 reasons for developing more positive images of God were: Friendship, motherhood, nature, belonging to supportive groups, work, solitude, death and illness, study, mentors, and feminism.

"I noticed that all of the women had some period in their lives when they went through a very rapid God-image change. And that was usually associated with suffering, either of themselves or of someone very close to them."

Dr Betz acknowledged that her research said nothing about women who might have given up on God or the Church, because she selected women who were practising Catholics.

She started out with 12 women. "One dropped out along the way, and I ended up with 11 stories."

Dr Betz, graduated with her PhD in August, told NZ Catholic that she hopes to publish aspects of her research.

God and Church viewed differently by women (NZ Catholic 3/10/04)

Catholic Institute of Theology | Faculty

7 Oct 2004