Song Analysis

God

Monday 8 August 2011, by Cécile Desbrun

“It was a love song, a seduction for the Big Guy. It was a bit like: I dealt with the Son on the last record, let’s go for the Father. My feelings were really calling forth the Goddess, and I took on that energy to say, ‘Come over Tuesday night, baby, I’m free. Put your feet up. You need some advice?’” (The Washington Post, June 20, 1994)

“The notion of God as a male force is definitely not how I see things. Because that male force is the Christian God who says ‘we are Christians and we love our neighbours as ourselves as long as they believe in our God. If you do, we won’t rape your women, slaughter your children or cut your nuts off’ - which was basically the culture of Christianity, with a male figure as its God-head.” (Hot Press, February 23, 1994)

“God” was the first single for Under the Pink to be released in the US, where it met a strong success in alternative and college radios but was basically ‘blacklisted’ from mainstream stations due to its delicate subject in a country where organized religion is so big. After “Crucify” and a lot of other songs from her first record Little Earthquakes, Tori continued to go after the patriarchy in this second album, “God” being a canonical example of her thinking, that she considered as “one of the most important things I’ve ever done.” [1] in 1994. It has yet to be noted it’s a very straightforward, cheeky and ironical song that’s not necessarily her most thought-provoking or in-depth piece about the subject. Tori Amos’s whole body of work has been heavily influenced by her religious Christian upbringing and her rebellion against it, and we could argue songs such as “Crucify,” “Icicle” or “Muhammad My Friend”, among many others, are way more brilliant and controversial than this one, who didn’t really shock anyone outside the United States - or, at least, the music video was more shocking than the song itself. Even Tori’s dad (a former Methodist minister) thought it was “theologically very sound” [2] while he can’t agree with her daughter on “Crucify” or “Father Lucifer,” for instance.

But it cannot be denied it’s an important Tori song because it’s an “empowering song” like she stated herself, one in which she embodies a proud, sensual and joyful female energy who directly addresses the institutionalised god, a male controlling force who did its damage in history. "What I believe now as God is very different from the God that everybody talks about,” she explained to Schwann Spectrum in 1994. ”The God we were all mostly reared to believe in, whether it’s Islamic or Hindu or Buddhist or Jewish or Christian, is a very male, dominating, controlling presence. And it ain’t doing such a good job. So to me, it’s the little ’g’. We spell it with a big ’G’, but that’s not my concept of the Creator. I had to deal with the energy that rules this planet as God - what we as humanity have invested in this God. And that’s not okay for me. So I had to sit down and just say, ’First of all, I don’t believe you’re the big cheese. And as for your role here, you’re not coming through. And that’s not okay. Maybe you need to ask a few babes to come sit down with you’... You can call it a prayer, if you will. I think these are the feelings that everybody feels, that for the most part we might be afraid to express because we’re taught ’You just don’t question that’"

While catchy and seemingly light-hearted, it manages to make relevant points about the cliché image of God defended by the Church (or at least the traditional Church) as a big guy in the sky who takes care about “good people” who follow his words... despite all tragedies in the world who affect everyone, and not merely ‘sinners.’ Though it seems pretty obvious bad things can happen to good people, the artist often explained how she was brought up to believe otherwise and how that belief maintained itself to this day in certain Christian traditions.

Moreover, Tori points out the mayhem caused by the Church’s battle over hundreds of years to eradicate ’heretics,’ non-believers or people of other confessions: crusades, the Inquisition (“a few witches burning get a little toasty here”)... and how organized religion went by the religious teachings of love and compassion it defended as long as it served their interests. “People need to see God as they want to, then use the controlling boundaries, laid down the law when it suited them,“she said in B-Side Magazine. “Burn the witches when it suited them, make a woman feel bad about herself when it suits you because maybe other women in the church are jealous of her... or a man who doesn’t feel like he can get her, so he slanders her and makes her feel terrible.”

And so, of course, overall, it addresses the tacky issue of how women were mistreated by the Church in history and how God as different organized religions see it, is a male controlling force in a patriarchal society, women being deemed inferiors, the only role models available being Mary (a virgin and a mother) or the Magdalene (a prostitute saved by Jesus). “Obviously the whole religion is based on God the Father and a human mother, and obviously there was no sperm and she was a virgin,” Tori told Performing Songwriter in 1998. “So they’ve taken away what women do, which is carry the seed from a male, and with her egg make life. Well the whole process of what we do, to me, was so lessened by that experience because of the way that men were shamed for desiring women, the whole celibacy thing, the whole thing about making Jesus celibate, the whole thing about women being ashamed to have babies, you know? We are not virgins if you guys want to come onto the planet, you know what I mean? So everything was dishonored, I find, by the way they set the religion up.” In this regard, maybe the most provoking point the singer-songwriter makes is when she reads in the middle of the song an excerpt of the Proverbs 31:3: “Give not thy strenght unto women/nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings.”

The artist felt like this God was used to control and divide people at their core whereas Christ’s teachings, according to her, were about finding sacredness within you... not in an external Savior giving good or bad points to human beings according to their acts. “I respect that [Jesus] was a master teacher, but I’m walking my path,” she explained in Nuvo in July 1994. “He’s an inspiration, but yet at the same time, he’s being used by the structure to keep people controlled. Most people, especially most fundamentalist Christians, don’t have their own light. I think I understand very clearly what being your own master is. I haven’t mastered that but I thought that’s what Jesus was talking about. Any of these organized religions are not teaching about being your own master; they’re teaching you how to be mastered. I’m not here to take away what gets them off. I’m like ‘Go knock yourself out. If you wanna go speak in tongues and shake, hey go for it. But I’ve got a date with big G, and I think he’s got some problems, so we’re gonna talk about it.’ I don’t see myself as unworthy of having disagreements with the structure at all. I think it’s necessary and I think all the sexual guilt that has been put in Christianity is debilitating. That’s how you keep a people divided....”

Considering the sacred feminine has been circonsized from our vision of the creative force behind the universe, Tori claims back a balance between male and female entities in “God,” a balance that allows a woman to be spiritual and sexual, where sexuality can actually be seen as something sacred. A balance that’s inclusive and not exclusive, because everyone, male or female, has a female and male part living inside his psyche. “That’s why I sing ‘God, sometimes you just don’t come through/ Do you need a woman to look after you,’’ she told Hot Press in February 1994. “The God-force must be feminised, perceived more as a God-Goddess. Jesus, his mother, ‘his church’ all must be redefined. Especially a figure like Mary Magdalene, who I and so many Christian women were taught to despise, because she was a prostitute. Because of that we had great problems coming to terms with the prostitute in ourselves, which again, is something the Church teaches us to deny, and something my song, ‘The Wrong Band’ is about when I sing ‘Ginger is always sincere/But not to one man.’

“That prostitute in woman is someone who is worthy of honour and respect because she comes from a long line of Goddesses who understood the balance between the sexual and the spiritual [...]. But her positive energy-force has been re-appropriated by the Church and denied.”

“The idea that god is sexless is a brilliant form of control because it means we can never be in the image of Gun unless we’re sexless too. So, from birth your sexual organs are ripped off in terms of self-respect. The message is ‘you’re scum’ if you partake in sex. But we, as women and men, are not ‘scum’ and we are not sexless beings. We are a blend of the spiritual and the physical and to deny either aspect of our nature is like trying to walk on one leg. Nor are women, in particular, simply incubators for patriarchal power structures such as marriage, society, the Church. Patriarchy isn’t working. Any fool can see that. And, again, it all comes back to the question of being divided within ourselves.” [3]

While fundamuntalists and conservative Christians in America were of course very hostile to the song, “God” is not about hatred for religious structures and the patriarchy. Instead, it’s about claiming more balance and tolerance. The singer humoristically sees the Christian God as a very busy man with too much job to handle and sympathetically offers some help.“I feel like the song is a releasing, a sharing. It’s honest and loving. And it’s sensuous. It’s the goddess coming forth and saying, ‘Come here, baby. I think you’ve had a bit of a rough job, and I don’t mind helping out now.’ Which I think is really cute. ”  [4]

In this sense, “God” is also the first song in which Tori Amos argues that the concept of a only true god is purely an arrogant misappropriation of power, something that will regularly come back in songs like “Flavor.” “Wherever our life force is coming from, it couldn’t have originated from one particular religion, “ she told Dutch magazine Oor in 1998. “I grew up with the thesis there’s only one God, one religion, one road to the top. Very shortsighted! I think every religion contains little pieces of magic. Use it to shape your own truth.’” After having felt much guilt due to her religious upbringing - something she addressed at lenght in her first solo release Little Earthquakes in 1992 - the singer felt a great relief when she understood the God she was taught to believe in and fear was only just a way among others of looking at things and she didn’t need to feel ashamed about not sharing all his views. “When I began to understand the Christian God is a fragment of the divine, that was the least arrogant with religion that I have ever been,” she confirmed in The Chicago Tribune. “I have a margarita regularly with him, and it feels much better. Because although we’re only human beings, and I’m only a human woman, I think there are things the Christian God can learn from us.”

This way of looking at things would have a great effect in her following releases, and in The Beekeeper (2005) in particular, where she explores aspects of the divine feminine and reappropriates certain concepts found in the Gnostic scriptures uncovered in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945, including the concept of “God behind God” (the idea that the god pictured in Genesis is only an anthropomorphic image of the divine Source that brought forth the universe).

Trivia

Tori told WHFS Press that during the recording of the album, she searched for quotes from the Bible emphasizing the way women were lessened by religion and decided to give a call to her minister Dad for advice. “I call him back, and I’m in England ‘cause we were mixing, and I just needed this quote and my father says, ‘Would you like to hear my quotes?’ He gives me two pages of quotes form the ‘Song of Solomon’ which says, ‘Thy globes are like ripe sweet berries; thy navel is like a cup which poureth spring water.’ It just goes on forever and I say, ‘Dad, no, this is not representative of what I’m talking about.’ He says, ‘Yeah, but these are beautiful quotes.’ And it was very interesting to me how my father, bless his cotton socks, just can’t acknowledge the way that the Church has treated not just women, but people in other cultures - it’s hard for him as a minister to see the other side of Christianity and what it’s done in the name of God.”

information sources

The Washington Post, June 20, 1994.
Hot Press, February 23, 1994.
Schwann Spectrum, Spring 1994.
WHFS Press, Spring 1994.
Creem, March 1994.
Performing Songwriter, March/April 1994.
B-Side Magazine, April/May 1994.
Nuvo, July 1994.
Kalen Rogers, Tori Amos: All These Years Biography, Omnibus Press, 1994/1996, p. 81.
Oor, April 18, 1998.
The Chicago Tribune, May 17, 1998.
Performing Songwriter, September/October 1998.


[1Performing Songwriter, March/April 1994

[2Kalen Rogers, Tori Amos: All These Years Biography, Omnibus Press, 1994/1996, p. 81.

[3Hot Press, February 23, 1994.

[4Creem, March 1994)