Opinions expressed here are my own and do not represent the views of the congregation I joyfully serve. But my congregation loves me!

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Virgin Birth Is Fiction

This is why Christianity has virtually zero credibility.  Enter Al Mohler:
This much we know: All those who find salvation will be saved by the atoning work of Jesus the Christ — the virgin-born Savior. Anything less than this is just not Christianity, whatever it may call itself. A true Christian will not deny the Virgin Birth.
This much we know?   Seriously?  

The "Virgin Birth" is medieval superstition.   It was based on a translation error and a patriarchal understanding of where babies come from.   The virgin birth is a quaint leftover from a pre-modern past.  Yes, at Christmas, we sip our eggnog and we sing lovely carols with lines such as this:  "Lo, He shuns not the virgin's womb."   But only the most tone-deaf and gauche literalist would think we should take that legend literally.   

Nothing takes the magic, delight, and hope away from Christmas as much as someone who mistakes legend for history.   It makes Christianity nonsensical and it makes Christians dumber.   To insist that everyone needs to be as stupid as you in order to be a Christian is the raisin in the plumb pudding.

For Christmas Eve, I think I will share with the folks Phillip Appleman's poem, "Mary" that concludes with the following:

Me, I'm just a small-town woman, 
a carpenter's wife, Jewish mother, nothing 
special. But listen, 
whenever I told my baby a fairy tale, 
I let him know it was a fairy tale. 
Go, all of you, and do likewise.

19 comments:

rick allen said...

"The "Virgin Birth" is medieval superstition."

If it is superstition, it is an ancient superstition, a patristic superstition, a Renaissance supersition, an Eastern Orthodox superstition, a Reformation superstition, and on and on and on.

Why is it, I wonder, that "medieval" is so often used as the most perjorative adjective, even when not remotely accurate?

I understand that you think that science negates the virgin birth's possibility. That's fine. Is that a reason to call those who think differently tone-deaf, gauche and stupid?

John Shuck said...

This post is about Al Mohler and his claim that people are not Christians if they do not believe the virgin birth.

You can think whatever you want. You can call yourself Christian as far as I am concerned. Mohler won't give you that freedom. I do.

Sorry if you are offended, but I will call it as I see it. I think it is long past time that Christians spoke candidly about their doctrines.

If someone said space aliens created the Empire State building, or that some divine being created the world 6,000 years ago, or that The Three Little Pigs is a story that really happened, I would call it tone-deaf, gauche, and stupid.

Religion does not get a pass.

So if you have a reasonable explanation of why Jesus was born of a virgin, I'd like to hear it.

As far as medieval is concerned, I was referring to the time period in which it was mostly developed. But sure, it is superstition all the way down.

Snad said...

Does this mean I should stop looking for the Entwives?

John Shuck said...

He shuns not the entwives wombs.

@Rick

Upon further reflection, conversation with others, and checking out information, you are of course right to catch me on the "medieval" part. It was a doctrine by the second century. I guess I had in my mind that it was in the early medieval period that the doctrine kind of took off and developed as Christmas became important and the cult of Mary and so forth. But you are right, it was an early superstition. I regret the use of "medieval".

Thanks.

Here is a great video, an interview by Robert Price with Robert Miller, author of Born Divine: The Birth of Jesus and Other Sons of God.

Josh said...

I knew Mohler's article looked familiar:
"This essay was originally posted December 8, 2006"

What a joyous Yuletide tradition, republishing a sectarian diatribe.

Mohler should have said in his piece:
The real question is this: Can a Fundamentalist Christian, once aware of the Bible’s teaching, reject the Virgin Birth and remain a Fundamentalist Christian? The answer must be no.

Let him define his own sect, not everyone else's. :^)

John Shuck said...

@Josh

And I just realize that I had commented on his virgin birth nonsense three Christmases ago!

John Shuck said...

One of these was the post I had commented on three years ago where he attacks Bishop Sprague and others as heretics for not affirming his superstitions.

rick allen said...

“…if you have a reasonable explanation of why Jesus was born of a virgin, I'd like to hear it.”

I certainly don’t know the “why” of it (though it fits in rather neatly with later articulations of the trinitarian persons and the incarnation and the relationship of the divine and human natures). Two of the four evangelists assert it to be the case, and the Church has continued to proclaim it as part of the core of its message.

I am familiar with the extensive arguments of the new-questers against this and other extraordinary claims made by the gospels, and though they do a good job providing alternative accounts consistent with a thorough-going naturalism, something more than that is needed to eliminate it if one doubts that the whole of reality runs like a great clockwork.

To be honest, the more I look at it, I don’t even see that there was a translation error for the thing to come from. But time presses.

(And I certainly don’t want to give the impression that I disagree with you about everything. I hope you can keep your mountaintops intact.)

John Shuck said...

Hey Rick,

Thanks for the mountain support!

As to the virgin, the translation Isaiah 7:14-16 "young woman" in Hebrew becomes "virgin" in Greek is what I was talking about.

The legend seems to be a combination of Hebrew miracle births (Sarah, Hannah, etc.) plus Greek births of heroes.

For Christians it ends up becoming the reason for Jesus to be divine. God plants his seed into virgin ground and gets a god son.

If we want to say reality is more than clockwork, I don't see how a virgin birth legend helps.

It is an ancient piece of folklore that ended becoming a central piece of dogma that the institutions can't release. Some people thought believing this was important in the second century or whenever. We have moved on. We have moved on in spite of religious superstition not because of it.

It is a losing and rather sad battle to defend the virgin birth or any of the other dogmas for that matter in any real sense.

Mohler and his crowd in their attempts to force churches to believe in these fairy tales is a desperate effort.

The only reason I really care to even bother addressing this nonsense is because of the ignorance and harm it spreads in the larger culture. I also think that Christianity might have a reasonable future if it were to recognize that its stories are stories.

As story, poetry and art, I like legends, myths, and fairy tales. I think they have a role in communicating some humane and human values. I resist, however, having to "believe" them.

southernbeale said...

Oh, it's even worse than that. Years ago at church we were playing a little game with the youth group. "What parts of the Christmas story are not in the Bible?" And it was amazing how much of what we culturally have embraced about Christmas is just not in the Bible anywhere. I put a few in a blog post a couple years ago.

It's the same with the story of Adam and Eve and the Book of Revelation and everything else. The culture has filled in the gaps, based on Renaissance art and other cultural who-knows-what.

I just find that fascinating. It's not like we don't have Bibles in our bookshelves that we could look at and say, "hey. No donkey in the Christmas story! Scratch that one, then!"

Weird.

Michael_SC said...

Matthew and Luke, writing in the 80s, needed to place Jesus in Bethlehem so they could make their point that he was the son of David, fulfulling the OT, etc, so voila, the birth in Bethlehem -- at least that's what I've read. Seems reasonable: Paul, writing earlier, seemed to know nothing of the story; if he had, you'd think he would have used it to promote the idea of Jesus son of David. I can kind of understand why first century writers would do this; but I don't understand why someone in 2011, in a modern Western country, would double down on the story as literal history.

Paul D. said...

When Christians consider the virgin birth story to be literally true, I wonder which story they think is literally true — Luke's or Matthew's. It can't be both.

Anyway, I fully agree with Reverent John here and find it extremely distasteful the way Al Mohler and other fundamentalists will take the liberty of defining who is and is not a Christian for the rest of us — usually on the basis of believing (or pretending to believe) specific historical or theological assertions.

southernbeale said...

And I have a real pet peeve about the whole "Happy Birthday, Jesus" thing. There's a huge billboard on West End Avenue here in Nashville that says "Happy Birthday, Jesus."

People, Dec. 25 IS NOT JESUS' BIRTHDAY! It's just ... aargh. The ignorance. And now we have a "war on Christmas" because some people find it politically advantageous to keep the country divided over religion. Which is so very sad.

Last night we were watching the CBS show "Survivor" (I confess it's a guilty pleasure) and the 5 finalists are all about praying this and Jesus that. To the point where someone on Twitter wrote to host Jeff Probst: "Next season less Jesus please."

I really don't think Jesus cares who wins this season of Survivor, you know? But .... call me crazy! I also really doubt if Jesus were alive today he'd be on a reality show vying for a $1 million cash prize. The idea that there's anything remotely religious or spiritual about this entire enterprise is just so offensive and demeaning.

Reverend Sax said...

Al Mohler elevates Mary as a virgin, chosen by God. Is she inseminated by God without her consent? This same guy took over the Baptist seminary in Louisville, and fired all the women profs, cause they are less than men and aren't good enough to teach. How is he different from an Ayatollah?

rick allen said...

"As to the virgin, the translation Isaiah 7:14-16 "young woman" in Hebrew becomes "virgin" in Greek is what I was talking about."

The question, of course, is whether, when the Alexandrian Jews translated

הָעַלְמָה הָרָה

as
ἡ παρθένος ἐν γαστρὶ ἕξει,

they "mistranslated."

It is of course correct that Hebrew has a word, בְּתוּלָה
meaning, preciscely, "virgin." But the question in translation is not that simple lexigraphical fact, but whether Isaiah's use of the term "almah" "a young, typically unmarried woman," carried a connotation of virginity important to the meaning of the sentence. Those translators plainly thought it did.

Consider an analogous situation in early modern English, Act 5, scene 4of "Much Ado about Nothing." Hero has just been cleared of an accusation of unchastity:

"One Hero died defiled, but I do live,
And surely as I live, I am a maid."

"Maid" is a word very much like "almah," a word for a young, unmarried woman, which, in its cultural context (and quite unlike ours), carries a connotation of virginity. Were one to translate Shakespeare's words into Greek, it would probably be more correct to translate "maid" as "parthenos," even though he didn't use the more precise English word, "virgin." It's a matter of linguistic sensititivity to context and connotation.

It's a small point, but one of many commonplaces illustrating how readings, not unreasonable in themselves, become unassailable "facts" not given a closer examination. As I consider this passage in Isaiah, in the Masoretic Text and Septuagint, I become more and more convinced that there was no "mistranslation,", but a good rendering of the text, subject, as always, to the vageries of any translation.

John Shuck said...

I don't find that very credible, Rick. Not only is it a mistranslation from 'young woman' to 'virgin' it is a misuse of the entire passage in Isaiah to think it refers to the birth of Jesus. Despite the Christmas carols, the prophets never foretold Jesus. The gospel writers dug through their scriptures for proof texts. They did a fairly wooden job of it.

John Shuck said...

The "Virgin Birth" of Jesus is necessary for fundamentalists (it was one of the fundamentals) so that Jesus would be born untainted by human sin. This is a patriarchal understanding of birth that the seed is planted in the virgin ground. The ground contributes nothing to the identity of the one who is born. It is not only bad biology, it is bad theology.

As Reverend Sax points out, it hasn't done much for Mohler's view of women.

southernbeale said...

John:

You might get a kick out of this pro-life billboard in New Zealand depicting the Virgin Mary holing a positive pregnancy test.

My question: if she's a virgin, why take a pregnancy test in the first place?

John Shuck said...

I don't think the message is pro life. St. Matthew's is an edgy progressive church that likes to purchase provocative billboards.

Last year's billboard pushed the envelope too!