Thursday, December 24, 2009

Virgin Birth

Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart.
Lk 2:19

After the Holy Spirit has brought forth something new in us, we have to take time out to contemplate the wonder. When the Divine has fertilized our wombs—male and female—we need to ponder these things in our hearts. The wondrous new thing always is a surprise thought impossible until now.

Here I make a sharp turn. When I saw the title “Surprised by Faith,” I thought it possible that a little book sent to me would convey a helpful message, but it echoes hundreds of other books/articles/tracts/letters written by a reconverted former skeptic who returns to childhood faith. Like the hundreds—no, I’m sure it must be thousands—of other such writers, he assumes that the only alternative to atheism is Christianity, and a specific, getting-smaller-but-louder group of Christians—evangelicals, the Christians who avert their eyes from the wealth of spiritual riches outside the Christian box.

It reminds me of a comment to my Times piece Look outside Christian box. I usually don’t read them—too much dross relative to the kernels of value—but someone who applauded my stepping on sacred cows asked about the response. I found this interesting one:
The opinion writer refers to herself as a fellow Christian and then calls the virgin birth a myth. I fail to see how the two are compatible.
By this standard, the pope is not Christian because his knowledge of biblical scholarship must make literal belief in the virgin birth impossible for him.

May the Holy Spirit fertilize your womb this Christmas in a virgin birth, maybe a surprising and new understanding of Christian myth. May the song, “Jesus, rest your head,” sweetly comfort you because you know it is meant for the child in YOURSELF.

A few hours after I posted this, I received the response:
My ‘beef’ with the virgin birth is that it doesn’t respect the human miracle of conception, and the sacredness of the conjugal act.
Excellent comment.
A day later from another reader:
Oh, that we would all know ourselves to be “Mothers of God”!
Amen.

A reader asked how the Bible disproves the Virgin Birth. It doesn’t prove or disprove anything. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke bestow the title “virgin” on the mother of Jesus but contradict the sexual/biological understanding of the term in their genealogies (see Look outside Christian box). Matthew’s quotation from Isaiah is a Greek mistranslation of the original Hebrew word, which simply meant “maiden.” Matthew 13:55-56 and Mark 6:3 tell us that Jesus had brothers and sisters. Catholic theology used to claim that these passages refer to cousins, but contemporary scholarship has abandoned this lame attempt at upholding the myth. These details illustrate the confusion between literal and symbolic interpretations, and fuller understanding of the Bible’s messages comes from examining the nature of myth.

So what’s the source and meaning of the myth? Pagan Goddesses. Scholars conclude that the virgin designation comes from paganism, where it meant a strong, independent woman. One pagan virgin was Aphrodite, notorious for her lack of sexual/biological virginity. Mythologists give the interpretation of myth that I expressed. It shines forth succinctly and perhaps most beautifully in the last reader comment:
Oh, that we would all know ourselves to be “Mothers of God”!
Getting back to the question of why the pope’s knowledge of biblical study would make literal belief impossible for him, I can’t fully explain here. I refer readers to my writings on myth in God Is Not Three Guys in the Sky and in my blogspots as well as my piece in the St.Cloud Times, "Look Outside Christian box." For full understanding, we have to apply the distinction between literal and symbolic language to religious teachings.

1 comment:

Green Monk said...

It took years to get over the programming and anger over my experience of fundamentalist Christianity. Now I am at a place, where I can read about being a Mother of God, and ask how can I birth a new understanding of God in this day and age..and not be overly concerned whether or not the virgin birth happened or even if there was a Mary. Thanks for your thoughts and contemplations...they are wonderful food for thought. :)