Views on politics and current events

Sunday, January 16, 2005

On The Virgin Birth

To begin a discussion of the validity and necessity of belief in the virgin birth of Jesus, perhaps we need to begin with thinking about what constitutes being a Christian.
Is it a set of ‘rules of belief’ that need to be followed? By ‘rules of belief’ I mean the following three basic beliefs of traditional Christianity about Jesus:

1. That Jesus was born of a virgin
2. That Jesus performed miracles
3. That Jesus was physically resurrected from death

Jesus was not the only person in history or myth that was thought to be of virgin
birth. Zoroaster, the ‘prophet’ of what can be considered the first monotheistic religion in the world of Zoroasterism (some scholars have put forth the hypothesis that it was this religion that influenced the Jews in exile concerning their own monotheistic faith) that came to the world in roughly the 6th century B.C.E in Persia also was supposedly of virgin birth. Some Buddhists also have thought that the Buddha was of virgin birth. Many of the truly influential religious figures in early history were accorded the same virgin birth myth. So perhaps these men were of such divine nature that it was a ‘miracle’ that they walked the earth. They were so special that their birth would have to be by extraordinary circumstances, such as a virgin birth, for how could such uncommon men be born of a common union between a man and a woman?

Is the virgin birth of Jesus the only one of these myths that is true? If it is possible for a person to be born of a virgin, then why only Jesus? Is Christianity the only religion in the world that has miracles that are fact? Why not the virgin birth of Zoroaster, Buddha and the others? To believe that Jesus was the one and only true virgin birth in all of past, present and future history is to make Christianity the most unique religion in the world, the religion closest to God, the religion that is the only way. For if it is true of Jesus and false for the others, then for sure Christianity is guided and favored by God and Jesus truly is the one and only literal son of God. How could it be any different?

But it is not the truth. The plain facts are that there is only one way for any person to be born to this earth, and that is by the coming together of a viable sperm cell and a viable egg. Period. Everything else is myth. This is the ‘system’ in place for procreation. There is no need for any other, for this system works very well and has worked very well for a long time. So there is no such thing as a virgin birth. Not Buddha, not Zoroaster, not Jesus, nor any others. If it is a miracle you want, how much more of a miracle can there be than the coming together of two tiny cells, the dividing and growing that happens until there is a human being brought forth? Despite all the scientific research about birth and fertility, it still remains a mystery how and why it happens. The ‘mechanics’ of the process are known, but that precious spark of life that makes it happen is still a mystery. So while there is no virgin birth, all of us are a miracle in our own right, for we have all came from a miraculous event.

The virgin birth is one of the myths that creates the illusion of exclusivity about Christianity for Christians. That somehow a Christian’s beliefs over-shadow other religious teachings and traditions, that Christians have a monopoly on truth. This exclusivity is false. For a Christian to believe that their belief is the only belief creates tension with our brothers and sisters of other faiths, and can give us a false sense of superiority over them. None of us is ‘better’ than the other. None of us has the right to condemn another’s beliefs, for the deep-felt convictions and beliefs of a Christian are actually no more worthy than the deep-felt convictions and beliefs of any other religion. I cannot believe that an omnipotent God that allowed us to develop our own cultures and traditions (which any religion is a product of) would set one belief system as superior to the other. Does God only love Christians, or is His love universal for all?

Christianity is the spiritual way for the Christian. Jesus is our spiritual leader and prophet, and he was inspired and filled with the spirit. Did God only send prophets for the Judeo-Christian peoples? If God is truly the Father of all of us, and a loving father at that, why would it be so strange to believe that prophets would be sent to every culture, every part of the world? Buddha, Mohammed, even the shaman of primitive cultures, could not all of these ‘holy men’ be considered prophets such as Amos, Jeremiah, etc.?

We are every one of us, God’s chosen people. Spiritual leaders and prophets have appeared in every culture in one form or another. So the uniqueness of Jesus does not supercede or demean any other spiritual leader’s appearance. The uniqueness of Jesus is a uniqueness in our religious traditions that have their roots with the ancient Hebrews.

Does the uniqueness of Jesus, his teachings and his message hinge on his being born of a virgin? No. A totally human Jesus could have the same teachings and message. Not to say that he was not divine. Truly he was filled with the spirit of God, and was concerned with the down-trodden in the society in which he lived. His was a message that decried the abuses brought about by a totalitarian state ran by the Romans that was aided and abetted by Jewish leadership. Indeed, the head priest of the temple was appointed by the Roman emperor. It can be imagined that the main criterion that an Emperor would use for such an appointment would be to appoint someone that would remain subservient to Rome, even at the expense of the priest’s own people. That was the political reality of the time.

Jesus saw how this political reality was oppressing his people, and that a select few of his people were leading the oppression. One of the ways used for this oppression was the temple, with its emphasis on the economic and life style improvements of the priests and the select few at the expense of the common person. The common person was being more and more oppressed through exploitation of their labor and money, and religious condemnation for the so-called dregs of their society. Prostitutes, lepers, the insane, all were considered evil, people that were possessed of evil spirits and shunned by the religious elite. Not welcome in the temple, considered unclean, they were the ones that had no hope for a better life or salvation. Jesus disagreed. Jesus made a point to associate with these so-called dregs of society, and was even so bold as to absolve them of their sin, which was totally opposite of what the religious leaders appointed by Rome advocated. It is no big mystery that he suffered a horrible death. When a person resists the powers that be to the extent that Jesus did, all too often a violent end is the result.

Again I ask, is the life and teachings of Jesus dependant on a belief that he was born of a virgin? Again I answer no. Then why is all the importance laid upon belief in a virgin birth? The ones that set up the ‘rules’ for Christianity so many centuries ago made it an essential dogma, along with the rest of the Nicean Creed. The bishops that governed the different parts of the Christian world at the time were summoned to Nicea by Constantine, Roman emperor. For roughly the first three centuries of Christianity, it was a very diverse religion. Gnostics, Donatists, and many other groups within Christianity all had their own beliefs about the particulars of the religion and Jesus. When Christianity was officially sanctioned as the religion of the empire is when the attempt to settle so many disagreements began to ‘officially’ happen. The bishops of the first and second Councils of Nicea argued, discussed, and got approval of the emperor over what a person had to believe to call themselves a Christian. So the formation of official dogma was not only a codification of belief, but also a way for the Roman empire to hold dominion over their people. Christianity soon became the official religion. And the decision on what the beliefs of this official religion would be rested with the bishops who were jockeying for control, and the emperor who was making sure that whatever the bishops decided was good for the empire. Forever since, the virgin birth has been part of Christian dogma.

What is more important; trying to lead a life based on the teachings of Jesus, or adhering to a belief in the virgin birth? Tradition says that the two are bound together, for even if you do good things with your life, if you do not have a faith that accepts so many myths as literal truth, there is no hope for your salvation. An afterlife full of damnation is your fate. This is a ‘faith’ that stems from fear. I believe Jesus walked the earth to teach us to love one another and conquer our fear. It plays on our fear about the unknown, about death. About a death that instead of freeing us from our burdens and suffering, multiplies them a thousand times, all because the condemned do not toe the line of orthodoxy.

Is it the right kind of faith to believe literally in the teachings of traditional Christianity because you fear eternal damnation? Is it right if the basis of your belief is so you won’t end up in the burning lake of fire? Should we do what is good in this life so that we get our ‘heavenly reward’? Is it merely a system of just reward for proper belief? If your faith is a way for you to avoid being cast in the lake of fire, then perhaps yours truly is a blind faith.

So I believe that the belief in the virgin birth is not necessary to be a Christian. My personal culture and traditional religion happens to be Christian, with ample teachings to help me lead a life full of compassion and love. Jesus remains the great teacher and prophet of my faith. Even though I personally do not believe in the virgin birth, the bottom line is that it does not make any difference if it is true or not. The teachings are the same, the messages of peace, justice and love remain the same. So whether, or whether not, is of no consequence.

1 comment:

Dean said...

An excellent, and clear analysis of the situation, Alan, but I doubt that you will convince anyone who is a biblical literalist. Their whole world falls apart when they listen to us, and that HURTS. :-)

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