Monday, December 28, 2009
markpenrith read my previous post Scandal and asked me the following question:
"Does, Now I do not know how Mary got pregnant. I do not believe that pregnancies can be manufactured from thin air. mean you don’t believe in the virgin birth?"
I believe that God – the Almighty Creator – is capable of creating life out of nothing. This means that God can use a virgin to give birth to Jesus. I am not alone in this, as there are millions of Christians who believe this too. But Christians are not alone in this belief: Parthenogenesis - the Greek word for virgin birth – is a common requirement in ancient mythology for the birth of kings or gods.
For me the more important question is why we need to believe that Jesus was “born of the Virgin Mary”. The original Greek for what we now choose to translate into English as “virgin” does not insist that this be a woman who has not known sexual activity – these texts can also be translated as a “young woman.” In fact the early Christian community new nothing of Mary being a virgin. This was the work of Augustine of Hippo, who formulated a theology that equated the absence of sex with goodness. He suggested that those who abstain from sexual activity are pure, and are therefore closer to God.
Which is why Mary the “young women” was transformed by the Church into Mary “the Virgin”: this line of thought held that the Mother of God could not possibly have engaged in the defilement of sexual activity. Some even suggest that she never ever knew what sex was, and went to heaven in this “pure” state.
Which is fine as a quaint and interesting notion. However, this becomes the foundation for far graver implications.
1. From this we live with the idea that for priests of God to be pure they need to be celibate. And this suppression of sex as a natural God-given human function has led to some priests expressing a distorted sexuality with choir boys and other vulnerable people.
2. The idea that abstinence from sex equates with purity has left many young people feeling defiled and guilty for their early sexual awakenings. No matter how hard they pray – they still think of sex, and therefore are defiled.
So while I can be awed by the idea of God impregnating Mary, I can be as awed by the idea that God took the seed and egg in the womb of Mary and created Jesus from it. The latter idea certainly gives me hope for the power of God to take what could have been a “scandal of this world” and to transform it into a “triumph of heaven.” This then gives me courage to believe that God can take my own frail, deeply flawed life and turn it into something useful and good.