Well, we already knew this (I think), since that asseveration is part of the Nicene Creed, that litany of beliefs that should embarrass any thinking person. Still, it’s nice, at least for us atheists, that the Pope has once again made himself and Catholicism figures of fun by affirming that Jesus was born of a virgin. As Yahoo News (via Reuters) reports, the Pope has given us a Christmas gift: an affirmation of the impossible.
Pope Benedict published the last part of his trilogy on the life of Jesus on Tuesday, delivering an early childhood narrative which strongly reaffirms the doctrine of the virgin birth as an “unequivocal” truth of faith.
In the book, 137 pages in its English version, Benedict also urges his readers to stop seeing God as someone who limits personal freedom.
“The Infancy Narratives – Jesus of Nazareth” will be published around the world in some 20 languages. It goes on sale on Wednesday.
It is bound to be another international bestseller like the previous volumes. The Vatican said a million copies had already been printed and more runs were expected soon.
Oy vey; would my books sell as well!
But here’s the good part:
One section of the book is called “Virgin Birth – Myth or Historical Truth?”
The Church teaches that Jesus is the son of God and was not conceived through sexual intercourse but by the power of the Holy Spirit, one part of the divine trinity.
Note that the Trinity is not an explicit claim of the New Testament, but a doctrine (now ironclad) made up by Church fathers from some questionable references in the New Testament. And it’s not accepted by many Christians (e.g. “Unitarians”, Christian Scientists, and Mormons). Once again, theology has just made something up. But I digress:
In simple language that is at once academic but still easily accessible to a non-specialist readership, Benedict says the story of the virgin birth is not just a reworking of earlier Greek or Egyptian legends and archetypal concepts but something totally new in history.
“It is God’s creative word alone that brings about something new. Jesus, born of Mary is fully man and fully God, without confusion and without separation…” he writes.
“The accounts of Matthew and Luke are not myths taken a stage further. They are firmly rooted, in terms of their basic conception, in the biblical tradition of God the Creator and Redeemer,” he writes.
“Is what we profess in the Creed (a Christian prayer that includes belief in the virgin birth) true? he asks. He answers: “The answer is an unequivocal yes”.
Catholics should see belief in the virgin birth and the resurrection of Jesus from the dead as “cornerstones of faith” because they are undeniable signs of God’s creative power.
Yeah, but so are the creation, the Flood, Adam and Eve, Moses parting the Red Sea, and so on. Why aren’t those cornerstones of faith? Or are the resurrection and virgin birth “undeniable” for some reason that doesn’t apply to the other stuff?
“If God does not also have power over matter, then he simply is not God,” Benedict writes. “But he does have this power, and through the conception and resurrection of Jesus Christ he has ushered in a new creation.”
Is Pope Benedict a Biblical fundamentalist, then? We know that he isn’t, for he hasn’t overturned the Church’s doctrine of accepting evolution, a doctrine that blatantly contradicts Genesis. (I should note, that, that Ratzi’s book bears both his own name and his Popeish monicker, and thus doesn’t constitute official church doctrine.)
In fact, in his new Golden Book of Jebus, Ratzinger indeed suggests that parts of the Bible are metaphorical (he uses the euphemism “interpreted history”). The Yahoo story continues:
Benedict also tackles the “question of interpreted history,” or the attempt by the gospels to understand events after they took place in the context of the word of God and their relationship to prophesies in the Old Testament.
“Hence the aim (of the evangelists) was not to produce an exhaustive account, but a record of what seemed important for the nascent faith community in the light of the word. The infancy narratives are interpreted history, condensed and written down in accordance with the interpretation,” he writes.
In other sections of the book Benedict discusses the genealogy of Jesus, the figure of St Joseph, the story of the wise men who the Bible says paid tribute to the infant Jesus in the manger in Bethlehem.
He writes of the symbolism of Jesus having been born in a manger: “From the moment of his birth, he belongs outside the realm of what is important and powerful in worldly terms.”
The pope dedicates a section of the book to the Bible story of the three kings who paid tribute to the infant Jesus.
Benedict says that while he believes in the story of the adoration of the Magi, no foundation of faith would be shaken if turned out to be an invention based on a theological idea.
Well, that’s about as weaselly as it gets. First of all, why does he believe in the story of the adoration of the Magi? Just because it’s in the Bible? If that’s so, then does he believe everything in the Bible as literal truth? Certainly not, for he rejects the creation story.
Second, as has always been clear, the things that to Christians are non-negotiable “truths” of the Bible are those fables on which their faith rests most heavily. Therefore they can dispense with the parting of the Red Sea and the curing of lepers, buut not with the Resurrection, which is the most important fable that Christians must accept as literal truth.
But if that’s the case, then why not treat Adam and Eve likewise?. For without the Original Duo, and Original Sin, the crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus would make no sense (as they say, “Did Jesus die for a metaphor?”).
But I don’t see the Virgin Birth as such an unequivocal truth. Nothing really depends on that tale except the notion that Jesus was an extraordinary (i.e., divine) being. And by holding fast to such a ludicrous doctrine, the Pope is making things tough for his Church, and harder for adherents to accept its doctrine in an age of science.
I’d like to ask devout Christians or Catholic scientists, like Kenneth Miller, Francis Collins, or Simon Conway Morris, if they too believe in the “unequivocal truth” of the virgin birth. My guess would be that Collins and Conway Morris would equivocate, muttering something about metaphor, while Miller would refuse to answer.