News+and+politics religion philosophy the cynic librarian: A Christmas Story

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Christmas Story

Christmas is a difficult time for me. There are many memories and wonderful feelings associated with the season that flow from childhood. Many of these involve family and the plethora of the gifts that fulfill any child's dreams.

There are other stories that haunt my nostalgia. My family's bitterness after the divorce of my parents, the insanity of a wife trying to make up a life of resentment by cheating others, trying to make Christmas meaningful for my children without the greed and gorge.

What is Christmas? How has the story of this divine man's birth come to mean something so ungodly and hollow that it spans cultures and become embodied by a fat old man with a white beard and a penchant for consumeristic insanity? ...

I recently participated in a discussion on another forum about the virgin birth of Jesus. Someone who is probably an atheist had cited a poll in the US that shows the majority of Americans believe in Jesus' virgin birth. The poster of the information provocatively titled the post something along the lines of "Majority of Americans Believe Jesus a Bastard."

I picked up on this line of thought by endorsing the literal truth of the statement. Many of the atheists on the forum, of course, attacked the notion of a virgin giving birth. There was some (to my mind) silly talk by those who hold to the doctrine of the virgin birth about parthenogenesis, the biological phenomenon among animals of a female conceiving without having had sex.

I reject both of these arguments. From my perspective, the atheists are simply misinformed about Christian history and theology and try to score points about the credulous Christians. The apologists are equally at fault since they try too hard to disprove something that does not need disproving.

I believe that Jesus was the product of Mary's having been raped by either a Roman soldier or someone else. Stories in the Jewish Mishnah point to this possibilty. These stories probably reflect older ones that date from Jesus' time.

The word bastard can mean a person born out of wedlock. There's nothing wrong with saying that Jesus was a bastard, should that be a fact, unless you find illegitimate birth itself scanadalous.

The scandal of that fact in that socio-cultural milieu is perhaps incomprehensible to many Americans. Yet the time and place where Jesus was born did not look on illegitimacy in such an "enlightened" way. Even in the US it is only a recent view. Around the world it is still the dominant view.

Because this view is still the norm, the virgin birth stories try to ameliorate the effects of that fact as much as they can. How many people want to think they worship a bastard?

I find it odd that those Christians who believe in this man find it so scandalous that they worship someone born out of wedlock. Is it perhaps out of some sense of desire to appear in good taste that they then revert to such absurd theories that stress his divinity at the expense of his humanity?

All things being equal, it should make no difference whether Jesus was born a bastard than not. After all, he found company among whores, thieves, murderers, terrorists and the other dregs of society. Are you scandalized by those facts as well?

As to an awareness of Jesus' illegitimacy, Jesus himself seems to allude to it and make fun of it:

Mat 12:48 But he answered and said unto him that told him, Who is my mother? and who are my brethren?
Mar 3:33 And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren?

He could've been talking about his father but instead makes the more radical assertion that he doesn't even have a mother, not to mention a father--except God, of course.

My interpretation of these verses suggests that there was a subtextual recognition of Jesus' illegitimate birth in the early Christian community. That fact may have been somewhat scandalous to early followers, although there is some evidence that the recognition was always there, perhaps in passages such as the one quoted above.

Jesus was the outcast's outcast; his illegitimate birth only made him more so in the context of a society where legitimacy and bloodlines and tribal affiliation were so paramount.

My overall point in this discussion is that the scandal of who and what Jesus was should never be minimized but instead made even more scandalous. The early church found this fact difficult to maintain as it became integrated into normal social practices.

The churches downplayed these aspects of Jesus' humanity--at great cost to the truer message of Jesus' life in my estimation. As many bible historians note, the emphasis of Jesus' divinity at the expense of his humanity verges on the so-called heresy of Apollinarianism.

Jean Paul Sartre, himself no friend of religion, thought that this aspect of Jesus' life lent more credibility and meaning to the overall religious of that life. Others, of course, had said something similar well before Sartre.

The fact of Jesus' possible illegitmacy is something that the mainstream religions de-stress, at the risk of denuding the Gospel of its true meaning. This is not new--Kierkegaard said the same thing long ago. But that message always gets lost because people would rather stress how much Jesus is just like the bourgeois, well-meaning, God loves you, kumbaya singing savior. That's the comfortable, plastic Jesus who conforms to the self-image that people find less challenging, less scandalous.

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