Poor National Geographic. Since being purchased by the conservative scion Rupert Murdoch, the first issue out of the gates is a massive tip of the hat to conservative religious ideology. The biblical figure of Mary is hailed as the most powerful woman in the world.
Of course the figure of Mary carries with it some heavy theological baggage. That would be the so-called Virgin Birth.
How unsettlingly ironic this new testament to the power of womanhood really is. The Virgin Mary myth begins with the idea that the Son of God could not be conceived by conventional sexual means. Instead, it requires an immaculate conception in which the Holy Spirit essentially rapes a woman for God’s supposed purposes.
So, the question has never been answered. Is she still a virgin after this conception? Or is pregnancy not somehow an establishment of womanhood? Which is it?
How the Virgin Mother myth evolved
We know by now that the concept of a virgin birth (itself a malapropism) is adopted from other cultures to serve the idea that a supernatural being has entered the human race. The idea that some people become gods through status or divination was important to ancient cultures seeking leaders for military, cultural or religious purposes.
Buddha was ostensibly born of a virgin. So were many other goddesses and mothers in religious history. All impregnated by heavenly spirits.
Christianity was late to the game but just as determined to turn their Virgin Mother myth into a powerful religious meme. So the New Testament does a bit of work to make that a seeming reality. The Book of Matthew tells the story as a sort of scandal in which Joseph considers divorcing his wife when he learns that she is pregnant without his seed.
“But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
Virgin Births in the Modern Age
A group of University of North Carolina scientists dug into the issue of virgin births in the modern era. Their findings were interesting, as the main pool of people claiming “virgin birth” were Christian women who took the vow of chastity or some other indication of purity (abstinence education, for example).
The articles notes:
“Except for in the Bible, virgin births or asexual reproduction occur only in the plant world and among a small group of vertebrates: pit vipers, boa constrictors, sharks and Komodo dragons.”
Of course none of these creatures considers virgin birth all that important. Asexual reproduction is a matter of practicality, not miraculous events. But it does make one think hard about the fact that both John the Baptist and Jesus referred to religious leaders of the day as “a brood of vipers.”
Brood of Vipers indeed
That was because the original fundamentalists of the Jewish faith were caught up in the process of turning religious laws into a power structure that conferred them political advantage and wealth. If you tried to divest them of that power, they struck at you like a brood of vipers. In fact that is exactly what got Jesus killed. He was bitten by the poison power of fundamentalism.
In his absence, the ministry of Jesus Christ was hijacked by similar zealots who then interpreted the story of his existence to fit their desires in some ways. They had already aggressively borrowed traditions like the virgin birth to make predictions in what Christians call the Old Testament. It was now up to the authors of the New Testament to make those prophecies “pay off.” Competitive prophecies have to fit together like a puzzle or they are unconvincing. Hence the Virgin Birth was canonized and copied over and again in the Gospel narratives.
Beyond theft and deceit
If this makes you sad to think about, don’t be alarmed. We can still believe in the power and majesty of Jesus Christ without the stolen myths of pagan religions to prop up the story. The teachings of Christ are sufficient in wisdom and transformative power to work miracles in the lives of everyone they touch. Men such as Thomas Jefferson saw this and extracted the miracle stories from the Bible to put greater focus on the wisdom of the man we call the Son of God.
But thanks to the conservative, patriarchal tradition in which men competitively want to cherish the notion of owning and then taking the virginity of a woman, we’re forced into reciting this falsehood in Christian creeds and other ways.
New Conservative Zealots
It’s no coincidence that the magazine National Geographic has been forced into parroting the Virgin Mary myth by its new conservative owner Rupert Murdoch. Oppression of women is a favorite habit of male conservatives.
One wonders how that actually squares with the supposed humility of Mary’s husband Joseph, who demurely accepts the idea that his wife is pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Would conservative men of this day and age accept that as truth? Or would they behave like conservative commentators such as Rush Limbaugh, who branded Sandra Fluke a “slut” simply for advocating the idea that birth control should be covered under health care plans? We already know the answer to that one, don’t we?
Perception and truth
Again, perception is often more powerful than truth. The University of North Carolina study found a not-too-surprising commonality among women claiming to be virgins and even men claiming to be virgins even though their wives were already pregnant. “For the larger original study in 1995, which included both males and females, she said scientists were surprised by some of the findings. “There were a few virgin fathers lurking around in data field,” said Herring.
The article states: “We found [the “virgin birth” phenomenon] was more common among women who signed chastity pledges or whose parents indicated lower levels of communication with their children about sex and birth control,” said Herring.
“The immaculate conception group may have been small, but researchers did find an even larger group, whom they called “born again virgins. “They reported in an earlier study a pregnancy, then later said they were virgins,” said Herring. “Those may have been a misclassification issue.”
Such may be the genuine case with the so-called virgin Mary. The controversy about her “virginity” stems from interpretation of the Hebrew word almah, which can just as logically mean “young maiden” as virgin. But given this prophecy from the book of Isaiah, one can understand the longing for fulfillment of this passage: “Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel,” (Isaiah 7:14).
Who made the original mistake? Likely a patriarchal author seeking to compete or outdo competitive religious claims to godhood. Then it got worse with the advent of Jesus.
As noted on the website Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry, “The LXX is a translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek. This translation was made around 200 B.C. by 70 Hebrew scholars. In Isaiah 7:14, they translated the word, almah, into the Greek word, parthenos. According to A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature,2 parthenos means virgin. This word is used in the New Testament of the Virgin Mary (Matt. 1:23, Luke 1:27) and of the ten virgins in the parable (Matt. 25:1, 7,11).”
How the Virgin Birth hurts us all
What is the damage to all these Virgin Birth claims? For starters, it sets up an artificial standard for the divinity of Christ.
It undermines the notion that normal sexual relations can serve to fulfill holy means.
It depicts women as subservient to a male standard of desirability.
It enforces a power structure in which women are property rather than human beings.
It deceives millions of women into thinking that chastity is preferable over a healthy, normal sex life.
It egregiously twists the notion of bible prophecy to fit the aims of a perpetual “brood of vipers” seeking to control the biblical narrative for their own select purposes. Often these aims include the oppression of women. The fact that so many women buy into this narrative is a sad consequence of history.
What would Jesus say?
None of this would have been necessary if it were up to Jesus himself to determine the notion of a Virgin Birth. He fully accepted the earthiness of life and embraced in his most intimate teachings the organic foundations of the world because these symbolized the creative powers of God. Is not conception itself a miracle? Ask anyone that has tried and not been able to conceive whether that is true or not.
Jesus would not have demanded that his mother be called a virgin in order to be blessed. It’s as simple as that. Of course the faith developed in his name will not likely abandon the falsehood of the Virgin Mary myth because it is a cult unto its own means. After all, we have politicians and religious leaders claiming to represent Christianity while simultaneously advocating greed, dunning the poor, espousing racism and discrimination and battling with other faiths over power and authority here on earth.
None of these things is Christian. They are as false as the Virgin Birth. So it should be no surprise that so many people are misled by the “brood of vipers” that continues to vex the world to this day.
But that doesn’t mean that rational believing Christians have to play along in the myth that disrespects and abuses real womanhood.