It’s that time of the year! Not just that time when pastors see some of their members finally darken the door of the Church for the Christmas Eve service, but it’s also that time of the year when the anti-Christian zealots come out of the woodwork in full force to discredit the saving work of Christ Jesus for sinners as contained in the Holy Scriptures. This often takes the form of History Channel documentaries on the authenticity of the Gospels in relation to the Gnostic Gospels that the big, bad Church kept secret during its early years. This time, however, it takes the form of an article from Salon’s Valerie Tarico, wherein the author tries to draw a link between rape and the Virgin Birth.
Tarico’s provocative article begins in a no-holds-barred way, saying, “Powerful gods and demi-gods impregnating human women—it’s a common theme in the history of religion, and it’s more than a little rapey.” I was able to infer the meaning of “rapey” from the context, but I had to go to that height of scholarly insight, Urban Dictionary, to really round out my understanding of the word (since I couldn’t find it in my MacBook Pro’s dictionary). After I shrouded my eyes from the brilliance of such journalism, I pressed on with fear and trembling.
Tarico draws parallels between the “rapey” aspects of mythological deities, such as Zeus, Jupiter, Pan, Phoebus, Zoroaster, and Shiva and the story of the virgin conception and birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ. In an effort to try to make her article about how religion’s “rapiness” (did I use that correctly?) encourages young men, who believe themselves to be “deific” (Tarico’s assessment), to force themselves upon the unsuspecting women on college campuses and small towns across America, she places the conception of Jesus by the Virgin Mary in between some of the myths she lists. That tactic isn’t fooling anyone, though, as most of the rest of her article is spent taking potshots at Christianity and the Scriptures. I’m not the only one who sees through Tarico’s tactics, as the comments section is full of references to the Gospel of Luke. Oh, and don’t forget: the picture to go with the story is a statue of Mary.
Before I engage the narrative from Luke, I’d like to address a point she makes about the Hebrew “obsession with lineage and pure, favored bloodlines.” She notes that the authors of Scripture link David to Abraham and Abraham to Adam, and eventually Jesus to all of them. I realize genealogies might not be the most thrilling reading in the Scriptures (but hey, if you like name listing, I Chronicles 1-10 is the place for you), but there is something important theologically at work here. Tarico’s hypothesis is that men possess an innate desire to “maximize the quality and quantity of their offspring by seeking young fertile females (with beauty signaling fertility), controlling some females and fending off other males while also spreading their seed around if they can get away with it.” She says this later became institutionalized in society and become a sacred part of religion and culture. However, she fails to note that the obsession with genealogy goes all the way back to the beginning of human history.
In Genesis 3:15, God said to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” This is the first gospel proclamation, where God promised to send a Savior through the line of Adam and Eve. Eve believed this so firmly that she believed she had given birth to this Savior in Genesis 4:1, saying (in German), “Ich habe einen Mann gewonnen mit dem HERRN (Translation: I have gotten a man the LORD.” [We lose this in most English translations that render this verse something like, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” However, the Hebrew prefix “‘eth” there probably does not mean “with the help.” Instead, we ought to read it as Luther did. The Hebrew “‘eth” is a direct object marker (referring to the Lord), rather than a prepositional phrase.
Abraham also receives a promise that God will send the Savior through his line (Genesis 12:1-3). God makes a similar promise to Isaac (Genesis 26:4), Jacob (Genesis 28:13-14), Judah (Genesis 49:8-12), and David (II Samuel 7:12-16). Tarico’s claim that society institutionalized and made this sacred falls completely flat in the face of a cursory glimpse at Scripture.
I’ll admit that I cannot speak to the “rapiness” of Greek and Roman mythology or Zoroastrianism or Hinduism. But to claim that God raped the Virgin Mary, causing sexual deviancy to dominate in the world is an odd claim, and it doesn’t stand up against the Gospel narratives. Read St. Luke’s account of how Jesus was conceived:
26 In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, 27 to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. 28 And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” 29 But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. 30 And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. 31 And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, 33 and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
34 And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
35 And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. 36 And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. 37 For nothing will be impossible with God.” 38 And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her (Luke 1:26-38).
Notice here that Mary is not forced or coerced by the angel Gabriel in any way. She even assents to God’s plan. To be fair to Tarico, she does concede this point, but plays it off by saying she does so only after being “told by a powerful supernatural being what is going to happen to her.” But this isn’t how Mary receives this news. A little later in Luke 1, Mary reveals her thoughts on being chosen as the one to bear the Messiah. In the Magnificat (which has become a fixture in the liturgy of Vespers in the Church), Mary sings, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name (Luke 1:46-49, emphasis mine).”
God has looked upon the humble estate of his servant? Generations of Christians will call her blessed? He has done great things for me (Tarico probably wishes it read “to me”)? None of that sound like a person coerced into anything by some power hungry, sex crazed deity.
Then Tarico goes on to lament the lack of Biblical mandates that men don’t need to wait for a woman’s consent or desire before engaging in sex with her. At this point, her gloves have completely come off, and she’s swinging wildly, trying to land a punch on the God she doesn’t believe exists and yet hates so much. Did she forget that the sixth commandment that places the gift of sex within the framework of marriage? Did she forget that Jesus Himself says that looking at a woman lustfully is committing adultery with her (Matthew 5:27-30)? Did she forget that the Christians (and Jews) were odd in comparison to the rampant sexual immorality that marked life in the ancient world (both surrounding Israel in the Old Testament and within the Roman Empire in the New Testament)? Did she forget that orthodox Christianity today stands as a bulwark against the ill-effects of the sexual revolution in the 1960s? I’m guessing she’s simply turned a blind eye to these things in order for her to be able to make her point.
What’s most disturbing is that she exhibits the skill of an evangelical proof texter, pulling Bible passages out of context in order to neuter them of their meaning (a skill nearly all critics of Christianity seem to possess). Perhaps Bryan Wolfmueller’s now regular (and very good) reoccurring segment on responding to evangelical proof texts should include one or two on non-Christian proof texting. Or, perhaps he can take it back to Table Talk Radio and play a game of “Kick the Dog, Comfort the Child” with this nonsense. When it comes down to it, Christians should expect this kind of stuff around the major feast days that even the world recognizes in some way. We would do well to know how to respond to these arguments when they are parroted or reposted by our friends.