Here’s the latest from Jim Wilson:
The ancient world is full of stories of Gods and hero figures whose conceptions took place in the absence of sexual intercourse. Among those to be conceived in such a manner are the Hindu deity Krishna, the warrior king Karna, the Buddha, Mithra, the Egyptian god Ra, and Alexander the great. The impossibility of such an occurrence and the mysteriousness of human sexuality held for ancient people must have given these myths great appeal.
It seems that in the case of Jesus the virgin birth doctrine also smuggles in some of the negative attitudes about sex that have been a hallmark of Christianity for centuries. There seems to be this attitude that sexuality is earthly and dirty and as such the perfect human should be born without such an act. Interestingly this attitude has been taken to a bizarre level in some Christian denominations, which still hold that Mary remained a perpetual virgin, despite references in Matthew’s gospel to Jesus’ siblings. It is strange that someone held in such high regard never enjoyed the reward of sexual pleasure. Many Christians view sex in such a negative light that they can’t cope with it being associated with their savior figure in any way. To me this demonization of sexuality and this glorification of virginity are one of many harmful aspects of religion.
Islam teaches many young men that paradise is an eternity with young women who have known no other men. In America, sex-negative attitudes like these have manifested themselves in promise rings, and unplanned pregnancies when young uniformed couples have discovered that fighting their own biology is not all that easy. Remember, people who don’t plan on having sex tend not to take the appropriate measures to prevent pregnancies. This is made worse when they are taught abstinence instead of medically accurate information on preventing pregnancy.
Many young Christians have an idealistic view that they will marry a virgin who will never engage in sex with anyone but them, and not until after marriage. This ideal is largely unrealistic, and it forces the unmarried to live with psychological impacts of spending years denying their sexuality. This has often manifested itself in sexual dysfunction after marriage as well as an encouragement for people to marry at a younger age.
Realistically, why does it matter if the person you are with had one or more sex partners before you? It does not change who they are, their affection for you, or their ability to find pleasure with you. In fact, I know some people who said they enjoy being with partners who are experienced sexually and “know what they are doing.” First time sex is known to be rather awkward, and I don’t see why one would have this ideal of saving this awkwardness for the night you pledge to be with that person forever. This is not to mention that it would seem unwise to pledge oneself to someone for the rest of their life when you have not really engaged in any kind of physical intimacy with them.
The virgin birth of Jesus is considered a fact by Christians and Muslims, but is rejected by nearly everyone else. The new testament has surprisingly little to say about this important piece of theology. The Pauline epistles which are arguably the earliest known writings on Jesus discuss his birth without mentioning his mother’s virginity. Of the four canonical gospels only two of them, Matthew and Luke, discuss the details of Jesus’ birth and conception and these present two vastly different narratives. Mark, the earliest known gospel and the one that Matthew and Luke are largely copied from (with the addition of at least one other shared source, referred to as Q) says nothing of it. John, the only canonical gospel written independently of Mark and Q fails to mention it.
It seems we are stuck with Matthew and Luke as the two sources for Mary’s virginity and they are unreliable. Both are undated, anonymous (they were assigned their names much later) pieces that are clearly not close to the source story and both rely heavily on older documents. Scholars date both of these as originating in this last few decades of the first century and I have heard compelling arguments for dating them even later, making them very far removed from the supposed events they describe.
Also, both contradict each other and contain wild stories found nowhere else. For example Matthew’s gospel places Jesus birth as during the reign of Herod (37–4 BCE) while Luke places his birth during the Reign of Quirinius (6-12 AD). At least one of these accounts has to be wrong. Furthermore, Matthew feels no need to justify the holy family being in Bethlehem, presumably they lived there at the time, while Luke invokes a worldwide census which requires people to travel to the land of their ancestors. There is no record the Romans ever required people to do such a thing. It would be unnecessary, impractical and probably cause a great deal of upheaval. It seems these gospel writers saw a need to reconcile Jesus being born in Bethlehem to a decedent of David with his being from Nazareth in Galilee.
Furthermore, Matthew’s gospel also records events that would have been recorded elsewhere had they actually happened, including zombies walking into Jerusalem (27:52), a hovering star, and Herod’s slaughter of all Bethlehem’s young male children. All of these should have been recorded by someone other than the author of Matthew, but there is no mention of them anywhere. Furthermore, the author of Matthew states plainly that much of the events described in his gospel were done to fulfill old testament prophecies. It reads as though the author tries to slip in as many details as possible that conform with any old testament passage he can find. The Virgin birth prophecy is a clear case of this, as I pointed out in my piece on prophecy, the passage Matthew seems to believe is being fulfilled is Isaiah 7:14-16, which says nothing to indicate it is a prophecy about events hundreds of years in the future, and also uses a Hebrew term for “young woman” rather than virgin. With all this it seems the virgin birth was a latter addition to the Jesus narrative, and not part of his actual life story. It really should not matter anyway. Jesus’ supposed words and deeds can be judged on their on merits.
The point I’m making here is that there is no reason why the virgin birth of Jesus or God or hero should be viewed as a historical fact, as they are all highly suspect. The religious idealization of virginity, not to mention other religiously motivated hang-ups regarding sexuality, is not a healthy view of human sexuality and is conducive to problems like sexual dysfunction, deprivation and unwanted pregnancies.