Mary was just a normal Nazareth teen until she found an angel in her house one day. The cosmic being told her not to be afraid (easier said than done) and that the almighty God had taken an interest in her. She would soon become pregnant with God’s son.
But how that could be, Mary asked, since she had never had sex before, and had no plans to do so anytime soon? There was also the small inconvenience of her engagement to a guy named Joseph.
The angel said that wouldn’t be a problem.
This is one part of the Bible in particular that Minnesota State University, Mankato associate professor Eric Sprankle finds a little bit… well… creepy.
“The virgin birth story is about an all-knowing, all-powerful deity impregnating a human teen,” he tweeted last Monday. “There is no definition of consent that would include that scenario. Happy Holidays.”
He later added that if his critics out there thought Mary saying “yes” at the end pretty much counted as consent, they could look at some examples of what the biblical God has allegedly done to people who said no to Him. (Pillars of salt and worldwide floods come to mind.)
“To put someone in this position is an unethical abuse of power at best and grossly predatory at worst,” he tweeted. He didn’t respond to interview requests.
The virgin birth story is about an all-knowing, all-powerful deity impregnating a human teen. There is no definition of consent that would include that scenario. Happy Holidays.— Eric Sprankle, PsyD (@DrSprankle) December 3, 2018
Whether or not young Mary felt attacked, Fox News host Tucker Carlson certainly does. He featured the tweet on one of his semi-regular War on Christmas special reports on Thursday.
“I miss the days when atheists were at least intelligent enough to take seriously what they were purporting to knock down,” his guest, Mark Steyn, blustered. “The stupidity and banality and shallowness and reductiveness of this is a dismal comment on the state of atheism in America.”
Yeah, Carlson said. If atheists are so brave, why don’t they criticize some other all-powerful all-knowing being? Like “Jeff Bezos"? Or “Google”?
“And they don’t seem to make the same kind of Ramadan jokes,” Steyn added. (Note: The Ramadan story is also about the angel Gabriel revealing himself to a human being, but instead of announcing a surprise pregnancy, he tells Muhammad to do some reading.)
It’s not clear what Mary would have thought about her visit from Gabriel, or her impending motherhood to a god in human form, or, for that matter, her impending marriage to Joseph. That’s not the stuff that gets written down when people pen religious texts. What matters now is what the story means to us when we hear it.
Some people hear it and feel hopeful for a merciful, forgiving future. Some people hear it and think it sounds a little like Lovecraft, but with more word economy. There’s a Twitter fight a mile long underneath Sprankle’s hot take, and it goes exactly nowhere in changing anyone’s mind.