Saturday, November 12, 2005

God's sperm

Talk about bringing a knife to gunfight! Get a load of this article that Althouse has linked to:
Darwin's evolution still stands out as the thorniest point of contention between science and religion, but other more recent scientific advances also raise new questions for believers. How, for example, does the 20th century biological revolution influence the Christian concept of virgin birth? Where did Jesus get his DNA? His Y chromosome? A number of scientifically minded Christians have come forward during the Dover "intelligent design" trial to say they accept that ordinary humans arose through purely natural processes, no intelligent design needed. But it's another thing to accept that the Lord and Savior was conceived through an act of sex.
This lede says more about modern unreflective positivism than it does about the fullness of the Christian faith. Here we have supposedly smart, educated people asking aloud where Jesus got his Y chromosome from. The mind boggles. This is manifestly not a new question folks, and it has nothing to do with new advances in the sciences. It's ancient question and one that has been well turned over. Scientist Wesley Wildman says:
''There's a big split over the Y chromosome issue,'' says [the] Boston University theology professor. One thing Catholics and Protestants seem to agree on is that Jesus was fully human and male, so he **must have** carried the usual male quotient of DNA. It's not the Y chromosome he needed per se but a gene called SRY normally carried on the Y. Occasionally this male-making gene gets moved off the Y, giving rise to an infertile XY woman. In a few cases men are found to have two X chromosomes, but such XX males turn out to have this critical fragment of the Y stuck on one of the other 22 chromosomes. That fragment of the Y has to come from a father.
The emphasis here is mine, in an effort to point out two large and unwarranted assumptions. One is that our subject is biology and not ontology, and this first error gives us a second. To say that Catholics think that Jesus is "fully human and fully male" is so incomplete it might as well be wrong. Jesus is fully man and fully God and that is a distinction with a difference. We are then given theologian and minister Ronald Cole-Turner, who says:
Standard Christian thought attributes the virgin birth to God's intervention in the natural order, not a biological anomaly. ''It's not God's sperm . . . but **God created something like a sperm and caused it to fertilize Mary's egg,''** he says.
Really? You don't think that maybe this theory is just a hash of weak theology trying to accommodate the unspoken positivist assumptions the Salt Lake Tribune led off with? Why do I say that? Well, there are theological repurcussions from saying that Jesus' humanity came from Mary and not God. I'm no theologian but it seems to me that a story like that increases Mary's importance. If it's true, Jesus shares half of Mary's DNA. This guy's a Protestant minister who thinks Catholics make too much of Mary yet by his account it looks like we don't give her nearly enough credit! The other half of Jesus' DNA is God's creation which means... Well, doesn't it suggest that the Trinity was a duet until God's sperm met up with Mary's egg? I don't know what else it means and I only care in a bemused kind of way. This whole rickety structure arises because of a literal reading of the bible is trying to accommodate a positivist outlook and in all likelihood is doing it unawares. Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity has a lot to say on this subject:
The conception of Jesus is new creation, not begetting by God. God does not become the biological father of Jesus, and neither the New Testament nor the theology of the Church has fundamentally ever seen in this narrative or in the event recounted in it the ground for the real divinity of Jesus, his "Divine Sonship." For this does not mean that Jesus is half God and half man; it has always been a basic tenet of Christianity that Jesus is completely God and completely man. His Godhead does not imply a subtraction of his humanity; this was the path followed by Arius and Apollinarius, the great heretics of the ancient Church. In opposition to them the complete intactness of Jesus' humanity was defended with all possible emphasis, and the merging of the biblical account into the heathen myth of the god begotten demi-god was thus frustrated. According to the Church, the Divine Sonship of Jesus does not rest on the fact that Jesus had no human father; the doctrine of Jesus' divinity would not be affected if Jesus had been the product of a normal human marriage. For the Divine Sonship of which faith speaks is not a biological but an ontological fact, an event not in time but in God's eternity God is always Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; the conception of Jesus means, not that a new God-the-Son comes into being, but that God as Son in the man Jesus draws the creature man to himself, so that he himself "is" man.

I could stop here but this seems like a very good place indeed to put another passage from Ratzinger on the subject of Jesus' nature. So much of ancient Christianity relies on this notion - nature - that it is incomprehensible to those who are either unfamiliar with it or who reject it (like those who hold to positivism).
What is one to say when such a meritorious researcher as E. Schweitzer expresses himself on our question in the following terms: "Since Luke is not interested in the biological question, he does not cross over the frontier to a metaphysical understanding either." Almost everything about this statement is wrong. The most staggering thing about it is the way in which biology and metaphysics are tacitly equated. To all appearance, the metaphysical (ontological) Divine Sonship is misinterpreted as biological descent, and it's meaning is thus turned completely upside down. It is in fact, as we saw, the express rejection of a biological interpretation of Jesus' divine origin. It is a little saddening to have to be the one to point out that the plane of metaphysics is not the plane of biology. The Church's teaching about the Divine Sonship is based, not on the story of the Virgin Birth, but on the Abba-Son dialogue and on the relationship of Word and love that we found revealed in it. Its idea of being does not belong to the biological plane but to the "I AM" of St. John's Gospel, which therein, as we have seen, had already developed the Son idea in all of its radicality, which is far more comprehensive and wide ranging than the biological God-man ideas of myth. We have already considered this at some length; it has been mentioned again only because one gets the distinct impression that the contemporary aversion to both the tidings of the Virgin Birth and the full acknowledgement of the Divine Sonship rests on a fundamental misunderstanding of both and on the false connection between the two that seems to be widely assumed.
Well said. Scientist Wildman concludes the article by saying
''The bottom line for me: I think the virgin birth is a mistaken belief,'' Wildman says. ''I also think that this need have no impact whatsoever on Mary's and Jesus' moral and spiritual importance.''
Wildman should stick to science, methinks. Even the journalist who penned the article can see better than that.

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