A Manger Revelation

Is the Nativity narrative nothing but a myth?

It's that time of year. It's when people put up reindeer and sleds, candy canes, Santa Claus and elaborate manger tableaus... except in places where that last bit is against the law. It's assumed that only children would fall for the former but adults need to be protected from the Jesus myth or they'll buy it every time. Curiously, even with such government intervention, Americans are among the world's biggest believers. Whenever I go to Australia, my friends ask why the proportion of Yank believers to non-believers is just the opposite of what one finds Down Under. That's a good question, especially since we're alike in so many other ways.

So you can imagine my surprise when I came across a column equating the birth narrative with Santa Claus that was written by -- get this -- a Minister! This is not a nation where people listen attentively, politely reply and then thoughtfully consider what was said. No way. I say something somebody doesn't like (which, alas, is mostly what I seem to do) and they form committees, get up petitions, write the editors and call the Better Business Bureau. And I'm a nice guy so I can only wonder what's going to happen to the good Reverend. Anyway, here's a few items taken directly from a Man of God that, I would think, knows a whole lot more about the topic than you or I.

There are four versions of the Jesus story (the Gospels) but only two of them, Matthew and Luke, deal with the birth and their tales remain hopelessly conflicted. To any legitimate historian, such inconsistencies alone would raise a very sizeable flag. And as if that weren't enough, no one knows who actually put the quill to the parchment way back when. All that's generally agreed upon is that it was almost a hundred years after the alleged fact. People still can't agree on where Obama was born so lots of luck with anything from generations ago. Quick -- who was President in 1959? See my point?

But perhaps it would be better to ask a different question: What purpose might such narratives - about a virgin birth and a divine father - have served two thousand years ago? Here the Reverend makes a very cogent case. At that time, the Roman Emperors claimed the title "Lord" and made up miraculous birth fables to justify their right-there-next-to-god status. In the first century it was easy to get away with miraculous fictions...just like...well...just like now. So the manger scene worked very nicely as a means of building up the early church's creds while breaking down the Roman oppressors' authority. In short, it was a kind of political dirty trick.

Finally, and here I quote:

"The birth narratives are properly called myths. A myth by definition is any story or report in which God or a God is the primary actor. Angels, free-moving stars, dreams and unexplained bright lights are a part of the tools of mythology. Christians and the world at large have not been served well by attempts to read the birth narratives as history."

"Just as many children feel deceived when they find out Santa is not real, many Christians feel deceived when they conclude that Jesus was not born of a virgin and that a star did not travel through the sky and come to rest over a particular place in Bethlehem."

And before you start giving me any sass, keep in mind that I'm merely the messenger. Go to the source, the Rev. Howard Bess in the Consortium News. Or read anything by Dawkins or Shermer, Dennett or Harris on the topic. You should also visit the Brights' website and check Tim Callahan's Who Really Killed Jesus in the Skeptical Inquirer. A documentary, The God Who Wasn't There presents a truly extraordinary account of how little Christians know regarding their religion. And before you start telling anyone about what god says, take the What Do You Really Know About the Bible quiz provided by the Freedom From Religion Foundation. These are all insightful sources...especially so at this time of year.