Virgin Birth

CNN clarifies a piece of Catholic dogma: Getting the Immaculate Conception details right

CNN clarifies a piece of Catholic dogma: Getting the Immaculate Conception details right

If you look up the word "conception" in a dictionary, it's not all that hard to understand.

At Dictionary.com, the first definition is: "the act of conceiving; the state of being conceived." The second meaning is, "fertilization; inception of pregnancy."

On the religion beat, this is -- #DUH -- a crucial thing to remember when covering anyone who makes a reference to the Catholic Church's doctrine known as the Immaculate Conception (click here for the Catechism explanation). The key Catechism concept:

Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, "full of grace" through God, was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854

For some reason, many mainstream journalists -- those who are not skilled religion-beat pros -- tend to confuse the Immaculate Conception of Mary with the doctrine proclaiming the Virgin Birth of Jesus, which is affirmed by all creedal Christians. This can show up in all kinds of bizarre references in news coverage (click here for a classic M.Z. Hemingway GetReligion post from 2013).

This leads us to in interesting twist on this topic, a clip in which CNN's Chris Cuomo gets to read the doctrinal riot act to Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, who served up a strong early nominee for the most bizarre religion image of the year.

Things get weird as Gaetz offers a "Deep State" theory about professionals inside the U.S. government who are trying to take down Donald Trump. Yes, we are talking about those five months of missing text messages between two big-league Trump haters. The CNN piece notes that Gaetz said, on Fox News:

"It would be the greatest coincidence since the Immaculate Conception that it just happened to be the case that right after Obama sics the intelligence community on Trump, the text messages go dark, and they only reappear the day that Robert Mueller is hired to investigate the President. Come on, the American people won't believe that's a coincidence, and I don't believe it, either."

Then on "Cuomo Prime Time," there was the following.

Let us attend.

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Was Mary a teenager when she gave birth to Jesus?

Was Mary a teenager when she gave birth to Jesus?

And it came to pass that the weirdest religious quote of 2017 occurred when Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore was accused of sexual assault upon girls who were ages 14 and 16 when he was in his early 30s.

Moore denied this. But State Auditor Jim Ziegler leapt to his fellow Republican’s defense by offering the Washington Examiner this head-scratcher: “Take Joseph and Mary. Mary was a teenager and Joseph was an adult carpenter. They became parents of Jesus. There’s just nothing immoral or illegal here, maybe just a bit unusual."

That “took my breath away,” says Michigan State University’s Christopher Frilingos.

Sexual morality aside, Ziegler scuttled a prime tenet of biblical orthodoxy by indicating that the holy couple sired Jesus through normal sexual relations. The Bible’s two separate Nativity accounts specify that Mary was a virgin who conceived miraculously so that Jesus had no mortal father and Joseph was a stepfather or legally adoptive parent.

That brings to mind another attempted Bible rewrite by the late Jane Schaberg, an ex-nun and feminist “Goddess” devotee teaching at Catholicism’s University of Detroit. Her 1987 book “The Illegitimacy of Jesus” saw a New Testament cover-up in which Jesus’ biological father raped or seduced Mary while she was engaged to Joseph.

That harked back to an ancient Jewish tale, included in the Talmud, that Jesus was the “son of Panthera,” supposedly a Roman soldier. It’s possible Jesus’ opponents were leveling such an accusation when they told him “we are not illegitimate children” (John 8:41) as though Jesus was. Today’s skeptics post such stuff all across the Internet, hoping readers will ignore that the New Testament Gospels are our earliest, thus most reliable, sources.

Well, then, what about Ziegler’s claim that the pregnant Mary was “a teenager” and Joseph an older “adult”?

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The bizarre twist that pulled St. Joseph the Betrothed into Judge Roy Moore's media storm

The bizarre twist that pulled St. Joseph the Betrothed into Judge Roy Moore's media storm

To the left of my computer in my Oak Ridge office is an icon of the saint that the ancient churches of the East know as St. Joseph the Betrothed. In the West he is often called St. Joseph the Worker.

I found this icon (see photo at top of post) in a Greek church shop while visiting Thessaloniki more than a decade ago.

Now, St. Joseph is not my patron saint (that would be St. Brendan of Ireland). However, I grew closer to this saint and to this icon in particular when I became a grandfather. Along with millions of other Christians in ancient churches, I ask St. Joseph to join me in my daily prayers for my marriage, my children and, especially, my grandchildren.

Icons containing this specific image are important, in terms of church tradition, because St. Joseph is shown holding the Christ child, an honor customarily reserved for St. Mary the mother of Jesus. Also note that the saint is depicted as an elderly man, as shown by his gray hair and beard.

Believe it or not, details of this kind have become important in a ridiculous story currently making headlines in American politics. I jest not, as shown in this Religion News Service story that ran with the headline: "Conservatives defend Roy Moore -- invoking Joseph, Mary and the Ten Commandments."

(RNS) -- Conservative Christian supporters of Roy Moore are defending the U.S. Senate candidate against allegations of molesting a teenager decades ago -- and one of them used the biblical story of Mary and Joseph to rationalize an adult being sexually attracted to a minor.

OK, for starters, what is the meaning of the word "conservatives" -- plural -- in that headline? In terms of the Joseph and Mary part of this debate, it would appear that it would be more accurate to say "one evangelical Protestant," or something like that. I mean, is the assumption that there are no "conservative" Catholics or "conservative" Orthodox Christians? At this point, does "conservative Christian" automatically mean white evangelical Christians?

This bizarre side trip into church history is, of course, linked to that Washington Post blockbuster the other day that ran with this headline: "Woman says Roy Moore initiated sexual encounter when she was 14, he was 32."

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Why does the Bible include two different family trees for Jesus of Nazareth?

Why does the Bible include two different family trees for Jesus of Nazareth?

THE QUESTION:

In the accounts of Jesus’ Nativity in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, why are the genealogies so different?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Because there are no Christmas-y questions from readers awaiting answers, The Guy raises this Yuletide classic himself. When Matthew and Luke recount the birth of Jesus they present different genealogies with fascinating intricacies. The following can only sketch a few basics from the immense literature on this.

The Bible provides no roadmap, leaving us to ponder who was included, who was omitted, how the passages were structured, and what all this might mean. Reader comprehension is difficult due to multiple names given the same person, the lack of specific Hebrew and Greek words so that a “son-in-law” was called a “son,” legal adoption, and “levirate marriage” where a widow wed her late husband’s brother to maintain the family line.

Family trees were of keen importance for the Hebrews and carefully preserved. The central purpose in both Gospels was to establish Jesus within King David’s family line, a key qualification for recognition as the promised Messiah.

Matthew starts right off with the genealogy in the first 17 verses of chapter 1. Beginning from the patriarch Abraham, it extends through three sections of 14 generations each, down to the conclusion with “Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.” The passage then immediately specifies that Joseph was not the biological father because Jesus was conceived miraculously by the Holy Spirit (1:18-21).

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Original sin and anteaters in the Daily News

Excitement is in the air in Gotham City this week following the introduction of a theology page in the Daily News. This is a welcome addition to the New York tabloid market, though I suspect the desire to inject high culture into the Daily News comes from the need for some gravitas to balance the reporting on the mayoral candidacy of Anthony Weiner — Oh the joy his election will bring to the scribes of New York!

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Protip: Immaculate Conception is not the Virgin Birth

Did you hear about the anteater that conceived a baby even though she had no male mate around? I mean, she had a mate, but he was removed from her area longer than the six months required to gestate a baby anteater. Theories for how this miracle happened include the very non-miraculous idea that the mommy anteater and daddy anteater mated through a fence and the somewhat more mysterious idea that the pregnancy was paused or that implantation was somehow delayed.

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