Christmas Eve 2014

  1. The Humor of Christmas
  2. The leering cynics refuse to credit the woman
  3. 2 novels to transform a 14-year-old’s life
  4. Gay hagiography, but with a valid point
  5. Bill Nye takes it to Ken Ham on his home court


You can simply imagine being one of those drawn by starlight to the birth of a king, and arriving to find instead a little baby in a rough stable wrapped in rags because its mother and father were too poor to afford royal bunting.

“What is this?” you would ask in Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, or Latin, “some kind of joke?”

And the correct answer would be, yes: one of such daring humility that it overturned not just the mortal expectations of those who saw and heard, but the very order of the world itself, making the high low, the king the sacrificial victim, leaving us all awash in the magnificent, never-ending peal of laughter that is salvation.

No wonder we say: “Merry Christmas.”

(Peter Stockland)


There’s an allegation of rape, and as usual, the leering cynics don’t believe her:

I am a Christian, the kind who believes in the literal virgin birth of Christ, as well as his literal death and bodily resurrection. But I’m far less offended as a Christian by unbelieving than I am as an English professor by misreading.

Here is the account of Mary learning that she’ll be the mother of Christ, as told in the first chapter of Luke’s gospel:

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

The literal words in the Bible (across various translations) make clear that the angel Gabriel’s words at the Annunciation convey to Mary what will happen, not what has happened, a future conception not a past one. The Annunciation—which is celebrated in the Christian liturgical calendar nine months before Christmas, on March 25, and has been the subject of countless works of art through the ages—is the commemoration of God’s choice of a woman to bear the Savior of the world and of her willing acceptance of that role.

As it turns out, the Annunciation offers an invitation to Mary to give a very modern turn to a very pre-modern event: verbal consent.

Yet, some things don’t change: then as now, the woman’s word is given too little credence. But if we take the woman at her word, Luke’s account of Mary’s testimony portrays a God—whether real or mythical—who was way ahead of us. And with us, too.

(Karen Swallow Prior at The Atlantic, responding to the slovenly sophomoric slander that “God raped Mary.”)

The crypto-Nicene assumption of this calculated “God raped Mary” notion could be hilarious were it not for the sacrilege. The accusation assumes that Jesus was indeed “incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary, and became man.” But in its incoherent rage against God, it makes Him a rapist.

Weird. Sick. Stooooopid.


There are two novels that can transform a bookish fourteen year old’s life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish daydream that can lead to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood in which large chunks of the day are spent inventing ways to make real life more like a fantasy novel. The other is a book about orcs.” − Raj Patel

(via David Mills)


The movie “The Imitation Game” has revived deserved interest in Alan Turing, the eccentric genius of Bletchley Park who helped create the marvelous machine that broke Nazi codes and hastened the end of World War II.

… This is the type of biopic that religious people make about heroes of the faith. In this case, Turing was the gay, atheistic, antiwar vanquisher of the Nazis. And he was a martyr of sorts, cruelly subjected to chemical castration for homosexual activity. He died by suicide at age 41.

This is a distinctly modern version of hagiography. But it still tends to miniaturize rather than magnify.

[T]here may be a thin line between delusion and creativity. And, as “The Imitation Game” argues, a society often benefits from allowing space for nonconformity.

This presents something of a challenge for conservatives. A broad adherence to social convention is important for a just and stable society. But there is clearly some tie between human progress and the rejection of social and intellectual convention. The existence of norms is essential to social cohesion; the creative violation of norms is essential to social advancement.

(Michael Gerson, who I rarely quote these days. The teaser – Geniuses among us: Society benefits from allowing for nonconformity – drew me in.)


I’ve had a foray or two into the creation-evolution debates, which probably marks me to the inattentive as something I’m not: a Creationist.

Until 33 years or so ago, I thought “creationist” meant someone who believed this stuff around us (and further out) didn’t just happen be was created. Period. End of thought. Nothing about whether it was created in its present form, or how long ago it was created, or any such thing. Then I learned that Creationist was a term of art: creation in 144 hours, 6000 to 10,000 years ago. I thereupon dropped the term since I cannot recall whether I ever, even in childhood, was a Creationist in the term-of-art sense.

These thoughts are prompted by Bill Nye (with whose televised work I’m completely unfamiliar, though “Bill Nye the Science Guy” is kind of an earworm) writing a book and the Wall Street Journal reviewing it, with a digression into Nye’s debate with Ken Ham at the latter’s “Creation Museum.”

From the review:

If the two sides were willing to negotiate, it would be easy enough to devise a treaty that each could interpret as it wished. In the case of teaching evolution in schools, scientists would concede that evolution is a theory, which indeed it is. Fundamentalists might then be willing to let their children be taught evolution, telling them it is “just a theory.” Evolution, of course, is no casual surmise but a theory in the solemn scientific sense, a grand explanatory system that accounts for a vast range of phenomena and is in turn supported by them. Like all scientific theories, however, it is not an absolute, final truth because theories are always subject to change and emendation.

This treaty isn’t half bad, though I can already imagine the border skirmishes.

If a young fundamentalist (improbably) came to me, professing keen interest in science but inner turmoil about whether to pursue a career in it, I think I’d advise somewhat among those lines, but with, I think, a twist:

Evolutionary theory is the predominant scientific theory today. If you want to do serious science, especially serious biology, you’ll be a methodological materialist and evolutionist, whatever your private reservations, because that’s where the action is and where you’ll interact with other serious scientists.

Just remember, though, that alchemy was once the theory that unified science and much progress was made by getting everyone “on that same page,” too.

I understand that the theory of evolution creates special turmoil for those who look to the early chapters of Genesis as revealed scientific descriptions of how God did it. If that turmoil becomes unbearable, know that there’s a long Christian tradition – I don’t mean a God of the Gaps retreat that’s maybe 150 years long, either; I’m talking more like 1500 years long – of treating those chapters otherwise, and that a Christ-lover who finds it impossible to remain a Creationist need not leave the Christian faith as a result.

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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.