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.
So of course this is a made-for-media story. As you can see in the image to this post (or anywhere it went out online), some went with the “immaculate conception” approach. Which is, you know, weird, since the immaculate conception has nothing to do with conceiving a baby without the presence of the male.
The Atlantic Wire figured out its error and mildly tried to correct it by appending a note that they were only repeating other people’s errors and by putting quotes around ‘Immaculately Conceived’ as a get-out-of-jail-free card.
First, let’s discuss the religious teachings in play since this is a routine problem. From Wikipedia:
The Immaculate Conception is a dogma of the Catholic Church maintaining that from the moment when she was conceived in the womb, the Blessed Virgin Mary was kept free of original sin and was filled with the sanctifying grace normally conferred during baptism. It is one of the four dogmas in Roman Catholic Mariology. Mary is often called the Immaculata (the Immaculate One), particularly in artistic and cultural contexts.
The Immaculate Conception should not be confused with the perpetual virginity of Mary or the virgin birth of Jesus; it refers to the conception of Mary by her mother, Saint Anne. Although the belief was widely held since at least Late Antiquity, the doctrine was not formally proclaimed until December 8, 1854, by Pope Pius IX in his papal bull Ineffabilis Deus. It is not formal doctrine except in the Roman Catholic Church. The Feast of the Immaculate Conception is observed on December 8 in many Catholic countries as a holy day of obligation or patronal feast, and in some as a national public holiday.
Not perfect, but you get the idea. The Immaculate Conception refers to what Roman Catholics teach about Mary being conceived without original sin. The Virgin Birth refers to what most Christians teach about the circumstances of Jesus’ conception. Great. Can we stop having this error, then?
Here’s the note the Atlantic Wire appended to the piece:
*As has been pointed out to me, the “immaculate conception” refers to Mary being free from original sin upon her conception and not Mary being a virgin upon Jesus’s birth. It appears to have been used in the latter way in Chamoff’s piece and at the zoo.
If your friends all jumped off a bridge would you do that, too, Atlantic Wire? Wait, that doesn’t quite work. Point being, though, that just because another reporter and zoo officials are completely ignorant of what a saying means does not technically give you the go-ahead to repeat it. This is how societies crumble, everyone! OK, maybe not, but let’s be vigilant.