“Why would God degrade Mary as he did?”

[UPDATE: The young woman who wrote the letter below has responded to my answer of it. You can read that response here.]

This week I received a letter that read:

Hi John!

First of all, I’ve been an avid follower of your work for the past few months, so I’m very excited to write my first letter to you. Compared to all the serious issues that you cover, this one may seem quite trivial. Nevertheless, it’s been nagging me for some time because I can’t fully reconcile it with my beliefs.

Like many other progressive Christians, I have difficulty accepting the story of the Virgin Birth. However, while most focus on its scientific impossibility, I’m preoccupied with its psychological ramifications.

First of all, I acknowledge that I may be projecting my own anxieties – I’m a 23 year old woman and have a profound fear of pregnancy and childbirth. Nevertheless, it seems to me that making a woman have a child is invasive, even abusive. I can’t seem to view pregnancy as anything but degrading, and Mary had to suffer the further indignity of appearing to have lost her virginity before marriage.

I realize that I can’t expect a woman of a different time and culture to share my mentality. I also know that having a child was a sign of God’s favor, and that women didn’t have a choice about having children anyway. Still, why couldn’t God have chosen Mary to be the mother of Jesus once she was married and had children? If Mary felt the shame and self-loathing that I imagine I would have felt in her position, would God have chosen her?

I know that you receive many letters on more pressing concerns, so I understand if this is not a priority. However, I have never heard anyone address this topic. Please share any insights you have with me – it would mean a lot.

Dear young woman who wrote me this:

I imagine you won’t be surprised to hear me say that what first jumps out at me are your difficult feelings about pregnancy. I understand you being afraid (if not “profoundly” afraid) of being pregnant; I get afraid if I have a gas pang. What I’m decidedly uncomfortable with, though, are your words, “I can’t view pregnancy as anything but degrading.”

Degrading is a tough, tough word; I’m going to assume you meant it. So the pertinent question, to me, is, why would you feel that way about pregnancy? What is it about seeing a pregnant woman contentedly holding the hand of her husband that makes you think that woman is in a state of degradation? To such a scene most people’s response is, “Ah, isn’t that sweet? Life is such a precious miracle.”

You, however, think, “Look at that woman’s degradation.”

Surely you understand how deeply problematic—if not something pretty close to alarming—is that response.

I’m not very comfortable saying this, but I can’t help but feel that the real reason you wrote me this letter—the true concern that you have with this matter—has nothing to do with the theological implications of the virgin birth of Jesus. My guess is that what you’re really seeking is help understanding the core cause of your associating pregnancy with degradation. I’m guessing that you’re more aware than you’d care to be of how troublesome is that response, of how surely it points to a problem within you that you desire to have solved.

My guess is that you’ve transferred the feelings of “shame and loathing” that pregnancy evokes in you onto the most famous pregnancy of all: one that didn’t involve sex—or any of the “degradations” that society, most religious traditions, and certainly traditional Christianity so readily—so eagerly—associate with sex.

You don’t think that, in being chosen by God to give birth to the savior of the world, Mary was blessed by God. You think Mary was abused by God. And you think that despite what I’m sure you’ve read, which is the famous Magnificat, or Song of Mary, found at Luke 1:46-55:

“My soul magnifies the Lord,

and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,

for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.

For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;

for he who is mighty has done great things for me,

and holy is his name.

And his mercy is for those who fear him

from generation to generation.

He has shown strength with his arm;

he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;

he has brought down the mighty from their thrones

and exalted those of humble estate;

he has filled the hungry with good things,

and the rich he has sent away empty.

He has helped his servant Israel,

in remembrance of his mercy,

as he spoke to our fathers,

to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

That doesn’t much sound like a woman struggling with “shame and self-loathing,” right? I mean … right? She sounds elated about what’s happened to her. She’s singing about it.

I wouldn’t start singing if I found a sack of gold. I might hum a little. I might whistle a happy tune as I dragged the thing back to my car. But that’s about it.

Anyway, please forgive what I know can only come off here as my intrusive presumptuousness. You didn’t ask for my advice on your relationship to pregnancy, so it’s obnoxious of me to offer it anyway. I’ve only done so in hopes of encouraging you to consider the possibility that it might be a good idea for you to speak with someone about your revulsion to pregnancy, which I think most people would agree is unnatural, if not manifestly unhealthy.

And do let me hasten to be extremely clear about the fact that I am not, in any way at all, suggesting that you, or any woman, should want to be pregnant. That’s hardly something I would say. What I am suggesting is that, if you really do find pregnancy as repulsive and degrading as you say you do, then you should think about talking to someone about that—preferably a trained mental health professional.

I’m also really not saying that you’re crazy, or anything near it. We’re all insane about sex, and just about all things related to it. We should all see a shrink about how tweaked we are about sex. But the one thing relative to sex that pretty much everyone agrees upon is that a pregnant woman is a wonderful, life-affirming, ultra-positive sight. People love pregnant women so much they’re forever touching them. But you have pretty much the exact opposite response. And that, I believe, is a phenomenon worthy of your serious attention.

All right; enough about that.

And now this post is as long as any blog post should be. So tomorrow—well, let me say next time, because already tomorrow is looking pretty darn dense—I’ll talk a bit about why I feel that God, in manifesting himself on earth as Jesus, opted to go with the whole (genius!) Virgin Birth thing.

God bless you, sister. Sorry again if I’ve hurled at you anything like a curve ball. Trust me: I’m on your team. That’s why I’m as honest with you as I feel that your precious trust in me morally obliges me to be.

(For what it’s worth, here’s a post I once wrote about why my wife and I don’t have children.  And related to this whole matter is a post I wrote a few years back, Why Must Mary Die a Virgin?)

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  • John – Amazing response to this young woman! That’s all I can say. Amazing. Great work.

  • Leslie Marbach via Facebook

    John, I think your insight here is amazing. It’s the kind of insight that, I believe, only comes from the Holy Spirit. I truly hope the letter writer takes your words to heart.

  • John, I think what the young woman might have been referring to was the degradation of being pregnant before marriage and the fact that she had to face her fiance with this (as he was certain this was not his child). While Joseph may have understood, I can imagine trying to get the rest of her/his family (not to mention society at this time) to buy into the “I’ve been chosen by God” happiness she sings of.

  • Gary Lee Hendricks via Facebook

    I agree with Jake. I wanted to respond to her myself until I read your post. Nothing I could say would improve upon it.

  • W

    John, I read the ‘headlines’ of these things, and I keep waiting for you to say something I find objectionable. You are right on in your reply, AGAIN! This young woman needs some help. I hope your wise insights have encouraged her.

  • Marjanna

    The first thing that jumped out to me in her letter was the same thing–pregnancy degrading? I’ve been pregnant 3 times and never found it degrading. In my mind–at its worst–it is fat, tired, and nauseous, but never degrading. At its best, well, it’s being part of a miracle.

    So I immediately began to try to envision someone who would find it degrading. And I am left with the same sorts of concerns you express here. I’m worried for this young woman and concerned about what experiences she has had that has made her feel this way. I just want to give her a hug and invite her into my living room for a cup of cocoa and a long talk, although I agree that a licensed counselor would be a better move.

    I am intrigued, as well, by why God wanted a virgin. That leads to all sorts of problems, in my mind. (i.e. after women have sex they aren’t holy enough anymore to be the mother of God? ) So I’m interested in your comments on this issue, which will hopefully lead me away from my blasphemous thoughts about God and his virgin obsession.

  • Buz Stewart via Facebook

    Very nice Mister John. I hope she takes the time to think carefully through your response (and through whatever emotions it might evoke in her).

  • Carolyn Brasser Koehler via Facebook

    It occurs to me that we spend a great deal of time during our lives deprogramming or unlearning how we have been shaped by our family environment and our culture and, if we are fortunate, arrive in a better place at some point. I can only hope this young women is successful in that regard.

  • Elizabeth

    Dear young woman who wrote to John Shore,

    I hear you. I would have agreed with you. The whole blowing up like a whale and losing control of one’s body thing was terrifying to me as well. Funny how once you look really pregnant, people seem to think they can intrude on your personal life… tell you stories, ask questions — fortunately they usually ask before touching your belly, but not always. Get yourself a copy of Vicki Iovine’s book “The Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy.” The humour is really helpful. And childbirth? Well, my mom and I almost died when I was born, so I wasn’t exactly looking forward to that either. But it all worked out OK for me and it probably will for you too.

    If you read the Hebrew scriptures and commentaries, it nowhere says that Mary was a virgin or any of that stuff. She was basically a young woman of marriageable age. Christians have added a lot of baggage to the story over the years. If you want to dig in and ponder her fate from the point of view of a woman, there is that for starters, and there are feminist resources that can probably help you.

  • Evelyn Marie via Facebook

    But Dawn, she said “I can’t seem to view pregnancy as anything but degrading”. I don’t see that as being related to the social issues you’re referring to.

  • Esther Candelaria via Facebook

    Wow. As a Psych grad, this is the most interesting thing I read today!

  • In that time, with the expectation of the Messiah and the prophecy concerning a ‘young woman’ giving birth…… it was not all that odd for Mary to be happy. And children were a blessing. Every woman wanted to give her husband children. That’s how they thought. A barren woman had great shame…

  • As a birth/postpartum doula, childbirth educator, and Certified Lactation Counselor, I am deeply saddened by the letter written by this young woman. Pregnancy and birth were some of the most powerful, strong, transforming events in my life. I switched careers to help other women see how amazing these events can be. I ache at the thought that I may never get to experience them again. I hope so much that this woman can seek out strong mothers to help her sort out these complicated feelings. Our culture has so tarnished such a joyous gift to women!

  • Sue Hulett via Facebook

    Reading her letter indicates to me that she does, in fact, consider ALL pregnancies to be degrading to women. I think John hit exactly the right note in his response. Being pregnant (even as a single college student) FEELS wonderful. There is no degradation in pregnancy. A bit of embarrassment, maybe, for the unplanned nature of it, but not for the condition itself.

  • Finally something I can agree with you on. I definitely think this woman has some other issue she is dealing with rather than what she asked about.

  • Rebecca Akens via Facebook

    The current culture of pregnancy and childbirth is so messed up that it’s no wonder she feels the way she does.

  • Hello John, it’s been awhile.

    I know several females who feel this way because I tend to date those who do not have children nor wish to. They are usually career oriented, independent women who see pregnancy as a prison to hold them back or as a throwback to the old days when women were homemakers instead of business owners. These women feel like they have come a long way and I agree with them. They are not brood mares and their feelings on the subject should be accepted and respected. I see no reason why their view of this as degrading should be a problem. We are are free to do as we wish after all. If a person feels degraded by something then it is, by my definition, in fact degrading. Trying to convince them otherwise does not seem like a worthy goal and actually seems like it could be genuinely insulting. I know your intentions are pristine, but I must respectfully disagree with the premise of your answer to this young lady.

  • Michelle Torigian via Facebook

    Ok, then. What if she meant “why would God put Mary in a situation like this before she was married?” How would you have responded to her then?

  • There is a difference between not choosing something for yourself and viewing it as degrading. Women’s lib is about choice. I CHOOSE to be a mother. That is not degrading. I respect those that choose not to. There is a huge problem in this country with how motherhood and pregnancy are viewed. No one is trying to convince this woman to go out and get pregnant. But exploring why she has come to this worldview is important.

  • Lymis

    I disagree.

    You can have unhealthy or inappropriate reasons for not wanting to do something, and addressing those issues doesn’t inherently mean changing the choice. Seems to me that choosing not to be pregnant even though there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being pregnant would be a healthier and freer choice than choosing not to be pregnant because it is degrading or terrifying.

  • Michelle Torigian via Facebook

    Back then, women without children were shamed as well as women who got pregnant outside of marriage. How does this translate to our current situation? We still see childless women shamed in our society today. The churches feed into this. On mother’s day, how many of your churches ask mothers to stand up? Who is being left out? And how do we, as Christians, talk about women who are getting pregnant outside of marriage? What about single moms who have experienced divorce? What about LGBT families? I agree with Rebecca – our current culture of pregancy, childbirth, and families are messed up. God uses what would be shameful situations to bring light into the world. God works with those outside of the “normal” margins (back then and today), yet in our society, “Christians” can’t. Jesus broke the stereotype of what a “normal” family looks like – from the birth to the cross. Maybe we should do the same.

  • I think the point of Mary being a virgin wasn’t that it made her more pure or holy, but that she knew it was biologically impossible for the child inside her to have been conceived by a man. It’s about the divinity of Christ, not the “purity” or lack thereof of the woman who brought him into the world.

    As far as why God chose to have his avatar born into the world like a normal human instead of simply materializing, I think a main (if not *the* main) part of Jesus’ purpose was for God to experience life as one of his creation. That includes being born as an infant, being raised by human parents, and being under those parents’ power for a significant portion of his life.

  • Stephanie

    I agree whole heartedly with what John has said. When you get pregnant with a loving man, or in this case God, it is truly a blessing and there is absolutely nothing degrading about it.

    Also, to answer hopefully some questions, God needed a virgin who was free from sin. Mary was the Immaculate conception and she was the one who gave the Virgin Birth, some argue that mean she was a virgin before during and after the birth of Jesus. And why not? Is anything beyond God’s capabilities? I think something people often struggle with is thinking in the divine. God is not human. He is divine. What he bestows on us are blessings beyond which we at time can understand. Mary accepted God’s request of her with praise and was in no way degraded. Scared? Yes, I would imagine lol. Blessed? Absolutely! For through her our salvation, our redeemer came to us. And that is truly something to rejoice in.

    Now, all that being said, I’ll say again I agree with what John has said and would have to also question whether or not you have been sexually assaulted. I am a sexual assault victim and have had many struggles with sexuality, but having said that, I’ve sought help, both through psychology and spirituality and have resolved many of my struggles. And I can honestly say that when I met my husband, got married, and had a child it was BEAUTIFUL! Never have I had the opportunity to experience such love. The love of a husband for his wife, nor the love of a mother for her child. Everything about my sexuality is beautiful and as it should be.

    I still, from time to time, struggle with what happened in my past, but I don’t allow it to own me anymore and everything about my life has become peaceful and filled with unconditional love.

    SO I would leave you with this… If such things have happened to you, do not keep them in the dark. Seek understanding and forgiveness and let it go because it’s not your fault and all it will do is leave you to struggle with your dark passenger. And I know from experience that that is a lonely place. Know that you are loved even by people you have never met, and that you are not alone. And when the time is right and should you decide to have children, it is a glorious and wonderful thing! God bless!

  • If a person feels degraded, then it is degrading. There is no other factor there that needs to be considered. I don’t do anything that makes me feel degraded either.

    Her feelings are no less valid because you disagree with them. There is no one size fits all answer for this.

  • Actually, she seems quite normal to me. I feel exactly the same way. As a 50+ year old woman, it’s never caused me any ‘deep psychological problems’, other than being totally out of step with much of society. Not everyone views pregnancy as a glorious thing — more power to you if you do, but I just don’t.

  • Val P.

    She mentions the psychological ramifications of Mary’s pregnancy – paragraph 1, and then mentions the shame and loathing at finding herself pregnant and unmarried – paragraph 4.

    When I was young and brought up in an evangelical household – and sex was dirty, and all “good” girls save themselves for marriage – the worst thing I could imagine would have been getting pregnant and not being married. I had a boyfriend at 17, and we did have (protected) sex – and I would worry about getting pregnant so much that I would be late with my period. It would have been the end of the world.

  • Very true, Carolyn. As I read this I tried to think what would make one feel this way and pondered what I absorbed about pregnancy from my religious upbringing. Doing that made me realize that in the tiny corner of Fundamentalism from where I come I absorbed this, in this order:

    1. Pregnancy was what married couples prayed for when they wanted to have a baby, and, if it was God’s will, the wife would become pregnant. As in:

    “Did you here Mrs. Richardson is expecting?”

    “Yes, she and John have been praying for a baby for a long time now.”

    “What an answer to prayer! Praise God!”

    2. Pregnancy was evidence of premarital sex and God’s way of shaming teenagers who disobeyed his commands to remain a virgins until marriage.

    3. Pregnancy was the responsibility of good Christian wives who follow God’s commands by filling the quiver of their husbands with children.

    So. I can see how one’s psyche might rebel against that, especially if that psyche has found a place of a modicum of self-care.

    Truly the greatest preoccupation of my life as a teenager was the unrealistic fear of getting pregnant. Even though I didn’t have a boyfriend. Even though I didn’t date. Because we were taught – incessantly – it was the most shameful thing a girl could do to her family. And when a little reason set in that I shouldn’t be afraid of getting pregnant because I wasn’t having sex – then I became preoccupied with worrying about being raped and getting pregnant because: the most shameful thing a girl could do was be pregnant and unmarried.

    I got over that the farther away from that environment I traveled, but even in my very healthy, non-fundamentalist, egalitarian, waited to have children a good 8 years till we were ready marriage, this article made me recall emotions from the day I told my parents we were first expecting, when an unsaid moment happened in the space where my dad and I locked gazes and in his eyes I saw while inside my head I simultaneously heard: Now he knows we have sex – that same look of stunned confusion I had feared seeing all those years worrying about being no longer a virgin and great with child.

    It was after children and well out of that indoctrination that I stumbled onto an article about birth control from Focus on the Family where James Dobson said that voluntary childlessness is a sin. Children are blessings, he said. Godly people who wish to follow God’s will in their lives should have them. Voluntary childlessness is indicative of selfishness and an unwillingness to submit to God’s will. And that was when I began to realize how much bad psychology and toxic theology I had left behind.

    Blessings on the letter writer as she sorts it all out and emerges less fearful on the other side.

  • Rici

    I identify with this young lady’s view of pregnancy. For me, pregnancy brought feelings of shame and humiliation.

    I was raised by an abusive mother with Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and Borderline Personality Disorder. Part of her method of controlling me as an older child and a teen, was to go through my bathroom trashcan regularly, looking for evidence of menstruation, and when not finding any, would verbally assault me with venomous accusations of being pregnant. This happened from the time I was about 12, until I left home at 20. Pregnancy in my household was a mark of shame. The very word was spit at me. Pregnant women and babies were not celebrated, and actually got a self-righteous sniff from my mother. When one of my dear friends (age 23) sent me a birth announcement for her first daughter, my mother scathingly and sarcastically said, “I didn’t realize she was married.” (She was not, yet, but the birth of this child was still celebrated, as it should have been.)

    Despite this warped view of pregnancy and childbirth, I knew I wanted to be a mother myself. My husband and I became pregnant unexpectedly, and I was filled with so many mixed emotions. But in the background through it all, was shame and humiliation. Of course I dreaded telling my mother. Each of my three pregnancies was met with scathing words, and a nasty argument. She even had the gall to say, upon my second announcement, “You’re pregnant AGAIN?!?” It was awful.

    I have since gotten over my feelings of shame, humiliation, and degradation surrounding pregnancy, childbirth, and child rearing. My three sons are my greatest sources of joy, next to my loving husband. But I didn’t get here without counseling, and the support of loving friends, and frequent perspective checks.

    I can’t help but wonder if this young reader had a similar experience to mine, when it came to the views surrounding the giving of life. In any case, she has my understanding and support. May she find peace, happiness, and love.

  • It is fundamentally true that bearing the next generation is a beautiful and honorable thing in and of itself — beyond all social definitions of the duties and taboos of motherhood. The problem with bearing children is that it has been used as one of the excuses to enslave women throughout all time. Further, marriage has been a form of slavery in all cultures throughout time. In spite of the advances in the West in the last century, even now, most married females on planet Earth have no access to basic human rights and control nothing of their destiny. All they can do is endure. Even more terribly, what an affliction was pregnancy to a woman who had no legal owner? Many are and were killed outright. Nothing can erase these terrible truths from human history. In the midst of all these terrible social facts, Christians record that their God impregnated an innocent girl out of wedlock, exposing her to terrible danger. Does this indicate that the Christian God is not a supporter of marriage and female enslavement? Does it indicate the Christian God is an abuser and callous user of females? I don’t know.

  • Excellent question, I was wondering the same thing. This topic intrigues me.

    This God fellow seems like he is not a very good or moral individual and this was yet another one of his crimes that I had not considered yet.

  • DR

    Michelle, I don’t have kids and I don’t feel shamed or humiliated by that. Perhaps I’m the exception to the rule but I don’t see any problem at all with moms (or dads) being acknowledged one day out of the year at church. That seems kind of petty to highlight the one day that moms are recognized though I don’t disagree with some of the more general points you’re making (I just find that example to diminish the points you’re making).

  • DR

    You’ve certainly seemed to imply there is, William. It’s nice to see you but you clearly have a one size fits all experience of God (not being real). So let’s keep things intellectually honest on both sides of the faith fence, please.

  • DR

    Someone can experience sex as degrading because of the way their parents instilled a belief about sex. Others find it great because of their history with it, the former certainly doesn’t mean that “sex is degrading”, nor does it even mean the parents who instilled that mindset find sex conclusively degrading. It’s possible they weren’t equipped to communicate about it well. Psychological and emotional responses add veils of meaning between literal truth and meaning. You’re smart enough to know that.

  • Brian W


    I agree 100% with your first paragraph, not your second though. God didn’t “need to experience life as one of his creation”. The God-man, Jeus Christ was born like you and I as an example TO us (in his humanity) and as Savior FOR us (in his Divinity).

  • Amy Michael Finnerty via Facebook

    All I can say is good job, John. Plus, I’ve been pregnant three times and it was the most magnificent blessing. Nothing comes close to carrying and growing mybabies. Nothing.

  • It would be degrading to be smitten with pregnancy as a virgin, but I believe Mary had a choice and she chose to do God’s will, I think that is the difference.

  • Isaac

    I think you’re missing the critical difference here:

    What John is suggesting here is not that it’s bad that this woman doesn’t want to be pregnant (in and of itself), or even that she views pregnancy as degrading as it relates to herself, but that she views pregnancy *in general* as degrading. A personal choice is one thing, an encompassing worldview is another.

  • Brian W


    How did Jesus break the “normal stereotypical” family? NO ONE knew of Mary’s pregnancy (so no scandal) before marriage other than herself and Joseph (who was told by a messenger of God). There are verses to indicate they remained married all of Jesus’ life, he had siblings and they were a loving family. In fact it was his “normalcy” that made it so hard for people (primarily the religious self-righteous) to accept that he was the Messiah, God incarnate. People wanted powerful earthy king, they instead got a lowly carpenter

  • No, I’m not missing that distinction. I just do not share the view. People are free to have different worldviews about different topics. Surely you know this? In other words, I disagree.

    I’m sure I was clear about that…

  • Brian W

    So prophecy would be fulfilled and the passages in Luke sums it up quite well as John noted.

  • Nicole

    My only thought on this would be that being a virgin was in many ways for Mary. So that she would have no doubt that this could be anyone’s child but God’s. Had she been married to Joseph and already had children…she might doubt what she saw/heard. It could maybe be Joseph’s child.

    Not that God couldn’t have brought his son that way as well, as the child of both a man and a woman. I look forward to Johns response. 🙂

  • Sorry, but to me that is way more messed up than the viewpoint being critiqued. And I know I’m about to get totally flamed for saying so.

  • I am not arguing about either God or faith here, those things are irrelevant to me either way. I am discussing the issue of this young lady thinking pregnancy is degrading. I find that view to have some validity.

  • You are correct. I am not arguing against that, just that it is okay to think pregnancy or sex for that matter is degrading. If you think something is degrading, you don’t do it. Its fine.

  • That is not an answer to the question asked.

  • Nicole

    Well, God knew that would be an incredibly difficult prophecy to prove, so it can’t be such a pat answer as that. How many of us would believe a young, pregnant woman if she told us she was pregnant by God? No, Mary had to have been a forward-thinker and pretty strong personally, to take this on. Really, to go with William Ely’s thoughts, only Mary could tell us the true effect of God’s behavior. It’s something we can certainly explore, but there’s no way we can fully identify with Mary.

  • Nicole

    Sorry that wasn’t very clear. In response to William, only Mary would have the right to call it a “crime.”

  • I had an online friend -turned-enemy-of-sorts. When I was still friends with her… she once described pregnancy to me as “degrading.” She had a ton of issues, though. She was at a point where she pretty much thought that anything “female” was degrading, so her issue with pregnancy clearly stemmed from that. I won’t get into why our friendship broke off (a sort of lack-of-respect thing I could no longer stand, possibly in part because I’m HAPPILY female when she was starting to think she was superior for having a “male brain” and other crap). If anything she ever said to me is to be believed (I cannot trust anything from her anymore)… if she was telling the truth about her life, it would seem to have all stemmed from her Fundamentalist family.

    Really. I remmeber this online/messenger friend telling me all about how her family was big into “roles for women” and “women having their place” and how she chafed under that because she had dreams of travel and becoming a professional photographer that didn’t fit her family’s ideas that she was to find a man, marry and make babies.

    So maybe she came to find pregnancy “degrading” because of that.

    Personally, I’m a 32 year old mildly hetero asexual who is apprehensive over the idea of even having sex let along pregnancy. The prospect – the pain, the hormones that might throw me into a murderous rage if I didn’t get chocolate covered sushi or something – the idea of having a kid when I feel like I’m still a child myself… absolutely terrify me, but I don’t find pregnancy degrading. I like touching a pregnant belly to feel a baby kick and I’m happy for people who are happily preggars. It’s a natural thing.

  • As someone else has said, this is the most interesting topic (and replies) I’ve read in a long time. I’m finally moved to comment upon reading Marjanna’s thought: “i.e. after women have sex they aren’t holy enough anymore to be the mother of God?” That thought has bothered me for a long time. I’ve wondered if the story of the virgin birth wasn’t just another way to keep women in their place and teach them that sex is bad when a woman does it and good when a man does it. I eagerly await John’s thoughts and more comments. I love these discussions.

    I, too, send the letter writer thoughts of peace and hope that she finds the assistance she may need to help her see a woman’s body and its ability to bring forth life as the wonderful thing it is – and I say that as someone who absolutely hated the physicality of being pregnant. Degrading, no. Miserable, yes!

  • I think it’s just an indicator that those chosen by God for the special stuff have a hard road. The Bible is full of stories of people facing great hardship. Look at how Mary’s kid wound up. *Shudder.*

    And thousands of years later, people wear little execution devices ’round their necks as jewelry.

  • Brian W

    “why would God put Mary in a situation like this before she was married?”

    To fulfill prophecy

  • Society devalues womanhood and motherhood, this could have something to do with this woman’s feelings.

    At the same time, I feel like we wouldn’t be having this conversation if a man was turned off by pregnancy. We assume that it is every woman’s duty to want to be a mother and to like pregnancy, when actuality there is a great diversity to woman’s dreams and desires, and many people are not made to be parents.

    I would say there is nothing mentally off at all about someone who doesn’t like the thought of a creature living inside of them, in a social position that is highly devalued.

  • Sami

    Ok, so if an ugly girl feels beautiful than she is? The poor boy feels rich than he is? And we have to play into their ultra-reality? This is what goats me about the fox news followers, a feeling of having to Play into their make believe. She has a distorted view of reality, if someone would tell her this instead of playing into she’d be better because of it.

    This was NOT thrown on Mary. Mary said let it be done unto me as is Your will. She goes on to say she is his handmaiden (servant). She said, Yes. She could have said no just as easily.

  • Jennifer Costa Rego via Facebook

    I hope that she will. I worry for her.

  • Rhea Flanery via Facebook

    If you don’t want to be pregnant yourself (for whatever reason), fine. I have no desire to be pregnant myself. BUT..what this woman said was that being pregnant (in general) is degrading for woman…she was implying that it’s degrading for all/any woman who happens to be pregnant. Dude…that’s weird.

  • I am so curious… She sounds so anxious… You gave the same advice I would have given. I hope she makes peace with those feelings.

  • True enough.

  • Rachel Oblak via Facebook

    Well, probably more in rebellion to the “woman’s role” mentality, I have a huge aversion to pregnancy myself. I find it disgusting to think about a body growing inside of me; i find it insulting when I’m expected to have children. More importantly, I find that the attitude surrounding women in our society sometimes makes me hate being a woman, which extends to “womanly” activities like pregnancy. Perhaps she’s been scarred by the sexism so rampant in the church and is expressing that pain by finding repulsion in what everyone else expects her to desire. . .

  • I’m writing this first thing after having read only your first paragraph, John, to which I respond: Thank you for cutting straight to it. As I read the young woman’s letter, I had trouble concentrating on her point for the tripping on her sense of child bearing as degradation. Beyond that, I didn’t know WHAT to do with the whole shame and self-loathing thing. Yikes! Now I’ll go back and continue reading…

    [moments pass]

    You wrote: “So … next time … I’ll talk a bit about why I feel that God, in manifesting himself on earth as Jesus, decided to go with the whole Virgin Birth thing.”

    Well, if you could ask the late Joseph Campbell, it’s because the mythology of human society since time immemorial has always included it in one form or another. But, of course, you and I see it another way. [grin]

    Based on your post’s headline, here, I was sort of hoping that why you feel God decided to go with the whole Virgin Birth thing would be included in it. Instead, you devoted the entire post — and, don’t get me wrong, perhaps entirely appropropriately so — to your correspondent’s “revulsion to pregnancy, which [you] think most people would agree is unnatural, if not manifestly unhealthy.” And I am, indeed, one of those people who would agree. However…

    …you wrote: “…please forgive what I know can only come off here as my intrusive presumptuousness. You didn’t ask for my advice on your relationship to pregnancy, so, for sure, it’s obnoxious of me to offer it anyway”…

    …to which I add that both you and I, despite your being right and my agreeing, are MEN; and that most women would be quick to counsel that whenever we’re finally able to up and grow a womb and carry a child is pretty much the soonest we get to have an opinion.

    My point in all this is that I think — and this is just MY opinion (which, mind you, added to $2.50 won’t even buy a cup of coffee anymore… at least not one of the fancy dancy ones) — that this post’s potency might have been enhanced if you had been less afraid to make it long, and more willing to cite relevant theology (though I DO appreciate your quoting the entirely-relevant Magnificat, of which I never tire reading).

    I confess, too, that also underlying my point, here, is my kneejerk response to what I perceive as the world’s maniacal demand for brevity these days. The Internet is rife with articles about how to write for the web; telling us that it’s different, less formal than “written for print” prose; and that brevity is the coin of the realm.

    But I don’t buy it. It, in fact, really pisses me off.

    We’re now beginning the rearing of a second generation of what I call “Children of the Web,” complete with a seemingly amazing (but, in fact, superficial and little more than smoke and mirrors) ability to multi-task. The result is that more and more young people want their news in sound bites and snippets; and think that the Daily Show is a perfectly okay way to learn of and interpret the events of the day.

    Anyone can multi-task when the task at hand is reading a tweet of 140 characters or less, a Facebook posting of 400 (recently, gratefully, returned to 1,000) characters or less, or the shallowness of an effectively television-on-newsprint style USA Today article. A comprehensive tome from the venerable either New Yorker or Chicago Reader which winds its way, page and reefer after page and reefer, through the entire issue would damned near KILL most of today’s youth if they were ever forced to reel-in their freneticism and READ — and, heaven forbid, actually COMPREHEND — it.

    And we, as a society, are worse for it. So I admit that it gets my hackles up a bit whenever I either hear or read apologia for the length of something; and though I don’t mean for it to fall upon you as criticism, I think that this posting of yours, here, with all its headline-conveyed promise, is ultimately worse for your having stifled what I sense was your desire to herein (rather than “next time”) follow-up your dead-on advice to the young woman with some equally-dead-on Mariology.

    “Fear not comprehensiveness and depth. Contribute, not, to its ultimately becoming a lost art.” — Gregg DesElms [grin]

    As t0 what truly vexes the young woman, I confess to being informed a bit (hopefully, not too much, or inappropriately, in this particular case) by my understanding of at least prostituted women resulting from my ministry of agency/advocacy to/for the homeless, disabled (and even enabled, but in-need) vets, the prostituted, the indigent elderly, recent parolees, and others similarly in need. When I make public presentations about prostitution, part of my patter is to say that while it’s ridiculous to suggest that every woman who was sexually abused as a child by a trusted adult grows-up to become prostituted, it is almost certainly true that pretty much every prostituted woman was sexually abused as a child by a trusted adult. Prostituted men, too, I’ve come to understand.

    Fathers, uncles, older brothers, and other trusted males in the lives of children need to understand what a horrific and unspeakable betrayal it is to said children when the adults they trust to the very core of themselves decide to cross the awful and normally-uncrossable line into the world of sexual contact with them. It has profound, deeply life-altering and often pathologically-negative consequences which subsequently manifest as the child’s (and eventual teen’s and adult’s) very understanding of, and interaction with — usually males, since they tend, statistically, to be the abusers — in the universe.

    Not lost on me, then, is your woman correspondent’s sense of the Virgin Birth as God, the FATHER’s abuse and degradation of her. But, wait…

    …I see it wasn’t lost on you, either, when you wrote: “My guess is that you’ve transferred the feelings of ‘shame and loathing’ that pregnancy evokes in you onto the most famous pregnancy of all: one that didn’t involve sex—or any of the ‘degradations’ that we, most religious traditions, certainly traditional Christianity, and society generally, so readily—so eagerly—associate with sex,” and then you continued, “[y]ou don’t think that in being chosen by God to give birth to the savior of the world Mary was blessed by God. You think Mary was abused by God.”

    Bingo! You cut straight to it, yet again! Or so, at least, it is my opinon (which, remember, won’t even contribute to the purchase of a fancy dancy cup of coffee). Do not be so quick, though, to assume that the sexless Virgin Pregnancy and Birth is seen as such by your correspondent.

    You wrote: “My guess is that what you’re really seeking is help understanding the core cause of your associating pregnancy with degradation. I’m guessing that you’re more aware than you’d care to be of how troublesome is that response, of how surely it points to a problem within you that you want solved,” your adding, later, “if you really do find pregnancy as repulsive and degrading as you say you do, then you should think about talking to someone about that—preferably a trained mental health professional.”

    I could not more strongly agree. And what I fear (on one hand, because of how devastating can be the ultimate realization; but what I celebrate, on the other hand, because of the door to a less shameful and self-loathing life can be the ultimate outcome) is that she will learn that it was the childhood sexual abuse of an earthly father — maybe even an aborted (it would have to have been if she so fears) pregnancy resulting therefrom — which is the proximate cause of her equating the Virgin Birth with God The Father’s “abuse” (as she wrongly sees it) of Mary; and what, to your correspondent’s way of thinking, should have been Mary’s ultimate shame and self-loathing.

    Of course, I could be wrong… as my ex-wife is usually quick to observe. (Actually, she’s a peach; I just like making ex-wife jokes.) But every instinct I have said to me, as I read the painful words of what I can only interpret as your correspondent’s cry for help, that her pain is the result of that which I have herein described. I can just feel it in my bones.

    I always try to be careful jumping too quickly to such conclusions. I worry, sometimes, that my training and experience working with so, so many women (and even men) who either are or were prostituted sometimes predisposes me to think that the plight of such as your correspondent may be blamed on childhood sexual abuse by trusted adults. However, what I’m learning from both my considerable reading and research, and also from my first-hand experience, is that it’s so, so much more common than any of us (you and I are nearly the same age) ever realized as we were growing-up. So, so much more so. You just wouldn’t believe it.

    In the mid-80’s, after my divorce, I was dating a lovely woman (whom, in retrospect, I often think I should have married… but it was just too soon) with whom I was, one morning, sitting at the breakfast table, eating our cereal; and I remarked on how every half-gallon cardboard milk carton, anymore, bore the image of a missing child. After a pause, she shook her head as she looked downward, and her mood darkened. She then, in a quiet voice, launched into what seemed like an uncomfortably knowing and experientially-informed lament about how most of those children on those milk cartons were harmed or even disappeared by their own parents… more often than not, their fathers. She then cited some sources from articles she’d read (a refuse-to-just-shoot-from-the-hip and always-cite-your-sources habit which I always appreciated in her) suggesting that such abuses are far, far, far (I cannot say “far” too many times regarding this one) more common than most either realize or would believe.

    Knowing what I now know, I think back on that morning sometimes and realize she was both right, and possibly also speaking from experience. I recall the times she used to speak of her own, by-then-deceased, father; and how deeply circumspect it often was. I recall daring not wonder if he, too, had crossed that awful line. I’m not sure that I EVER want to know.

    There is a reason why pedophiles are more deeply despised by society even than murderers. One would think that the intentional ending of a life would be more repugnant to us than would the intentional sexual abuse of one…

    …yet, just look: Paroled murderers don’t have to register with anyone; or have their presence in neighborhoods plastered on web sites, or noticed in handbills. There’s no Android smartphone or tablet computer app linking the user to a database of convicted murderers in the neighborhood.

    Not so for paroled child sexual abusers… as it should be, I’m quick to point out. This is not an apologia for men who sexually abuse children. It’s merely an observation of society’s value system, resulting, I’ve come to learn, from just how awful — how lasting throughout the entire life of its victims — is the heinous act of the sexual abuse of a child by a trusted adult; adults who, to the last of them, nearly never understand nor even begin to grasp the enormity of the betrayal… even though most of them were sexually abused themselves, and so then also became abusers.

    [sigh] Oh, well… now I’m sure you can see why I’ve come to abhor brevity.

    Keep-up the good work, John. Though silent, here, until now, I’ve become a huge fan over time.

    Peace and Blessings.


    Gregg L. DesElms

    Napa, California USA

    gregg at greggdeselms dot com

  • Donna W.

    What strange and complex creatures we humans are. John, your answer was compassionate and insightful. I hope one day a six month mental health check up will be as common as a dental check up is now! It’s obvious we ALL need it!

  • Yeah me too; I would go a step further and suggest that she has had something done to her that she does not want to talk about.

  • Cynth Bage via Facebook

    I hope she read you the riot act.

  • Robin Clark Kuppusamy via Facebook

    I hope she does let you share. I am pregnant with my fourth, and while I feel no shame others feel it for me. Which is very interesting. Not everyone views children as a blessing or a wonder. Did anyone else see the story on yahoo about resteraunts barring children and whole foods setting certains hours where children aren’t welcome? So sad, I believe this is one of the things Mother Theresa touched on the last time she was in NYC.

  • Zachary

    “possibly in part because I’m HAPPILY female when she was starting to think she was superior for having a “male brain” and other crap”

    I can’t help but presume that perhaps your friend was not cis-gendered as you feel you are? People are born and evolve – gender is a construct. If she feels that she has a male brain, I don’t think that would have been the reason to end your friendship – it should not impact your being “happily female.” The fact that your friend was being a jerk, however, is probably a really good indicator that, regardless of creed, race, orientation, or ability, pretty much every human has a stunning capacity for being a jerk. Forgive or forget?

    To the point of John, however, I have been reading this blog for quite a few months and always appreciate some of the context that he can offer to a lapsed ‘really can’t care anymore about silly Ukrainian Greek Catholicism/RCC mashup’ that marks my religious upbringing. I do take some issue with your analysis of this young woman’s position. First off, no matter how much education you and I possess, various womens’ issues are really beyond our scope of understanding. You and I can certainly empathize, but I draw the line beyond that. It isn’t right for a man to make an analysis of a woman’s feelings regarding pregnancy. Perhaps, really deep down, she wants to talk about this issue, I do not feel that it is your place to say something so potentially hurtful as this:

    “I’ve only done so in hopes of encouraging you to consider the possibility that it might be a good idea for you to speak with someone about your revulsion to pregnancy, which I think most people would agree is unnatural, if not manifestly unhealthy.”

    Unnatural? Unhealthy? I’ve had to come to terms my whole life with body image and my sexuality. It is very difficult. The fact that I am so uncomfortable in my own skin may not be healthy, but when you’ve lived with underlying issues of trauma for pretty much your whole life it is quite rich when someone degrades them as ‘unhealthy.’ A female being worried about pregnancy is neither ‘unhealthy’ nor ‘unnatural,’ at least no more than it is ‘unhealthy’ for humans to speak to and about something that they’ve never seen and can only describe experiencing in cursory emotive terminology like being ‘touched by the Holy Spirit.’ Most of all, I have a huge issue with you denigrating a person’s fears as ‘unnatural.’ John, when you undergo pregnancy – that is hosting a gestating fetus in your own body – please let me know how it is, how it made you feel, whether or not fears and apprehensions you had were unnatural…Oh, wait… Neither you nor I can do that because we were born as cis-males.

    A theological premise is one thing to defend. To bring up a person’s fears and read into them in a response is problematic at best and patriarchal at worst. Call me a feminist or a Commie or whatever – I get them thrown at me quite a bit – but I have to say that you should have kept with the question asked…and not dove head long into psychoanalysis. You’re right, maybe she should speak to someone about those feelings and apprehensions. At the same time…I really do not think that it was your place to say what you did.

    Sorry dude, love your blog – did not love this post.

    P.S. for anyone who bothered to read this, I’d highly suggest reading a couple things that may, unfortunately, get peoples’ backs up against the wall:



  • Melody

    Could you please tell us what is messed up about it? Plenty of women enjoy being pregnant. I don’t understand why that would bother anyone.

  • Soulmentor

    As a man, I can’t speak to women’s attitudes toward pregnancy beyond the fact that I’ve raised two sons but I too have a problem with immaculate conception and virgin birth. On the surface, it’s preposterous and utterly incomprehensible from a physiological viewpoint. Even given today’s technological abilities to cause pregnancy without sexual activity, one still knows that wasn’t available back then, so what happened?

    May I offer a possible explanation that may sound equally preposterous to those who are “faithfully” invested in the Miracle, but here goes. Mary was, in some advanced hi tech manner, artificially inseminated…..by a visitation from an extra-terrestrial civilization so far advanced beyond even OUR current day that it would have been considered a visitation by a God. Think about it. Primitive peoples as recent as the 19th century thought of men in planes and parachutes as gods falling from the sky. Cigarette lighters were “miracles”. Why think of something similar in Mary’s time as preposterous or blasphemous? “Angels”? Elijah’s “chariot of fire”? Even Jesus “miracles” and “vanishing” and “appearances”, being “taken up” in “transfiguration”, etc. Jesus, appearing at the tomb, seemed careful to not be touched by those he appeared to. Why? Because the attempt to touch would simply go thru him? If all that isn’t a definition of a hologram, I don’t know what is.

    I think we are all beginning to accept the possibility that advanced civilizations are “out there” and we have been and are being visited. Is it possible that humanity’s various religious traditions stem from such visitations in ancient times?

    Provocative idea, I know, but how would anyone answer the question: Why not?

  • Wow. I have only one child. Being pregnant with that child was the singular happiest time of my life. I never before or since felt as proud of myself or more beautiful or confident. I would have given anything to have been able to repeat the process.

  • Easy folks. Why would we encourage shaming her shame? I’m a first time preggo here but it’s not about me, or you. She’s not “unnatural” or an asshole for being who she is. Be you sister and know that you are loved. You’re not broken. If, you decide that you want a different relationship to pregnancy, cool. If not, cool. Bless you all over either way.

  • Melody

    So you agree that it’s degrading for a woman to get pregnant, even if she really wants to and enjoys it? The reason we are so troubled by her letter is that if you’re going to have your own, biological children is through pregnancy. That’s nature. Is it degrading for female cats or dogs to be pregnant with litters of kittens or puppies? No, of course not. That’s just the way of mammals. You don’t have to have children if you don’t want them, but pregnancy is not degrading to those who want it.

  • Cynth: Yikes. Hostile much?

  • Soulmentor

    Whew!!! Excellent, but after that I need a mental break. Think I’ll go fix lunch.

  • Melody

    Zachary…she SAID she viewed pregnancy as nothing but degrading. That in itself is a troubling statement, so John had every right to respond as he did. Please read my comment to Deborah, further down.

  • Robin Clark Kuppusamy via Facebook

    Mary wasn’t forced to have a baby. She accepted it, graciously as a GIFT. If you had read the Bible you would know that, instead of asking someone. If you asked the Holy Spirit to help you understand the story and Mary’s

  • Robin Clark Kuppusamy via Facebook

    Place in it you wouldn’t need to be spoon fed informatiOn here.

  • Libby Smith Serkies via Facebook

    I agree with Tobi — this is supposed to be a safe place where people can ask questions and share the thoughts they have they wouldn’t feel comfortable giving voice to anywhere else. I am a 45 year old woman who married for the first time as a virgin – never haven given myself WILLINGLY to a man before – at age 36.(Fill in the blanks as you will.) I had no desire throughout my life to have a child and tho I have a profound love of children, and a mothering side, I had no urge to parent. I did not feel the degree of avoidance and shame about pregnancy the writer of this question did, but I I do relate to one thing. I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I did not want to be “tied” to my first husband or bound to him in any way – especially to have his influence over another child. (He had a child from his first marriage.) Needless to say, my first marriage did not survive. I am now in an amazingly supportive and loving marriage – and the step-mother to 3 boys. I love these boys beyond reason, and do not believe I could love them more if I had birthed them. I grew, I healed and I opened my heart to love of another kind. But I also have tremendous compassion for someone so obviously in pain. I hope she and John continue to dialog – whether we know about it or not.

  • What is wrong with barring children from certain places? Adults need a place to go that is free from crying and running young ones. I know of a movie theater here in Texas that has premium showings that only allows 21 and up to enter. It is a nice experience and a crying child would totally ruin it.

    I don’t have children and I should not be burdened by those who do. It should be their burden alone to bear as it was their choice to have a child.

  • Brian W

    Can I smoke some of what you’re smoking? 🙂 Sure, aliens did it, not God, what is more preposterous?

  • Val P.

    Am I truly the only one here who does not believe in the Virgin Birth?

    KJV: Gal. 4:4: “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth His Son, made of a woman, made under the law.” Doesn’t say anything about virgin birth.

    And I got this from one of my favorite spots, Religious Tolerance: “Numerous places in the Hebrew Scriptures state that the coming messiah was to be of the House of David. Thus, if Yeshua is the messiah, then he could not have been born of a virgin; he would have had to have a father who was of the House of David. And if Jesus was born of a virgin, then he could not have been the messiah, because his father — the Holy Spirit — was not a human descendent of the House of David.”

    I know the premise of this post is this young woman’s feelings about pregnancy, and I get that. But the young woman’s sense that God degraded Mary by impregnating her was just too much for me. To me, what the Virgin Birth story is saying is this was the birth of Someone Important. I just can’t take it literally. One of the (many) reasons I’m not a Southern Bapt. anymore…

  • I am just praying that she is healed from whatever trauma is at the root of it.

  • It is logically incoherant to assert that we are all so screwed up about sex that we could all do with the help of a shrink. What magical ability does a psychologist have to stand outside of his or her cultural confines? Why the recourse to medicine/materialist philosophy for salvation from a writer who prides himself on liberated views of sexuality inspired by scripture?

  • Barb

    OK, I get to disagree here, which is most unusual, because I read your blog every day and until today, have found nothing substantially different from my own POV on which to comment. But let’s get real for a minute…

    The writer acknowledges up front that she has a profound fear of pregnancy and childbirth. Most 20-something women can appreciate the root sentiment to some degree. Bringing new life to a dying world can be traumatic to someone who is barely making her way through the chaos on her own. The teen-aged Mary would surely understand the writer’s fears and quite possibly shared them to some extent.

    One of the oft-overlooked miracles of the Virgin Birth may be that Mary was allowed by society to survive AT ALL. Most women in her “state” would have been stoned to death. And while modern-day culture has generally abandoned this barbaric punishment, (with a few notable exceptions) there are other, more or less subtle ways of condemnation that are capable of generating the feelings of degradation and humiliation that the writer may be attempting to describe. She did not arrive at these feelings in a vacuum of her own making.

    We are spiritual beings having some quite common human experiences. I am learning from my own, that there are some important lessons shared by others that bear listening (reading) without assumption, or judgment. We should be careful not to overlook them. It may be our society that needs the help we urge the writer to seek…

  • But … what did I say with which you disagree?

  • Wow. Do you ever have no idea of what I pride myself on.

  • Effective counseling is a valuable resource for helping us carve the truth from the dark confines of where we’ve hidden it because it has been up until now too difficult to confront alone. Counseling does not equal medicine in the pharmacoligical sense, but it is good medicine for so much of what ails us. Once one has worked through this process of self-discovery and awareness raising most feel it is one of the most valuable experiences of their lives, and feel it would have merit for nearly all humans save the most self-aware and enlightened ones.

  • sadie

    ha ha! My sentiments EXACTLY!

  • Peggy Tener Taylor via Facebook

    I am a crazy liberal Christian who avoided pregnancy like the plague for the first 16 years of my adult life. I wasn’t afraid of pregnancy, but of becoming a single mom. I never saw pregnancy in and do itself as a burden or degrading. I didn’t see it as a curse. I saw it as something that I wasn’t ready for. Here in lies the difference in just choosing to not be pregnant and viewing it as depicted in the letter to John. I was as astounded as he when I read it because I saw her interpretation as so far out of the norm that my mind also went to ‘Oh, that poor girl, what has happened to her.’ I never even saw any of her description that in the story. I saw a woman who was asked to do something astounding, miraculous, dangerous, and holy. I heard her say yes.

  • Theodore Bosen

    Let’s give the girl a break here. I can not invalidate her feelings. This is real for her. She feels degraded. Accept her statement please. She can relate to Mary as a poor, young woman in a male-dominated society who, with meager means, is bearing a huge responsibilty. There is nothing unnatrual about feeling this way about pregnancy. ( I speak as a former social worker and father of a young woman the same age).

    The theological key here is that Mary had a choice and said “yes”, knowing how much of a burden this would be, and clearly deciding that her love for God was strong enough to sustain her through the difficulties. In that sense, God did not abuse her. She exercised free will. In doing so , however, she confirmed for us that there is no glory from God’s grace without a cross to bear as well. In a sense, for every pregnancy that is not forced upon one, there must been an exercise of free will with some degree of understanding that, through the pain and discomfort of the situtation, which can be more than just physical but also social, as Mary herself shows us, the life of the world, nonetheless, is in your hands!

  • Nancy J.

    First of all, ‘virgin’ and ‘virgin birth’ are misunderstood by most people. We are not reading original language here. Second of all, much of the Bible is apocryphal–stories–even fiction. It borrows heavily from centuries of myth. Common myths of the Greeks and Romans involve the gods (pagan) having sex, and even raping, mortal women. Zeus did this many times. He even raped a swan, and other animals, and had progeny who were humans.

    Part of this young woman’s feelings about control of her body are common to anyone who has been abused or raped. Anything but consensual sex between adults is abusive, and the victim loses control of her/his body to the abuser. That’s psychologically devastating, as mentioned by another responder. That’s part of the problem with the ‘virgin’ birth. Even if one has visits from angels, this is seriously disturbing. Many women who are pregnant by accident can relate to having multiple emotions about the pregnancy. If it was unwanted sex, or even unknowing sex, that makes the emotional response much more negative. It’s as though Mary was given roofies and had no knowledge of a sexual encounter.

  • Val P.

    Thank you Nancy, you put into words so eloquently what I was totally unable to do.

  • Barb

    I disagree that a “revulsion to pregnancy is unnatural”. I think there are many world views and influences (of nature and nurture) that could bring a young woman to that conclusion, that happen as naturally as our humanity allows.

  • Tina Ison

    I think you maybe have missed the point of her letter. I think there is a stigma even today about unarried women who are pregnant. At that time it would have been worse I am sure. A woman who is pregant would have been terrified and then to have her body…taken over against her will and be pregnant….I can’t imagine.

    Why would God put that upon Mary? Why did she have to be a virgin? It is almost like saying a woman that isn’t a virgin is unclean. God had to choose Mary because she was clean…. Just strikes me as a view of woman that is once again not equal to men.

    I think young girls pick up on this. I did.

  • sadie

    Although, I know not this lady, I believe that you and John are right on in your assumptions. Sexual abuse is (in my opinion) the worst thing that you can do to a person. Just the mere thought of one of my children being alone with someone who intends to harm them in that way, makes my stomach queasy and my eyes well up. As a mother of 3, and having gotten pregnant with 2 of them at times where I was not married, I understand how pregnancy can be scary or invoke fear in the heart. I was only 19 the first time. But, (that’s a big but) that was really only the fear of what others thought of me, not my fear of having a child. Children are the single most beautiful gift that anyone can experience (bar none). I have experienced a lot of heartbreak, elation, good, bad, easy, and difficult things in my life….but, for my kids, I would do all of it again EXACTLY how I did it the first time, just to ensure that I would have the same kids, at the same time, again. I would even allow the abuse that I experienced to gain such a prize. All I’m saying is that there has to be something deeply rooted to make a person hate life giving motherhood. Hopefully, God will work in her soul to clear up this hang up and give her ease out thought in this matter.

  • Just to speak up for the woman. I’m a 32 year old woman that has no want to ever be pregnant. Now, I don’t see it as degrading, but I do see it as “unnatural.” I know, I know, it’s the most natural thing possible, but to me it seems as if your allowing a parasite to live in your body, it’s gross. I understand this woman, and I kinda feel bad that everybody is jumping up and down saying her opinion must be because of some sort of trauma.

  • Jonathan

    Just came across this blog and was curious as to why people don’t believe in the virgin birth. I understand there’s room for some translation in some words (which I’ve heard some people talk about), but translating an entire passage incorrectly is a little hard to do. Matthew 1:18-25 doesn’t use the term “virgin birth” – it talks about Joseph discovering his wife is pregnant -before- they consummated the marriage and that she “pregnant through the Holy Spirit”, and Joseph is deciding whether or not to divorce her quietly because he of his strict attitude towards the law. If it wasn’t a virgin birth but a pregnancy by Joseph, then it would make no sense for the “law-abiding” man to knock her up, marry her, and then wonder whether or not to divorce her because she was pregnant. (In verse 25, they don’t consummate the marriage until after Jesus is born).

    I understand that some people aren’t sure about how the House of David is involved in this without a human father in play, but there are viewpoints that trace the Davidic lineage through Mary and others that state that a provision in the Torah allowed Jesus to be “legally” considered of Davidic lineage through Joseph. There are a lot of ways that the lineage can be explained, and very few ways that passages about the virgin birth can be explained without taking some hefty liberties.

  • It would take a woman who fears pregnancy to understand how terrified Mary must have felt to be told she was pregnant before she’d been married in a day where women were punished by being publicly murdered for such an offense. Women regularly died during childbirth so being pregnant was a major risk and worry. The question was; why would God put Mary through that?? Why impregnate her as virgin? To have first dibs? Why would he make Mary and Joseph lie because they had to lie to say Jesus was their son knowing from their visions that it was God’s doing. Why would God put Mary to such a risk – it’s the risk that’s disrespectful; to not have given Mary a choice or voice to have been made such a vessel. But such is the whims of Gods over their insignificant creations?

    I think focusing on the questioner’s personal use of the word “degrading” and telling her she needs help was an inappropriate public response. Just answer the question on your blog and save the therapy support for private messages. Luckily for you, judging by her follow-up response, she didn’t feel degraded by the sidestepping of the valid question to speak of her mental health.

    Now that she’s agreed that using the word “degrading” was not the right word, will you answer the question?

  • Mary V

    In a nutshell, Mary never, not even once, said “No” to God. She was used to symbolize the “perfect ” relationship with God, one of self sacrifice and trust….she had FAITH that everything would work out.

    As far as the young woman fearing pregnancy, it might be as simple as she has a low threshold for pain…….who knows? Maybe we need to have faith that she asked the question in good faith, and let’s it go at that.

  • Linda

    Judaism is a Matrilineality society ….it is a system in which a descent is traced through the mother and maternal ancestors. Matrilineality is also a societal system in which one belongs to one’s matriline or mother’s lineage, which can involve the inheritance of property and/or titles.

    Mary was of the tribe of Judah and the lineage of King David.

  • Red G

    I have to say I’m with both the young woman who wrote in and Barb.

    After watching siblings and other family members go through pregnancy, it was the absolute last thing I wanted anything to do with…ever. My feelings have not changed over the years. Quite frankly, I object to the notion that by not wanting to reproduce, that means there something wrong with me or the many others that feel this way. The statement “revulsion to pregnancy is unnatural” is inappropriate. Frankly anything that involves water breaking and a mucus plug falls in the revolting category to me.

    And yes, I have found the situation that Mary was put in to be degrading as well. The embarrassment the fear, and yes, the invasion of her body has never set well with me.

  • Don’t worry. My friendship with my ex-friend ended for a variety of reasons. A truckload of reasons – plenty of them having nothing whatsoever to do with gender. There were respect-issues all around, manipulation issues, and a point at which I felt like I was doing her wrong by trying to hold on, as well. It didn’t help that she tried to bring others into our fighting. Less an issue of gender, more a issue of… insanity… But her gender issues and her disgust over anything female “rolled” including pregnancy are things that I remember. Again, if she was telling me the truth about her family, I think her issues were their fault.

  • Stephanie Rojas Minz via Facebook

    I don’t think anyone has attacked her in any way. Whether you are open to having children or not is your own business. Although I would say if you’re willing to have sex, you should be open or have discussed the possibility that it will end in pregnancy. That is, after all, the acts intention. But in all seriousness, John touched on something important and some people have digressed from that main point probably for personal reasons. His point was about her considering pregnancy “degrading” which is not a normal feeling for most women and id believe that most mothers, myself including, would rejoice and share the joy of our mothering. Now, if we just want to talk anatomy, we can do that. That, however,is different. What has been asked and touched on is the emotional aspects of it. When pregnancy happens it is natural, for planned or otherwise, for there to be trepidation, but love is sure to follow. Unless of course there are other reasons such a sexual assault. There is nothing degrading about mothering or breast-feeding,or any of it. I hope she is willing to share her position on such harsh words. Especially used toward mothering. I pray that its a simple misunderstanding. And that she has not suffered at the hands of any woman or man.

  • Jeff Blackshear via Facebook

    Wow, this turned into quite the trigger-fest for a lot of folks. I have my own injuries and regrets, but let us try to respond with compassion toward one another at least. Please?

  • Grace

    Please tell this young woman, I hear her. I was in the same boat. Therapy helped immensely, and I got over the fear. Even had babies. It wasn’t awful. And I’m very happy to have these wonderful children, and to have conquered the fear.

    I’d tell her that when you hear stuff about birth on sitcoms they say it is “the worst pain in the world,” well, it actually isn’t. It’s intense, no doubt about it. But it isn’t the worst thing you can possibly imagine. All those old movies don’t help convey what it is actually like either.

    I hope she gets the same wonderful help I did.

    Tell her to ask an OB-GYN to refer her to someone. Turns out this is a fairly common fear. Sometimes debilitating. Sometimes it keeps women from sex, or from having a baby she’d really like to have. But it can be addressed. I wish her well.

  • daniel

    – If mary was impregnated by another man, that would answer many of your questions.

    – If later gospel writers, being of non-jewish descent and tradition, decided that any God worth a damn HAD to be of virgin birth, that would also explain. They added that part in; there’s no independent evidence.

    -The word in Isaiah, “almah” is equal to “young maiden”, not “woman who has never had sex”, which is ‘bethulah”.

    -Paul, the only writer who lived in Jesus’ time, makes it clear Jesus had a normal birth

  • daniel

    That is also a slightly deranged POV. You wouldnt be alive if you werent BORN. BY definition, birth is natural. Your issues with it are…your issues. BIG TIME

  • daniel

    Maybe God was trying to prove a point: That marriage isnt such a big deal, or that being virginal isnt such a big deal.

    On the other hand, maybe THERE WAS NO VIRGIN BIRTH, and it’s the gospel writers whose psychology we need to understand, not God’s, which, yknow, is of course unknowable

  • daniel

    No I think you’re quite wrong. Not wanting to have kids is one thing, but a revulsion (a feeling of revulsion) is sign of trauma and alienation, and a cognitive or intellectual belief that pregnancy is dirty, repuslive, unnatural, or whatever is just plain absurd, since you couldnt be here thinking that thought if you hadnt been born! Any idea that pregnancy is a problem is actually an ANTIHUMAN and ANTIBIOLOGY position. If you shun pregnancy (not for yourself, but as a phenomenon) you are shunning EXISTENCE

  • daniel

    those are qualms about patriarchy, not pregnancy

  • daniel

    a persistent feeling of revulsion is different from making “a choice”. Feeling that pregnancy is inherently degraded is without a doubt a sign of trauma or mental illness. Not choosing to have a kid is not necessarily a sign of pathology; feeling revolted and disgusted by child bearing is.

  • No matter why it happened, it was intrusive and self-serving. But then again, it’s god’s world and we only live in it, right?

  • John, I love your writing and you have raised some good points here. But I must say I am always amazed to hear men giving their opinions about pregnancy and how women ought to feel about it.

  • Val P.

    I don’t believe in th virgin birth mainly because in ancient religions, the revered person was “born of a virgin”. Krishna was born of the virgin Devaki. Dionysus was born of the virgin Semele. Buddha was born of a virgin. Hertha was a virgin impregnated by the heavenly Spirit and bore a son. Frigga was impregnated by the All-Father Odin and bore Balder, the healer and savior of mankind.

    It is my personal opinion that ancient peoples used the “born of a virgin” story to indicate the person’s uniqueness. Jesus of Nazareth was someone Special.

    Matthew 18:11 “For the Son of Man is come to save that which was lost.” Jesus is fully human, being of the same essence as us. Son of God – being of the same essence as God. Magical conception not required for me.

  • Val P.

    Maybe so – but the book of Matthew takes extraordinary care to spell out the lineage of King David, starting with Abraham thru 39 generations to JOSEPH the husband of Mary.

  • Ann Carlson

    John (and several of the responders),

    It seems to me that the context the writer put her “degrading” remark in has some important bearing here that I’m not sure you fully appreciate. She actually says, “Nevertheless, it seems to me that making a woman have a child is invasive, even abusive. I can’t seem to view pregnancy as anything but degrading, and Mary had to suffer the further indignity of appearing to have lost her virginity before marriage.” I can definitely sympathize with the degrading part of being forced to have a child. And, lest you dismiss that point too quickly, please think how much of our cultures, both now and then, do involve subtle (as well as not subtle at all) encroachments on a woman’s right to control her own body. Everything from the drive to prohibit abortion, the Roman Church’s insistence on no use of contraception, and the family values people insisting that marriage is strictly intended to be procreative, to the objectification of women in advertising as sex objects, to the insistence that women are the ones who should “stay at home with the children” — it all contributes to a feeling of being coerced to bear children, good only for sex and childbearing. For generations, men have even specifically seen (and developed complex theologies around) women as less human than they are — just the “vessel” to contain and nurture their “seed,” rather than a co-equal creator of the new life within her. That is degrading! And the superior language and much of the attitude persist today. I can certainly see how even a woman who wants a child and is delighted in her pregnancy might still sometimes feel that pregnancy can also be symbolic of the control men and society at large exert over her body and her right to chose her own fate. Obviously pregnancy does bring all the “aw, the little woman,” and “that’s what women are FOR” attitudes oozing out of the woodwork. It is perhaps not pregnancy itself that is degrading, but I think there is a good argument that it could be seen in our society as symbolic of women’s powerlessness and degradation. And, she is right that Mary apparently had no choice about her role. I’m not convinced that Mary was happy about it right away, either — she runs away to Elizabeth first. The Magnificat comes there, after she’s had some time to think about it. There’s room to speculate that maybe she felt a little trapped, or even used, at first. I think I would have. (It is perhaps also worth noting that pregnancy meets the ecological definition of parasitism — a relationship between two organisms where one benefits at the expense of the other. In the biological triad involved in pregnancy, the man gives very little of his energy supplies, the fetus grows and develops, but the woman is literally degraded — worn down or drained of energy to support the life of the baby. Many women make the sacrifice joyfully and willingly; many less so. In either case, it is a scary proposition.)

  • I didn’t say how women should feel about pregnancy. I said that if a young woman feels that to be pregnant is to be in a state of degradation, something’s gone wrong somewhere. (And, if you see the post after this one, you’ll see that in this case I was in fact correct.)

    If a woman, jilted by her lover, feels like killing herself, am I unqualified to assess that emotional response because I’m not a woman who’s ever been jolted by her lover?

    As a man, am I unqualified to write Seven Reasons Women Stay in Abusive Relationships, and How to Defeat Each One of Them?

  • Mae

    I’ve had three children, and I could have sang Mary’s song with every single one of my pregnancies. I felt each and every one of them was an AMAZING and MIRACULOUS experience. I felt as though I had been blessed and touched by God with each one. I still feel that way about each of my children. I think many pregnant mothers can identify with the elation and the miracle that Mary experienced.

  • Tokophobia, fear of childbirth, is real. I would encourage this young woman to talk to her women’s health provider (either a Certified Nurse Midwife, family doctor, or OB/GYN about her fears and a referral. Also, this blog has some great posts about Tokophobia, just put it in the search box.


  • Brian – Hi! It’s been awhile. I understand William’s question and why your answer does not satisfy him. I also understand your answer. However, he’s not asking for a biblical answer or a theologically coherent answer; he’s asking about the fundamental nature of the personality of God.

    If the perspective that some here are understanding is that Mary woke up one day and found she was pregnant, as a young girl that would certainly be confusing and likely upsetting, having once been a young girl myself. And then in a dream she’s brought up to speed about what is going on… some people might interpret it – as completely freaked out as people are going to be when they read these next few words – that the Holy Spirit raped her. The story of how God came to Mary in a dream and asked her permission to impregnate her isn’t exactly the narrative we’ve all grown up with. (There exists literature/novels that covers this aspect of the story, as in the book Two from Galilee by Marjorie Holmes which essential describes the event as an erotic tryst between Mary and the Holy Spirit.[It was banned in my Fundamentalist church, but my Nazarene relatives were ok with it.])

    The point is: if one takes this story literally, as so much of Christianity does, the details are missing regarding the how and the why in human terms from Mary’s perspective and William is asking: What does that say about God?

    William and others here are seeing the story from this point of view, as is a pertinent question and is too infrequently asked whenever the stories of women are told in scripture: What did Mary think? How did she feel? What were her choices?

    I’ve brought this point up before about Hagar and Abraham. Hagar didn’t have a choice to have sex with Abraham. She was Sarah’s property and Abraham was permitted by law to have sexual access to her. What did Hagar want? What choices did she have?

    This, I believe is at the heart of what William is asking. Saying God had his way with Mary in order to fulfill prophecy is kind of like saying we bombed Hiroshima in order to shorten the war and save American lives. “It’s just what had to be done.” That’s not a good enough reason for some people depending on their point of view.

  • That women feel obliged to have babies is the reason our earth is overcrowded to the point of insanity. It is perfectly reasonable and sane to not desire to go through the effort and difficulties of pregnancy when the payoff is simply more overcrowding and starvation in our world. Why not adopt, why not simply live your life comfortably? your brothers, sisters, cousins, second cousins ad infinitum will ensure that our species survives… The biological imperative typically wins over common sense, as it did in me, but common sense says that having kids is not really a great idea.

  • I understand his point. He wasn’t universalizing it though. He was saying that truth is relative. If pregnancy feels degrading to someone then that is what is true for them, even if it is not true for everyone.

  • Val P.

    “Any idea that pregnancy is a problem is antihuman and antibiology”??

    Spoken by a man who has never had morning sickness so bad that just knowing there is raw chicken in the meat dept. at the grocery store causes gagging, and merely looking at the color yellow causes hurling….I had pre-eclampsia with my first child, my own life was in jeopardy to bring that little parasite into this world. He’s 33 years old and 6’5″ and I love him more than my own life – But if I had any idea how crappy I was going to feel for nearly a whole YEAR, I probably would have decided to pass on that particular life experience.

    And by the way, the population of the earth has grown from 1.65 billion to 6 billing since the turn of the 20th century. I don’t think we have to worry about shunning existence any time soon….

  • Hooray for doulas!

  • If you don’t want to participate in society, stay home. You won’t have to see children or laughter or love or people helping with wheelchairs or crutches. No risk of a blind person bumping you, or a deaf person upsetting you by flapping their arms too close to you…

    Inside your house, you are utterly safe from horrible strangers and our horrible quirks and horrible families. Outside your house, we are a burden you must bear, heavy as we are.

  • tl;dr

  • Diana A.

    What a bratty response.

  • I don’t know you, John. And I am *not* a hugger. But after reading your exchange with this precious, young woman…I could hug you both. Mary, pray for us. Thank you, John. You are a blessing!

  • Been watching “Ancient Aliens” on the History Channel?

  • Diana A.

    Mary consented. At least that’s my take. God ain’t no rapist. He chose a woman he knew would consent.

  • Diana A.

    Beautiful! Thank you.

  • I live in an adult society. Children are not yet part of that world. There is nothing wrong with having places where they are not allowed. There is demand for such a thing, so the market provides. I have no obligation to deal with children, ever if I wish not to. My girlfriend and I vote with our wallets by spending extra money to be in an adults only environment. Not a damn thing wrong with that at all.

    No one said anything about deaf, cripple or blind people, so not sure wtf you speak of there.

  • I get his point. For the unfamiliar, other tradition’s narratives sound preposterous too. To other traditions, the Christian narrative sounds just as surreal.

  • What makes you say that I must bear the burden? Why can I not just choose to go somewhere else where there are no children? What is wrong with that in your mind?

  • Beca

    I find pregnancy an absolutely horrifying prospect as well. Not necessarily for other women, I know that many find it desirable. But I don’t think it is fair to say this writer is suffering from some sort of condition. Really, if you think about pregnancy without the sentimentalism connected with babies and new life yadda yadda, the idea of some foreign entity living inside of you, making you ill, stretching our your body and quite possibly putting your life in danger when exiting, depending on your healthcare and frailty or bad luck… nothing there sounds remotely appealing. That’s the stuff of science fiction.

  • Diana A.

    I neither agree nor disagree with your viewpoint. My personal jury is still out.

  • Brian W


    I hope you’re grateful your mother did it for you……

  • thank you, Jim. Hug received.

  • I see Mary as accepting her journey and feeling love and acceptance from God. I do not understand the virgin birth thing. I love the comments about asking God/Jesus/Mary for guidance and help to understand all of this. I have an experience with years of infertility during marriage and I felt anger towards God because of it. I could not pray I had friends who prayed for me. And a wonderful woman asked me if there was anyone I felt comfortable praying to. I defiantly said Mary she did not even have to have sex to have a baby. To my surprise the woman said wonderful try it and let me know how it goes. I was very puzzled but I tried it. It is now 14 years later. I can pray to God Jesus Mary or other spirits that have touched me for strength etc… I have never given birth. Today I have five awesome children. I would not change the way they came into our lives. And I love the birth families that the children came from. God is good and Mary helped me to accept the journey I have had. The Prayer and faith that we and many others had gave us the life we have today. I say pray and see what happens. Others will pray with you!!

  • DR

    What in the world is he supposed to do? Just ignore the letter? Did you read his response? He didn’t tell her she should or should not feel a goddamn thing.

  • DR

    What the fuck is going in in this thread? Did anyone actually read the response? She introduced “degraded” and it was wise to gently go through that door that she opened up and obviously through her reply, needed some support around.

    How about you leave your own emotional issues at the virtual door that would compel you to respond like this on a thread that is extremely sensitive.

  • Tina Ison


    Perfectly said! I don’t know why people are focusing on the word degrading. It was such a small part of what the woman was trying to say. Wonder why that is such a trigger word for people?

  • Tina Ison

    Mr Shore.

    I am concerned with…”I know what I’m doing here, okay?” It is condensending. I felt your response is a bit dismissive too the woman in the letter and this womens comment.

    This was a really deep question about women, faith and how we fit into this world. You took as a personal problem.

    Now I see there is response before mine with profanity. Why are people now getting angry???

  • Melody

    Because it seems to imply that pregnancy, which is a perfectly natural occurrence in humans and animals, is somehow insulting or deprecating to women.

  • Melody

    This is his blog. He doesn’t need anyone telling him what to write.

  • Tina Ison

    Brian! Thank you for the passive/aggessive attack on Beca. AS A MOTHER I can tell you that having a baby can be a terrifying time. You do feel out of control at times. Your body is not your own. Of course you love your child. This is beautiful but the whole process is not an easy one. I remember having my daughter and in a panic saying “I just need a minute…I feel so out of control…..” YOU will never know that feeling so please….keep you little snarky comments to yourself.

  • DR

    Because you and others responding in the ways you are don’t seem terribly interested in her reply, that’s why. It seems as though you’re too busy sideline coaching John’s response to see that she was pretty moved by what he offered.

  • DR

    My favorite!

  • Tina Ison

    Melody….this is “HIS” blog yes. But…blogs are written for people to read and have an opinion on. You blog for an audience. If you didn’t it would be called a diary.

  • DR

    Because it “is ” a trigger word.

  • Tina Ison

    But Melody…this wasn’t a natural occurrence in a human…or animal that happend to Mary. She was impregnated by God. Why this had to happend is a question that can be asked. Why her? Why a virgin?

  • DR

    Tina you can continue to assert whatever opinion you’d like, you’re clearly going to do so without benefit of actually “reading” how grateful she was for how he handled it.

    John’s an adult and can clearly handle those of you who can’t help but inject your own narrative into their exchange but perhaps you could stop focusing on your interpretation and get behind the young woman who felt his focus to be quite insightful and stop making this about you and what you disagree with.

  • DR

    Because she was chosen – and then chose it. This was not “put upon” Mary, she chose this experience (if we’re to believe the narrative).

  • DR

    Dear letter writer,

    Now that I’ve processed my annoyance at the a-holes who’ve commented on this thread (deep breath), I was remarkably, completely moved by your letter. Intimacy is something that is nuanced and very complicated in our world where we are just starving for love and for affection and we are blocked by so many things. You’re no different from anyone else who can’t get close to someone though I know not having sex probably makes you feel that way. I was a virgin for a really, really long time so I understand exactly what you’re experiencing.

    Therapy is good all of the time with someone who understands that sex and how we manage it in our lives indicates the very vulnerable self in us that needs intimacy to survive. Some people use sex to actually hide from intimacy.

    Please don’t let anyone suggesting that you are somehow odd, unusual or (insert descriptor here). Because when it comes to love and sex, we are ALL odd, unusual and pursuing what we need and often, totally blocked from getting it. This was a huge step in reaching out to John and he as well as other men (and women) like him can be that support system for you as you begin to explore this. Go very gently and very surely – let the strength continue to rise up in you. Please let us know how you’re doing. Much love to you and thank you for sharing this story with us because it’s one that’s far more common than many realize.

    With love,


  • Tina Ison


    Why do you feel the need to be so angry and spew profanity? This is a site about God! Your anger comes off as hate and I really don’t need that in my life. I am questioning this article because I love God and want to understand why….that is human nature. Beating people down who disagree sadly is another bit of …..human nature. So…God bless you and me both.

  • Diane Re via Facebook

    Ross, there’s a really great self-help book I’d like to recommend to you called “The Love of a Good Therapist”. I believe it was written by Marianne Williamson and the great Tony Robbins.

  • DR


    Anger is an activating agent. Being *angry* at those of you who don’t read carefully on a topic that involves a young woman who is clearly in trouble and reading all of our responses- inserting your own narrative into this poor girl’s experience – then critiquing John’s response even though she reported back that it HELPED her – are all in my book, worthy of anger. And if you don’t like profanity, then I’d brace yourself because this blog and little community contains it (I would have said it’s your own fucking problem but you don’t like profanity so I won’t). Welcome to the forum. If you’re going to engage then be prepared for people being honest with you.

  • Tina Ison

    Dr….What the heck is your need to attack people who respond to John? Your are right he is an adult and should be able handle people who find issue in his writting. Usually that helps make people better in life….if the response is with good intentions….as is mine. I don’t know what your intent is focusing on people who challenge what he wrote or if we find something deeper in this article?? I thought….this all is to have a better understanding and love for God…..not John….right?

  • Soulmentor

    I’ve never done drugs.

    And (everyone please note) you didn’t answer my last question.

  • Soulmentor

    Heh…..I catch it sometimes. Fascinating stuff actually.

  • DR

    Tina, please get a thicker skin. I’m not “attacking” you. I found your response really inappropriate and I said so. If I was wrong you shouldn’t care about it. And if you think I’m focusing on John, you’re once again not reading clearly, John and I disagree all of the time. I’m focused on *the girl* , the girl who in her reply contradicted what you offered and if you read her reply you’d see it, for goodness sake. This isn’t about how you or I feel, it’s about *her*. Please take the focus on how things feel for you and let’s get back to her and what *she* said about John’s words to her instead of your opinion about them. Thank you.

  • Diane Re via Facebook

    For God’s sake, this woman reached out to John specifically and he replied. Cynth and those of you who responded as though he did something wrong in replying to her are almost creepy in your own emotionally fueled projection. How about you get out of your own head and thread all of this when you’re not exclusively focused on yourself? Then perhaps you might see that she was deeply moved and encouraged by his response.

  • John said he would address the letter writer’s question about the virginity of Mary and her experience tomorrow, but today chose to focus on the letter writer’s personal feelings about pregnancy and how that might influence her opinion of Mary’s experience.

  • Tina Ison

    Well..DR….it seems as if a LOT of readers feel the same way I do. I don’t have a thick skin and never will. I feel. I hurt and a care about people. I don’t have to take profanity and sass on a site about caring about God. So maybe your skin isn’t so think either if you need to throw out the F bomb on other people on a spiritual page. It is hurtful.

  • Tina, I know that Brian meant this in the most sincere way possible absent any snark – whether you agree with him saying it or not. Acknowledging that pregnancy is a deeply intimate and personal experience about which one would hope we all feel wonderful – but do not – and acknowledging that we all carry a great deal of baggage about our bodies, sex, control, intimacy, child-rearing, and motherhood…perhaps we can allow everyone a wide berth to feel what we feel with the support of a community who will care for us as we look honestly at what those feelings are and why we have them.

  • Word choice shows insight into people’s feelings and thought processes. Feelings and thoughts have sources and reasons why they exist. John, being the smart guy that he is, has been around this block a few times and has some wisdom when it comes to people expressing their feelings and some insight on when those feelings merit a closer look. He’s aware like that.

  • DR

    If a lot equs less than five in your book, ok. And if you think profanity, anger and loving God can’t coexist then that’s your issue, Tina. Stay and see how that happens or don’t, your call.

  • Jonathan


    – If mary was impregnated by another man, that would answer many of your questions.

    Yes, but that would be introducing a completely evidence-less theory into the mix for no reason at all but to figure out a scenario where God did NOT impregnate her. If you’re going to believe in the birth at all, then you should take all written context into account – not just discard pieces that don’t fit your theory. You’re also assuming that God, who created the very concept of pregnancy and has defied nature multiple times, would be incapable of making one of his own creations pregnant.

    – If later gospel writers, being of non-jewish descent and tradition, decided that any God worth a damn HAD to be of virgin birth, that would also explain. They added that part in; there’s no independent evidence.

    There’s also no evidence that they WOULD have done so. You’re trying to use a loose idea based solely on your opinion of their opinion, which was based on other people’s opinions of the Jews (vs. non-Jews) – that’s a LOT of opinion and a lot of “if”s.

    -The word in Isaiah, “almah” is equal to “young maiden”, not “woman who has never had sex”, which is ‘bethulah”.

    No, “young maiden” is only one of its meanings and “scholars” that are out to refute the virgin birth intentionally ignore other meanings and implied meanings. When the word DOES refer to a young maiden, the Scriptures NEVER use it to describe a young maiden who is married/sexually active, so if it were just to mean young maiden, there’s no reason why it wouldn’t be used for both sexually active women as well as virgin women, but it’s only used for virgin women. When it IS used to talk about a woman in a general sense, it’s a woman who is of a marry-able (and in that culture, that was very likely to mean that she was also a virgin) age. To try to translate it solely as young maiden is to put blinders on.

    If you’re not convinced that one word can have several different meanings, go look up Joel 1:8:

    “Mourn like a virgin in sackcloth grieving for the husband of her youth.”

    The word “virgin” here is “bethulah”, who is grieving for her husband. Don’t believe in concrete answers when it comes to translating Greek and Hebrew – words and passages can mean very different things to different audiences and different contexts.

    It’s not even limited to Hebrew and Greek – go look up “virgin” in your English thesaurus. One of the words you’ll find is “maiden.”

    -Paul, the only writer who lived in Jesus’ time, makes it clear Jesus had a normal birth

    You’ll have to elaborate on this one.

  • Don Whitt via Facebook

    Women viewing pregnancy as an intrusive, degrading and parasitic experience is more common then you suspect.

  • Craig de Vos via Facebook

    Normally, I like what John writes. His response, this time, left me very, very angry. On purely medically grounds, a foetus is, strictly speaking, a parasite. Culturally, most of us have been conditioned to interpret that in other ways. For a woman to see a pregnancy as invasive or degrading does not mean there is something psychologically wrong with her. And don’t even get me started––culturally, Biblically or theologically––on Luke’s annunciation narrative!!!

  • John C Hoddy via Facebook

    Also, for the love of all that’s holy, read the young lady’s follow-up email.

  • Yes, good point, Craig. I should have encouraged the girl to continue equating pregnancy with abuse and degradation, and to think of a fetus as a parasite. Why didn’t I think of that clearly sane response?

  • I don’t understand. Why can’t a man express feelings, concerns or thoughts about pregnancy? Are we to silence half the population because they don’t experience it? That would be the ultimate subjugation.

  • Mary

    LIKE…. LIKE….. LIKE!!

  • Diane L. Harris via Facebook

    John, you are wrong about many things (i.e. human), but God knows this is not one of them.

  • Craig de Vos via Facebook

    John, sarcasm is the lowest form of wit. I thought this was meant to be a venue for intelligent, adult discussion.

  • zoni

    Good catch there John! I would say any woman who feels afraid of being pregnant for the first time has a very healthy attitude towards pregnancy, as it’s quite a responsibility not to be undertaken lightly. However, this young woman’s description of pregnancy as “degrading” is a little disturbing. I have no desire to be pregnant for any reason anyone could possibly ever give – not even to carry the Savior of the world, as Mary did. I just feel no desire to be pregnant (that’s the way God made me). But I think for women who wish to be mothers, it is a beautiful experience and one to rejoice in. For them (and to me), it is not in any way degrading. Society can place whatever interpretations on the condition they wish, but the state of being pregnant is not one that can empirically ever reasonably be described in that way. Horrific? Sure! I can see that – you’re letting another life leech off you for 9-10 months. *ick* I would never criticize any woman for being scared, or even profoundly scared (horrified), of being pregnant. But degrading? No, not accurate.

    On the subject, most women feel a desire to become moms, and can’t wait to be pregnant. That’s natural. Some women, like me, have zero desire to be mothers and zero desire to ever be pregnant. That’s natural for me, and just part of who I am. But any shame or “degradation” one may feel at being pregnant doesn’t come from the condition itself, but rather how others treat you because of it (or your perception of how they are acting, as the case may be).

    I’ve always thought Mary’s reaction of running away had more to do with her fears of how others would react if she became pregnant that way (especially her husband to be), and perhaps her own feeling that she wasn’t worthy of the honor of bringing the Savior into the world, but not because she was afraid to be pregnant or have kids.

    Anyway, I’m glad you were able to help her focus on her real issue with pregnancy as you did, John. Kudos!

  • Ryan Collins via Facebook

    It seems that the people who are angry over this are the ones who feel the same way as the woman who wrote John, and have not yet come to a place of acceptance that the woman clearly shows in her follow up letter. You’re angry because you feel she is right or justified, and then even angrier that that she admits her feelings are skewed.

  • Susan Pierce via Facebook

    I think your advice was appropriate. If a woman has a personal fear or revulsion toward being pregnant herself, that is one thing…all should have a choice. However, she is insulting to all women in her extreme revulsion. She seems to think it degrading of any woman and I find that troublesome when assigned to the entire human race. She is entitled to her choice, but then she insults other women for their choice. I won’t go in to all the reasons I disagree with her personal choices because that is where she and the rest of us start to stray from the fundamentals of individual preference and the right to exercise our free will. First and foremost she needs to recognize her bigotry. It’s on the level with homophobia. Just like a heterosexual should not call homosexual behavior revolting just because it is not in their make up, a “preggerphobic” should refrain from such crass insults to other women.

  • Jeff Blackshear via Facebook


  • Yes, good point, Craig. I should have encouraged the girl to continue equating pregnancy with abuse and degradation, and to think of a fetus as a parasite. Why didn’t I think of that clearly sane response?

  • Susan Pierce via Facebook

    I will add that it’s good to live in a culture where a woman’s worth is not based on her fertility.

  • Amy Mitchell via Facebook

    John, I thought your response to her was kind, loving, and compassionate. So, apparently, did the letter writer. I could see why people would be mad if she had been upset. But she wasn’t, so why all the hate mail?

  • John C Hoddy via Facebook

    Craig- You don’t get to play the intellectual card when you suggest such assinine and repugnant lunacy.

  • It seems like an exceptional amount of John’s loyal readers took offense to this column, and we aren’t talking neocons or fundies here.

    Perhaps all of these women and men are just insane, abusive, or idiotic as is being suggested, or perhaps they see or feel something that John doesn’t, and doesn’t deserve the hostility that is being sent their way.

  • Gary Lee Hendricks via Facebook

    Gee whiz people…This girl brought her letter to JOHN because she respected him She did not ask all of the assholes who have criticized him for sharing from his heart…she asked JOHN. And guess what…his response was apparently EXACTLY what she needed. Suddenly many of John’s readers are behaving exactly like the church I left behind.

  • Ally Bishop via Facebook

    I have mixed feelings about pregnancy, and have no desire for children myself. (Love them, raised two step children, that was enough). But this woman’s fears are honest, and based on today’s culture and view. John was honest, and while I disagree with him, the cool thin about John Shore and being an intelligent individual is that we can choose to disagree, even strongly, and it’s okay. That’s why we left the church, isn’t it? So I disagree, John. And thank you for helping me think about why. You are good people.

  • Joyce Carman Lovelace via Facebook

    I was upset because you turned the question around, and didn’t answer the one she asked.

  • Auri Fox via Facebook

    I personally know how she felt. Growing up Catholic, my greatest fear was pregnancy. You couldn’t hide that and it was equated with the scarlet letter in my mind. The unrefutable proof that someone had had evil sex. Then I got married and my views were just supposed to ‘change’. Well, it took a long time to not equate pregnancy with SIN. I think that is part of this young lady’s issue also. It really depends on the family and congregation you were exposed to- mine never discussed sex and the pastors/sisters basically told us even talking to the opposite sex after a certain age could get us in trouble. Fortunately, I was able to get through it all. But sometimes even at 43, I still worry if my cycle is off( I usebirth control) and I even sometimes go into a panic attack over it. What is terrible is how the Institution can pervert the gift of pregnancy into the ‘proof’ of shame and guilt and how it affects some young women.

  • Val P.

    Interesting to me that we are having this (heated) conversation about pregnancy, fears, dread, etc. at this particular time in my life – my daughter who is 37 weeks pregnant, is in the hospital today with complications. She is 1000 miles away, and I am beside myself with anxiety over this.

    Bringing a child into this world is a wondrous and beautiful thing. It is also potentially dangerous to both mother and child, and that just goes with the territory.

    Perhaps this young woman had someone close to her have serious complication during pregnancy. Dread would then be a pretty normal reaction to the thought of being pregnant herself. Perfectly understandable, and that would be a very good reason to seek professional help. Because life is full of wondrous and scary things – we are so lucky in this day and age to have good doctors, good psychiatrists, and good people like John whose purpose in this life is to offer help to those of us who are struggling.

    It would be a shame to miss out on something wonderful such as being a parent just because of fear and dread. That can be treated. If then a woman decides she really doesn’t want to have children, then she has made an educated decision. John did good by advising this young woman to seek help. We all need help sometimes as we travel thru this life.

  • Kimberly Moser Musci Phillips via Facebook

    After my kid was born, I didn’t really sleep for the 48 hrs we stayed @ the hospital. I’d just done THE most amazing thing in the world. Didn’t matter to me that there were a whole bunch of other women and babies there as fair proof that birthing babies wasn’t really unique…those women weren’t me, and they didn’t have MY baby.

  • Lymis

    I agree, and as a gay man who has had pregnant friends and family, I’d add that even knowing you will never be directly involved in a pregnancy, it can be a wonderful thing to be near and, in a small way, a part of.

    So even if she never decides to be pregnant herself, she’s potentially missing out on a lot of wonderful experiences if she sees every pregnancy around her as degrading.

  • Lymis

    I know you focused on the writer’s issues – and good for you. If Jesus’s example means anything, it’s that people in pain come before questions of doctrine.

    But I don’t think we can reasonably ignore centuries of tradition that in fact, something degrading was going on, or at least that something degrading was being avoided. The Catholic tradition of Mary’s Immaculate Conception was/is essentially a declaration that a normal, sinful human being was an unfit vessel for the human body of the Divine.

    And whether or not the Virgin Birth is a literal truth, you can’t argue that a lot of people feel that it would have been degrading to Jesus for him to have been born of both a man and a woman coming together to make a baby. That it wasn’t just his soul that was special, but he had to have a miraculously produced human body as well. People get really offended when you raise the possibility that Mary and Joseph had sex before marriage (much less that Mary may have had sex with someone else.)

    So, I think the theological part of the writer’s question gets it backwards. For me, it isn’t a question of why God did something degrading to Mary regarding her pregnancy, it’s rather a question of why we humans are so convinced that God had to go so far out of His way to do something so different to keep it all from being degrading to Jesus. I fear many people DO see sex and pregnancy as degrading, sordid, and unspiritual.

    It isn’t. It’s just sweaty and messy. Like we are.

  • How can pregnancy be degrading to someone who is themselves the product of a pregnancy? The only way that can be argued is with a horrendous view of the human condition, such as the parasite theory mentioned earlier.

  • “The Catholic tradition of Mary’s Immaculate Conception was/is essentially a declaration that a normal, sinful human being was an unfit vessel for the human body of the Divine.” OR the Virgin Birth was the only way to ensure that everyone would forever understand that Jesus’ “father” was God himself.

  • Linda Bale via Facebook

    I thinkyou did just fine, I got what you did out of it. and I can understand her point of view as I wonce felt that way myself, then I had 5 kids! LOL changed my perspective

  • Val P.

    Exactly! I couldn’t agree more, Lymis –

  • John, please remember the writer thanked you for bringing to light something she had not previously seen. I commend you on strategically peeling the onion and lovingly maintaining a dialogue with her. I also appreciate her willingness to open herself to you and to the world to ask an honest question. I pray her heart hears those who speak with love and is deaf to those who have their own issues.

    As for your sarcasm-it’s awesome! Bless the little pink hearts of anyone who gets offended (in my truest Texas accent)

  • Lymis

    Given that there’s been pretty constant argument on the point since day 1, I don’t think you can reasonably categorize the Virgin Birth story as even being A way to ensure that everyone understands the point, much less “the only” one.

    It also conflicts rather remarkably with the idea that “he was a man like us in all things but sin.” This idea is a pretty significant detail to skip over, in my opinion.

    That thing with the heavens parting, dove descending, and booming Voice thing at the Baptism might have been a winner, too, especially if it happened any time someone expressed doubts about Jesus’s paternity.

    I won’t argue that however Jesus’s human body came about, it was entirely in line with God’s plan. I’d even argue that the very ambiguity of it has to be a part of the plan, too.

    I’m not being snarky. One of the most central ideas in Christianity is that isn’t the meat parts that are the important part of being human, much less being a Child of God. So declaring unquestionable orthodoxy on Jesus’s physical parentage seems both unnecessary and deeply inappropriate. It shifts the focus from where it ought to be to someplace that, while admittedly intriguing, isn’t ultimately important.

    It’s the fact that death couldn’t hold him, not that his mother had an intact hymen, that makes all the difference.

  • Sonya Trejo via Facebook

    @Craig, you might want to take another biology class. One that more clearly explains reproduction, evolution, and mother-child bonding, and one that also includes a lecture on parasitology.

  • “I don’t think you can reasonably categorize the Virgin Birth story as even being a way to ensure [ that everyone would forever understand that Jesus’ “father” was God himself].

    But I can do that. And I did. And I do.

  • Marjorie via Facebook

    You still didn’t answer the question, John.

    Why did God impregnate Mary as an UNMARRIED virgin? Why put her through the punishment of being a cultural parriah since pregnancy is for the most part created through sex and sex outside of marriage was a big no-no and you could die for that sin in that culture? Why endanger and shame Mary?

  • Val P.

    Being pregnant is a bodily function – a lot of women feel really good and enjoy being pregnant – others feel like crap and have a lot of physical problems with being pregnant. My grandmother while having my mother, had convulsions and went temorarily blind. You can bet she was not going to go thru that again! Because she was very fearful of getting pregnant again, would you consider that a horrendous viw of the human condition? I would certainly hope not.

    That’s just having a horrendous view of being pregnant – and in some cases is completely justified.

  • Val P.

    I can’t imagine how any mere mortal would be able to answer that question – although I do admit John is a particularly exceptional mortal, I doubt he could do more than give his personal opinion.

    My personal opinion is that obviously the virgin birth part of the story is there to explain how Jesus was both fully human, as he obviously was – he bled like we do, and he died like we do – and also fully God. If Mary had not been a virgin, well then, she very likely was impregnanted by Joseph. And then Jesus would just have been a man. Maybe an extraordinary man, but not God.

    Maybe that was necessary 2000 years ago – consider the world they lived in.

    But that part of the story is not necessary for me to believe Jesus was the essence of humanity, and the essence of God.

  • Anne

    The thing about being a woman and being pregant is – it becomes EVERYONE’S business once you start showing and going out in public – and if you’re not a person who’s particularly excited about being asked “When are you due” “How ya feeling” or the enumerable unsolicited (albeit well-intentioned) comments, and people actually WANTING TO TOUCH YOU(!!!) then it can feel degrading, intrusive, and overwhelming. It becomes compounded when you’re not particularily excited about being pregnant so you have to fake your enthusiasm and then you wonder if you’re some sort of freak for not feeling all glowy and Virgin Mary-like. You can’t help compare yourself to other expectant mothers who seem excited at the prospect of impending parenthood and who insist they feel better than they ever did, when you yourself feel like a cumbersome walrus with an innertube full of potato salad around its middle.

    When people tell you it’s a miracle, that your blessed, that you should be happy, it just makes things worse. And feeling like you’re on display when it’s the last thing you want to be can feel degrading.

    But God blessed me with a most awesome kid. I thank Him for my son every day.

  • Val P.

    Not to mention the constant poking, prodding, and digitally examining by the medical professionals, hired to keep you and your baby healthy and safe thru your pregnancy.

    Yes, I found being pregnant a messy and rather unpleasant – not to mention frightening – way to bring my wonderful children into this world. I personally was terrified something awful was going to happen to me or the baby before it was time for him to get the heck out of there. My daughter is having that experience today herself. “Just get her out of there so we can get on with our lives!”

  • Here’s what I think a lot of people have missed, regarding the “virgin” birth. And maybe someone said it, but I didn’t read every one of the 203 comments. Sorry.

    Anyway. The Bible was translated – right? And I was told recently that the translation of the word “virgin” is different than what we have attributed to the virgin birth. That the word “virgin” may have actually just meant “a young girl.” I was discussing this with my pastor here in Brooklyn. She asked me, and I think it was a good question – if Mary had not been a virgin (as in no sex), would that change the bigger picture any? Jesus, the savior, born to the earthly world.

    Does anyone else know about the translation of the word virgin?

  • Anne

    In regards to the virgin birth, many instances in history have great men (and gods) coming from such women, and since Luke in particular was Greek, it bears mentioning he would be very familiar with the power such a beginning would have for the Messiah. Also, Greek translation for “young woman” in Hebrew means virgin, though there are words in Hebrew that specifically mean “virgin” and were not used in the Old Testament when the birth of Jesus was proclaimed.

    So I think it’s safe to assume that there might be some “clerical” errors in the translation from ancient Hebrew to Greek. Even St. Paul himself was loathed to translate to Greek as there often weren’t appropriate Greek words to convey the Hebrew meaning.

    Even though I am Catholic – the virgin birth or doubts it raises have no impact on my faith and the teachings of Jesus. I understand what would have compelled the apostles to promote it, especially when you consider they were well aware they expected their gospels to be heard and read long after their deaths. They wanted to insure there was no doubt Jesus was the Son of God. Everything in context.

  • Don Whitt

    @Auri – I really like this response. That’s how I always looked at the insistence, whether mistranslated or not, that Mary was a Virgin. This is how the Church handed the story down to us. As if Mary didn’t have the all-too-human stain of sex on her and that was a really good thing because sex is icky.

    We can architect all sorts of explanations for why Mary’s Virginity was important, but I think that’s unnecessary. It should not detract or add to the overall message. The fact that we’re all here is miracle enough, is it not?

  • Brian W


    There are verses in both the Old and New Testament to support the virgin birth, but none to support her “perpetual virginity”

  • Lymis

    I’m not an expert, but I believe that most of the effort put into this translation question is really in regards the quote from Isaiah (“Behold, a virgin shall conceive and bear a son”) that is said to be a prophecy about the birth of Jesus than about the actual birth narratives in Luke and Matthew (the only Gospels that speak of all this).

    The Gospel stories are long enough, and include details like Joseph’s dream and the annunciation to Mary by the angel that it’s hard to see the confusion as just hinging on a translation of the term – unless the translation is deliberately skewed, to add all sorts of details, it’s pretty clear she was unmarried when she became pregnant, and that it was by the action of the Holy Spirit, not by some extra human character hidden, as it were, offstage.

    Joseph might have been troubled enough to need Divine reassurance if he slept with Mary before marriage and got her pregnant, but it’s pretty clear from the story that the reassurance was about the baby’s paternity, not just the scandal.

  • Brian W

    The support is quite clear in prophecy in the OT to verses in the Gospels, based on the context of the word translated “virgin” in regards to the entire events surrounding Jesus’ conception, Mary was a virgin (and a young woman no doubt, probably a late teen ager) and the conception was a Miraculous working of God.

  • Lymis

    Then, with all respect, I think we differ on the meaning of the word “ensure.”

  • Brian W

    That pretty well sums it up.

  • Brian W


    I honestly did mean it in the most sincere way possible. I just want all woman who detest the thought of pregnancy to take just a fleeting moment to reflect that thier mothers did it for them and because they did, be grateful for it, even if they themselves never, ever, EVER want to be pregnant.

  • DR

    Just because you don’t agree with the teaching does not give you the authority to actually change the teaching which is what you’re doing here. Everyone gets to have an opinion about theology – you have an opinion big deal, life goes on. Bit the way you continue to assert meaning and definition in what John said and now what the Catholic. Church teaches is 100% your issue.n and you doing so is intellectually dishonest.

  • Why do all you “loving Christians” feel so offended by Craig or the letter the young woman wrote or anyone that doesnt drop to their knees in reverence for pregnancy. Pregnancy is weird and confusing, so what? It begs the question what the fuck is TOUR trip to be so threatened that someone attached the word “degrading” to it?

  • Brian W


    There are questions asked that are not in or are not clear in the Bible, especially why God does the things He does. I don’t know why, but Luke’s account of how Mary felt and believed is very revealing. Jesus is fully human through Mary and fully God through the Holy Spirit. He could not have been God incarnate any other way for he was “God with us”

  • Diane Re via Facebook

    Here is what is offensive Joseph and Craig and anyone else who challenging this: you did – and continue to – make John’s response about * you*. Your opinions, your feelings, your reactions, your narrative – even after the letter writer confirmed how spot on his response was. You are making this woman your AGENDA, how you feel about pregnancy and God and the Virgin birth and you you you you you. And once again it’s just all about you. That’s what is nauseating, that you’d continue to assert your critique, even though it’s self-absorbed and acknowledges nothing in the young woman’s response.

  • DR

    Brian you need to chill. Wen can feel that way about. Ring pregnant and still love their kids, host does happen. Something deeper is happening with the letter writer obviously which she confirmed. It pregnancy is often a scary experience that women don’t enjoy. They still adore their kids , are grateful for them and make great moms.

  • Amy Mitchell via Facebook

    @Tobi, I feel offended at having a condition I’ve experienced called “degrading.” Would anyone like it if their red hair or nearsightedness or big feet were called degrading? How about if we said it was degrading to be gay or Asian? To my knowledge, the only way to get more humans is via pregnancy. Calling something inherent to the human race degrading is a bit off. It doesn’t bother me if a person doesn’t want to be pregnant. But to suggest that I’ve been degraded by it is insulting. To use the comparison to being gay, I’m not straight because I’m grossed out by lesbians. I’m straight because I like men. If you don’t choose to be pregnant, it shouldn’t be because the whole thing is revulsive when other people do it.

  • Diane Re via Facebook

    While I understand the position many women take that men aren’t qualified or equipped to speak to pregnancy, those of you asserting that here in this specific context are off-base. There are those men who earn the right to be heard. John is one of ten or he certainly is for this young woman. For you to suggest otherwise is arrogant and inappropriate.

  • Diane Re via Facebook

    Amy how about considering not making this about your own goddamn feelings and instead, focusing on the young woman who just wanted to talk about how she was feeling? You making this personal is a choice you’re making and it’s an obnoxiously selfish one.

  • Kimberly Moser Musci Phillips via Facebook

    Check. “Obnoxiously selfish” of me, too, I suppose…never felt my own pregnancy was personally degrading–albeit undignified @ times, for sure–so am admittedly stunned by the young woman’s contention that God’s incarnation on earth was His simultaneous degradation of Mary.

    More stunning, though, is all this vitriolic opining . . .where DOES that level of personal, attack-dog anger come from, anyway? Yikes.

  • Mindy Brown Carney via Facebook

    Wow. I read the post yesterday, read John’s response and thought it right on the money – as a response to that particular letter. The woman was generalizing rather wildly about all pregnancy, and, if I understand correctly, that is what sent John off on his tangential response. If this was a young woman who had been raped and therefore pregnant and asking for help because she couldn’t stop seeing the rapist’s fetus as a parasite, my guess is that John’s response would have been quite different.

    Then I read the woman’s response, and was so glad for her that John had pegged it correctly, that he was helping her onto a hopeful path of self-healing – and now I see that John’s been bashed to pieces?! Good lord. I think Diane hit the nail on the head – stop making it about you. Stop making it about anyone but the letter writer and John. Sometimes, you can extrapolate a generalization from a specific conversation. Sometimes, not so much. Chill the heck out, dudes.

  • Mindy Brown Carney via Facebook

    Oh, and Craig? I’ve found that the only people who insist that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit or humor are those who fall victim to it and aren’t quick enough to generate a fittingly sarcastic response.

  • I’m actually currently pregnant, alas this isn’t about me. The shame in Johns response, calling her “unnatural”, is exhibit A of what is wrong. Leave people alone. She’s not into it, get over yourselves, it’s not your place to be indignant. Let her be and for gods sake don’t call her unnatural, she’s a human being thus nothing she does is unnatural. Sheesh.

  • Lymis


    I’m sorry, I’m not changing any teaching. I’m not speaking as an official representative of the Catholic Church asserting that their view has changed. I’m speaking as an individual stating my interpretation and experience of what I consider to be a problem in the tradition. For that matter, I was taught, by nuns, in Catholic schools, that the need for Mary’s body to be pure was precisely and literally why she needed to be a Virgin.

    And, if you look back, I haven’t said that anyone shouldn’t believe it. What I’ve said I have a problem with is declaring that someone HAS to believe it in order to be a Christian. I think the Divinity of Jesus is central to Christian belief (though there is room for discussing just exactly what that means), but I don’t think that a literal belief in the Virgin Birth is a requirement for believing that Jesus is Divine.

    If you are reacting to my statement that I think John is wrong that telling the story of the virgin birth not only forces people to believe God was Jesus’s Father, but is actually the only way for God to have done that, well, sorry, but I still disagree. The simple fact that there are people who have heard the story and don’t believe it is sufficient proof of that.

    And really, you’re going to claim that there’s no room on this site to question orthodoxy? And that doing so is intellectually dishonest? Really?

    Obviously, context and content matter, but isn’t “asserting meaning and definition in what the Church teaches” exactly what John does every day, so inspirationally? Or is just this one topic off limits for discussion?

  • I guess I am confused. I came across this from postings on FB and there seems to be a lot of different responses in a lot of different places and I honestly have not read all of them.

    I can see someone thinking that God might have degraded the Blessed Mother if he had forced her to bear Christ but it seems to me that it was a bit of a question that the Angel Gabriel posed in that Mary responded “be it done to me according to your word” – or whatever the quote is. To me, the mere fact that there is an affirmative response indicates to me that there always could have been the option of a negative response. This does not seem to imply any sort of degradation – but in fact a choice.

    If we think of pregnancy as a form of degradation, then we are all the product of a degenerate and degraded act – but I don’t think that is the case. Do we find the gift of sexuality degrading? Should we live as pure spiritual beings and shun all physical things and return to the ideas of human sexuality that we find from times where women were unclean after giving birth or menstruating and men were impure if they had nocturnal emissions and where both had to purify themselves after these seemingly natural functions before praying to God OR should we just see these things as something natural with no evil intention or degradation that God implemented as a means for us (and all animals) to continue to populate the world? Of course, I believe the latter.

  • But didn’t God work everything out? He gave Joseph the prophetic dream and Joseph still married her. She trusted in God and God provided. It is a theme that we see throughout the salvation history – in many cases some of the patriarchs did not trust God even though he made it clear that he would provide. Abraham lied about his wife to the Egyptians, Isaac did the same, Jacob felt the need to trick his brother Esau out of his inheritance even after God said he would provide. Mary, in contrast trusted God fully. Was that a bad thing?

  • Anne Young via Facebook

    While this one was a “miss” for me, usually you “hit”, and right on the mark… so, no, NOT going away, because I love what you write (mostly) and love that you are writing it. Interesting that once the theological topic veers from same-sex issues in the church and scripture, towards sexist issues in same, people really start freaking out. I am hoping that this is the next frontier.

  • Amy Mitchell via Facebook

    I didn’t call her unnatural. I said that it was unfortunate that she generalized to the rest of the world–thereby making it “all about me,” as some of us have been accused of. All I suggested is that we wouldn’t tolerate that kind of generalization about anything else, so why about pregnancy? If any given woman views it as degrading TO HER, then she’s owning her own feelings. I support/applaud that. But to make it about EVERY PREGNANCY/EVERY WOMAN is, indeed, strange and selfish. Oh, and I don’t think that using abusive language toward me is helpful either. Way to make it all about you.

  • Diana A.

    Yes, this is a good point.

  • Diane Re via Facebook

    Well Tobi, the good news is that the young woman replied and confirmed that John’s intuition about her experience was spot on and how he expressed it was enormously helpful. Your ego seems so engaged at this point that you’re making *your* opinion about her more important than her own which is so weird, I feel like i’m in the Twilight Zone. But hey – whatever floats your particular boat, it looks like she’s moved on with some valuable advice and if she’s happy. I’m happy. I’ll leave you to this apparent versioning of what she *really* needed, it looks like you’re the one who needs to benefit from that. Happy trails.

  • Diane Re via Facebook

    @Amy, seriously – the level of self-absorption on this entire topic – the way that you have all taken this experience of this young woman and extrapolated it into this crazy, selfish thing – it’s so weird to me that I’m washing my hands of it. To even give any of you more attention on this seems to detract from her very positive experience she seemed to have with John so as far as I’m concerned, you all can continue to debate about what she should have really said, what she should have really felt, what that means to *you* (a total stranger in her life) and enjoy talking about that amongst yourselves. This is clearly a volatile topic! Perhaps we’ll all connect better on another thread (and sorry if I was too harsh with you).

  • DR

    I agree. Some of my dearest friends had a horrific experience with their pregnancy and are deeply grateful for their kids today and are fabulous moms. While the letter writer was clearly talking about something much more immersive, it’s important that we don’t make women feel guilty for saying they hated being pregnant! Some do and it makes perfect sense. There are certainly more than one right answer to this very complex topic.

  • DR

    I’m not speaking as an official representative of the Catholic Church asserting that their view has changed. I’m speaking as an individual stating my interpretation>>>

    Your interpretation is not the theology which is exactly my point. And you can challenge orthodoxy as much as you want to – just don’t restate and reframe the theology as you’re describing your interpretation of it which is what you’ve done here as it relates to original sin.

  • DR

    Oh for goodness sake – come on. William isn’t demonizing you , you inserted that meaning into his response. Adults who don’t want to be around your kids don’t necessarily see you as being “horrible”. You’re dramatizing his point in order to not have to deal with it.

    Adults wanting to have a place to eat where kids aren’t crying is a perfectly reasonable thing to have. I have 8 nieces and nephews and adore kids and sometimes I like to go to those places. I just like it. That you have children doesn’t mean that your kids should have instant and immediate access to everywhere adults are. Being child free is a perfectly valid choice for a lot of people and to have a few places to go where they don’t have to deal with kids doesn’t make them monsters in the ways you’re trying to communicate. You and the entitled posturing you have here is one reason that parents get the flack they do. Please do them a favor and grow up a little bit – you’re not the center of the world and nor are child free adults who would like a few spaces where it’s just adults only the center of the world either. There’s room for everybody without making the other the bad guy.

  • DR

    You’re an asshole and I hope John blocks you. Ugh.

  • Amy Mitchell via Facebook

    So it’s okay to tell people what to feel if it’s racist or homophobic (i.e., “That’s wrong”), but not if they’re phobic about pregnant people? The thing is, you seem to be misunderstanding what I’ve said. And actually, I hated being pregnant. I thought it was pretty damn awful most of the time. I’m sympathetic to people who don’t want to do it. But I don’t presume to imagine that everyone should feel that way. And if you read my first comment, you would know that I thought John responded in a wonderfully loving way to her. So if that makes me “selfish,” fine. Sorry I agreed with him.

  • Diane Re via Facebook

    I know a lot of women who had horrific pregnancies, who had greet pregnancies who hated every second of it. The common denominator is that they love their babies and are great moms. This was do clearly, something orher than that that i dont know what to say. She wasn’t making any kind of statement about anyone other than her own experience.

    Ok I’ve definitely had enough. Thanks.

  • Mindy Brown Carney via Facebook

    Tobi, really? Name calling? Because Diane called out bad behavior?? Wow. That’s mature.

  • Diana A.

    Good answer. Thanks DR.

  • Diana A.


  • Amy Mitchell via Facebook

    Now I’m confused. When did Tobi call anyone names? Unless that got deleted. And wow, I’m also a little puzzled about how what I said was self-absorbed. I’ve already said more than once that I understand the letter writer’s feelings. I didn’t object to her feelings, only her use of specific language. Which if anyone read her response, she apologized for it. Sheesh. When did we get so freaked out about this stuff?

  • Lymis

    I’m unclear why not.

    I’m not allowed to have my own opinion on things, or I’m not allowed to share it?

    And who said a thing about original sin?

  • Tina Ison

    Wow Dr I actually agree with your response to Brian! This has made my night!! After our different opinions last night….it is very nice to agree. 🙂

  • Tina Ison

    I didnt know anger and finding truth in God went together. I have thrown the F bomb around for sure. I just wont disrespect you and address my comment to you with profanity. I think you are worth more than that.

  • Tina Ison

    Is John a doctor? Did he study Pychology? I am seriously asking. Was he just blessed with insight on feelings?

  • John, I love you, bro, and I love your blog, and normally I agree with you 100%, but for goodness’ sake, please read again what you just wrote: “I didn’t say how women should feel about pregnancy. I said that if a young woman feels that to be pregnant is to be in a state of degradation, something’s gone wrong somewhere.” So you ARE saying that for a woman to feel that “pregnancy = degradation” something is wrong. Therefore you are in fact saying, at least, what women ought NOT to feel about pregnancy. You also said, “But the one thing… that pretty much everyone agrees upon is that a pregnant woman is a wonderful, life-affirming, ultra-positive sight… But you have pretty much the exact opposite response. And that, I believe, is a phenomenon worthy of your serious attention.” In other words, if we think that pregnancy is not wonderful, it requires serious attention. So please at least admit that you are telling us what we ought or ought not to feel about pregnancy.

    Yes, the woman in question did reply that she experienced trauma and needs help, and God bless you for helping her. But, according to your criteria, many others, myself included, apparently also need psychiatric help. Personally, when I see a pregnant woman, my first thought is “God bless her.” If she is happy then I am happy for her. But, my very next thought is, “Thank God I am not in her shoes!” And I know that many other women share this thought.

    John, brother, I do appreciate that you love women and you’ve written books on our behalf and so on, but here’s the thing that we women tend to get snippy about: As a man you can experience suicidal thoughts; you can experience being jilted by a lover or being abused by a lover; but, you can never experience the joy (when willing), or the horror (when unwilling), of a fetus growing inside of you. As a man you will never be on your knees sobbing on the bathroom floor begging God for your period to come, or sobbing because it did come and you were hoping it wouldn’t. You will never have a child/parasite inside your bloated body growing up to 10 pounds that in 9+ months you must very painfully (and sometimes even fatally) expel. You may pray or be troubled on behalf of someone else, but it will never happen to YOU in YOUR body. That is why some women, including me, have issues with men saying how wonderful pregnancy is.

    Does this make sense or do you need further clarification?

  • DR, please see my comment above. Yes, obviously I read his response or else what the hell do you think I was responding to? And yes, he DID tell her “she should or should not feel a goddamn thing” – in so far as he told her that what she was feeling was wrong/ inappropriate and that she needed help. Which, in this particular case, it turns out that she did. But, the implication (as many others have pointed out) is that if we don’t agree with the socially enforced view of pregnancy as being wonderful, then there is something wrong with us.

  • I never said anything like pregnancy is wonderful. Does this make sense to you, or do you need further clarification?

  • zoni

    Regarding her second question, “If Mary felt the shame and self-loathing that I imagine I would have felt in her position, would God have chosen her?”, I think John did a great job of addressing it. Clearly, the passage he quotes indicates she did not. I would imagine if Mary’s reaction would have been one of sorrow rather than joy, God wouldn’t have chosen her to begin with, but that was not the case.

    If you mean her other question “Still, why couldn’t God have chosen Mary to be the mother of Jesus once she was married and had children?” I think the answer goes back to the idea that Jesus was born as the sacrificial lamb for the world, and had to be without blemish (i.e. without sin). For him to be born without sin, his parents would have to be without sin. Clearly, God was without sin. Mary, at such a young age, could have managed to go that long without sinning (theoretically). I don’t know if the Bible states whether she had sinned or not at that point in her life, but it’s at least possible. Once you’re married and have kids, though, try not having an impure thought or a sinful idea or two! Kids will test your patience (lol).

    But the other reason, perhaps the most important one, is that her giving a virgin birth means 2 things: 1) in being a virgin, it is undeniable that the father was God because no man could impregnate her (in those days) without having sex with her, and 2) being a virgin while pregnant is clearly a miracle, which glorifies God’s power and emphasizes who Jesus is to us. John could probably come up with more scholarly reasons for the importance of the birth being a virgin one, but those are the reasons that pop into my head at this early hour. 😉

    I don’t know why he skipped answering the virgin vs. married with kids question, but I imagine it was because he felt it was more important to minister to the writer’s needs rather than address that particular question (or maybe he just forgot about it, lol).

  • Wow. With all due respect, Jamie, this is pretty… arrogant.

  • Diana A.

    Anything that makes a person feel degraded requires serious attention. Degradation is not a good feeling. It isn’t that someone who feels degraded is bad. It’s that feeling degraded is a serious signal that something has gone badly wrong and needs to be fixed. It isn’t the pregnancy part that’s the problem. It’s the feeling degraded part that is the problem.

  • Diana A.

    Sounds like it’s your issue, not hers. Not that pregnancy is all sunshine and daisies. I’ve never been pregnant but I know that pregnancy can be an extremely difficult experience. But it does sound to me like you’re projecting a lot of your own issues onto what John is saying–and getting angrier and angrier at the notion that he dares to disagree with you.

    When I first read his response, I was concerned that he was stepping into a big pile of doo-doo. I was worried that the woman would shut him down. But apparently he really does know what he’s doing–as her later response to him indicates. Maybe her word on this should be the final word. He helped her, so why are the rest of us all passing judgment? All’s well that ends well, right?

  • Ahhhh. Feel the sanity …

  • Diana, you’re like … the Sanity Fairy.

  • DR

    The degree to which those of you are inserting meaning into John’s response is honestly, one of the most unsettling things I’ve ever seen. Particularly those who’ve read him for so long.

    There is like – a Grand Canyon of difference – between being pregnant and hating it vs. feeling DEGRADED even *thinking* about being pregnant. Being “degraded” is a serious trigger word, it takes the conversation into a much deeper psychological place than what you’ve described here. Which is exactly what was troubling.

    Lastly, that those of you are hanging onto this because of whatever ego is intact while completely dismissing he was dead-on accurate in his assessment and that said assessment was met with accuracy is almost aggressively arrogant. Put your *self* aside – consider it – and let it go.

  • DR

    Yes, anger and finding Truth in God certainly go together. And highlighting *you* doing something disrespectful is much different than treating you that way. I know my worth and profanity doesn’t impact that (nor does your opinion of my worth, Tina). So just move on, I’m not changing and your feelings are yours to manage. We choose who has power over them.

  • DR

    I responded. You have inserted so much meaning into his response that it’s creepy, you’ve seemed to project a million issues and experiences into this letter which a lot of people did. You seem totally unaware of you doing so, so whatever. Ugh.

  • DR

    Diana, you are a cornerstone of AWESOME. Thank you for saying it better than I ever could.

  • “A cornerstone of awesome.” Does anyone EVER say anything better than you could, DR?

  • Having now made my very first posting on this web site beneath this story, I’ve now learned a valuable lesson: Never check the box which subscribes me to the post. [grin]

    As a testament to the popularity of this site, my inbox is absolutely FILLED with messages notifying me of all the comment postings, here. Oh, I’m not complaining. Again, it’s a cogent commentary on just how popular and taken-seriously is this web site.

    My hat’s off to John for having built both it, and its following.



    Gregg L. DesElms

    Napa, California USA

    gregg at greggdeselms dot com

  • DR

    I don’t know how you deal with this – it’s bizarre. And we don’t even see the emails you get! I cannot imagine.

  • Jonathan

    > People get really offended when you raise the possibility that Mary and Joseph had sex before marriage (much less that Mary may have had sex with someone else.)

    Does it matter if people get offended? If you raise the possibility, then you’re disregarding what Matthew 1 says pretty explicitly. The whole “almah” vs. “bet(h)ulah” translation of “virgin” doesn’t really hold any water – it’s far more open to different interpretation than this passage with several different verses fully within context that list out the order of events. It also ignores the use of “parthenos” which is used pretty consistently throughout the New Testament (Greek word) to mean a sexual virgin and also happens to be used to describe Mary. It also ignores Mary’s question in Luke 1:35 where she asks how she could be pregnant “since I am a virgin?”

    There is a LOAD of fairly convincing evidence – it quacks like a duck, walks like a duck, looks exactly like a duck, but you’re saying that it COULD be some other bird because ducks are birds. If you choose to believe in the extremely unlikely odds that Mary was NOT a virgin, then why would the Bible go out of its way to make the true biological father’s (which would not be Joseph) identity a secret and to so heavily imply the immaculate conception?

    I understand the desire to know every angle of a story and be able to know the “what ifs” of history but in this case, the text is pretty clear when you take every Biblical account of the story and every original Greek word used into consideration. The only time when it doesn’t make sense is when someone is trying very hard to isolate the verses (read “cherrypick”) and focus on an individual meaning of a single word without regard to the surrounding context. People derive questions out of single words but make no attempt to answer them (and the answers are out there when you look – even in other Greek literature).

    Also, regarding the human body as being unfit, could it also have been that Jesus needed equal representation as both God and human, so Mary represented the human side and God represented the deity side, and both were the true, biological parents? Is it just impossible that God, who created the concept of pregnancy and birth, could make one of his own creations pregnant?

    There is no other religion with this story, despite what someone else said about Krishna, Buddha, etc… In every case, the conception of those came from a non-virgin who simply claimed that there was no sexual contact (e.g. Krishna was the 8th child). In mythology (if you even choose to include that), the gods have sex with mortal women, so the fathers may be deities, but there’s still sex involved.

    This is the only story where someone is simply pregnant, sans sexual contact, that is a true virgin.

  • DR

    You are one piece of work.

  • DR

    I’ve said nothing about your opinion or you expressing it for the hundredth time. I don’t care if you have an opinion – I really don’t. What you did was summarize the church teaching inaccurately so you could disagree with – and that I’m not going to allow without comment. If you have to actually restate theology and the intent behind that theology in order to disagree with it, that’s your issue.

    And once again, no one is saying anything about your opinion, you’re sounding like the people who are against gay marriage who get challenged and all of the sudden are saying they don’t have the freedom of speech here to express it. Stop it. Have whatever opinion you want to about the Virgin birth (which has its roots in Original Sin and if you’d stated the theology correctly you would have known that), about Perpetual Virginity. etc. Just don’t change what the church actually teaches about it so you can substantiate what you believe about it.

  • Diana A.

    (blushing) Wow! Thank you! That’s quite a complement!

  • Diana A.

    Thank you, John!

  • Diana A.

    Thanks, John!

  • Diana A.

    Thank you, John. A lot of this I’ve gotten from Martha Beck. And from hanging out on your blog of course. 🙂

  • When I do a post like this, honestly, I just expect it. But I just keep my concern only on the person who’s written me. That’s really all I can afford to care about.

  • Diana A.

    Good for you!

  • DR

    Yes Jamie, John was the one who told her that she was feeling pregnancy was wrong, that it was degrading – oh, wait a minute. SHE TOLD HIM THAT. (I’m not yelling, I’m emphasizing. I’m a lover not a fighter. Well – not a yeller anyway)

  • cat rennolds

    Finding truth in God often results in anger. Anger at the people who are denying it. Anger at those who are more concerned with ego than truth. Anger at those who are more concerned with comfort than truth. and that anger can really build over time.

    There’s also anger FROM people who are denying it and don’t want to see it.

    Piece of advice to Tina (who didn’t ask me): If you are trying to find the truth in love, listen past the anger and the profanity to the content.

    Piece of advice to DR (who also didn’t ask me:), and John by extension: If you want to be heard, save the profanity for special occasions. I personally have no objection – I was raised by a sailor. But you know yourselves that you have trigger words, phrases, concepts, that make it difficult for you to hear the speaker; well, for a lot of people, profanity is an automatic distancer. And it loses power if used too frequently.

  • I know that’s what you wanted. And I know you are a genuinely caring person. And again, I know you meant this the nicest way possible – -however – – please know also that an incredibly large number of women have issues with their mothers such that guilting them into feeling grateful to their mother’s bringing them into the world is not always helpful, especially since sometimes those issues are at the heart of why many women struggle with the idea of becoming mothers themselves.

  • DR

    I appreciate the advice but seriously – this tone policing and lecturing regarding profanity is getting annoying. We’re all adults and sometimes profanity is part of a dialogue. One chooses what one gives power to and gets offended by and also, takes personally. Focusing on profanity is an easy way of not dealing with the issue being discussed (or the person with whom you are discussing it with).

  • DR

    (I hope that wasn’t offensive, Cat. I understand your intent I just don’t agree with you on this one).

  • cat rennolds

    the scarier and more difficult pregnancy is, for whatever reason….the more I thank my mom.

  • cat rennolds

    not offended, just channeling the voice of my inner English teacher:) Dammitalltohell.

  • cat rennolds

    I have to add my 2 cents. While John has satisfactorily helped the person who wrote the letter, and may I say I think his instincts were spot on as far as she was concerned, if it was just about her, it wouldn’t rate a blog post. The bigger questions are fair game for everybody. And they’re very emotionally loaded. So can we all just take a deep breath?

    John’s personal reaction to pregnancy – wow, sweet, precious new life – as wonderful as it is, is not by any means the only possible or even normal reaction. And I think one point nobody’s mentioned is that, like homosexuality, a lot of our cultural response to pregnancy has been informed for centuries by the Christian church’s denigration of anything remotely physical, sexual or feminine.

    One of the reasons I originally left the Christian church is that I could not get my mind wrapped around “female = bad,” “physical world/body = bad,” “sex= bad” and “only by renouncing the things of the world can we be good, holy people. ” Those viewpoints may or may not represent the majority Christian viewpoint in the present time, but it’s surely the loudest and the longest-running. So John’s instinct – that this letter-writer was hurting – was sound; but her perception of pregnancy as degrading is not peculiar to personal pathology. It’s a product of cultural pathology.

  • Lymis

    I honestly don’t see where I’ve done that. I’m not kidding or being sarcastic.

    Believe me, I have studied theology, more than you seem to feel I have – if you are making the mistake that disagreeing with something means not having studied it, rest assured, that isn’t the case with me. And yes, there are some orthodox theological points I do disagree with. I don’t think I’ve misstated any, just disagreed with a few.

    Your objection actually reinforces my point. The only reason that I can see that an Immaculate Conception and Perpetual Virginity would be a necessity is if there is something wrong with a regular human woman, born like every other human woman, and having normal human relationships (within a normal human marriage, in this case) is somehow not the fit mother of the Savior. I didn’t say anything one way or the other about the doctrine of original sin – and yes, I am aware that it’s a part- and only a part- of what underlies the issue of perpetual virginity – because if it was just, or even mostly, about original sin, then the Immaculate Conception resolved that entirely. It’s only if sex itself is somehow impure and soiling, and that a mother’s impurity is passed on to her developing child, that virginity is an issue.

    Whether you feel it is official church teaching by whatever church authority you think I’m usurping the authority of, it’s still the case that a lot of Christians think, feel , and actually teach (many of my teachers did) that it’s the underlying reason God chose to have Jesus born of a virgin.

    It’s one thing to feel that it’s a historical fact. That’s one discussion, in some ways like discussing Mary’s hair color or her age. If it is historically true that she was a virgin, then however it happened, it’s historically true. And a belief in miracles implies a belief that some of them are historical facts.

    It’s another discussion entirely to assert, as many people do, and I interpreted John as doing, from what he wrote in direct response to my post, that it is also a theological necessity. That it not only happened, but that it had to happen – in John’s words, that it was the only option. If I misunderstood his point, that’s my error, but it’s for him to respond to.

    And my interpretation of that is that in that belief, there’s an underlying implication that sex, even sex within marriage, is impure. That most definitely HAS been church teaching in the past, and I know that it isn’t taught by most church authorities today, but I think that the remnants of that belief, and the misogyny that do with it, are still with us in a lot of ways.

    If you’ll review what I wrote, I never said it was what the church teaches as doctrine – I said it is what a lot of people seem to believe is true, and in some cases, what I believe to be true. If I made any claims about what any church authorities are teaching as orthodoxy, it was unintentional, because I think that what people actually believe is more pertinent to this discussion. And, yes, I think a lot of Christians think that sex is dirty. And that they are wrong to think so.

    I don’t think that’s a particularly outlandish claim. Nor is the claim that our souls are more important than our bodies, nor that Mary wasn’t your average young girl of her time. And yes, it most definitely is authoritative Catholic teaching that Mary was a virgin her entire life.

    Just what theology are you so upset about my playing fast and loose with – the the degree that you accuse me of intellectual dishonesty and misrepresenting purely for my own benefit?

  • cat rennolds

    besides, in a purely physical sense, pregnancy IS degrading…..as in, while pregnant, body functions you took for granted – like running, climbing, balancing, lifting or bending over – are severely limited if not completely unavailable. And you run the very real risk of their being permanently disabled. Since my last round of pregancy, I’m looking at potentially never being able to lift, climb or run again, and balance and bending over are pretty problematic too.

  • Tina Ison

    Amen Joyce!!!!

  • cat rennolds

    but I would do it again if I could. It’s definitely worth the cost.

  • DR

    Good god.

  • DR

    No one TOLD this woman anything remotely close to this. She self-identified and he responded! Do you understand he difference? And how manipulative and hostile it is to insert such meaning into someone’s mouth? I know you don’t so I just need to stop but I’m so freaked out by the narratives you’ve all literally inserted into the conversation we were allowed into. I hope for this young woman’s sake John doesn’t publish anything else she’s said.

  • DR

    I give up. Ugh.

  • sayla1228

    This has to do with theology of Theotokos and affirming the nature of Jesus as fully human (without sin) and fully divine.

    I understand what you mean with the issue of virginity and sex shaming. However, don’t fall into the trap of virgin/Celibacy shaming too. That does nothing defeat misogyny in the Church at all. Nor are we doing any service by over-romancizing sex the way both playboy and many “modern” church try to do. Sex and relationships are never easy, no matter what anyone says period especially when they are used as a form of social status and a tool for manipulation by some unscruplous, narcissitic freaks. A lot of the world (including the church) have a dehumanizing view of gender and sexuality because of gnosticism and the empire mentality. Sex has often been used as a tool to reinforce social domination and sin of idolatry. Sexuality itself isn’t the problem but rather how is it being used and viewed.

  • Diana A.

    I’m sorry that your last pregnancy physically damaged you so much. I hope that your body surprises you and recovers.

  • DR

    Why in God’s name would your own experiences into this dialogue about a young woman no is not even pregnant and is terrified of being so? I’m just speechless and I pray to God she’s not reading any of this. I really do.

  • Diana A.

    Yes, I learned the same lesson. So now when I want updates, I just come back to the site.

    Welcome aboard, Gregg!

  • Diana A.

    @ Sayla: good points!

  • DR

    Tina, John had helped hundreds of women get out of abusive relationships. You are terribly ignorant and havent a clue about what he’s done. I find it ironic you’d say this after this young woman was so grateful to him – you’re obviously committed to your ego in this conversation which is your problem.

    As for unhealthy dialogue, look in the mirror it’s comments like this one that are the root of that. Now you are officially dismissed, you’ve obviously got some serious emotional stuff going on based on how you’ve reframed this dialogue. When we have unresolved issues, we typically turn everyone around us into those people or those events and recreate the anger we have. Maybe that’s what’s going on with you, who knows, but your comments aren’t even rooted in reality so I’m not going to spend anymore of my reality dealing with you. Good luck.

  • Quite clear? Can you point to some of that evidence?

  • DR

    This sounds exactly like my best friend who had a vast and adored her. But she hated every second of it! 🙂

  • DR

    Vast? Baby.

  • DR


  • DR

    What a sick hung to say and an absolute perversion of the theology. Mary chose to experience this birth. She rejoiced in the fact that she was chosen. The way you restated it is sickening. I don care if people don’t believe in the virgin birth or have issues with anything surrounding it but don’t change the actual narrative.

  • I’ve blocked (and deleted some comments of) Tina Ison. Sorry I didn’t do it sooner.

  • Melody

    What you’re saying makes a lot of sense. I hadn’t thought of it the way you and others put it, but then, I’d never heard anyone describe pregnancy using the term “degrading” before, either. But the difference between you and people like Tina and Jamie is that you expressed your disagreement patiently and respectfully, and gave credence to John’s viewpoint. It really is a touchy subject, but I’m glad a lot of us can discuss it civilly.

  • I’m really getting tired of saying this, but one more time: I didn’t say one single solitary word about my personal reaction to pregnancy. Not. One.

    Man, sometimes it’s pain to write so carefully and be read so sloppily. (Although I get why that happens, of course.)

  • Jay L. Troyer via Facebook

    it’s easier to target the straw man that isn’t there–oddly enough–

  • Sonya Trejo via Facebook

    FWIW I loved your response and clearly you were very helpful to the young woman who asked the question.

  • Jamie DeVriend via Facebook

    It might also be that the young lady may just be asexual as well (in the sexuality sense, not like an amoeba).

  • cat rennolds

    John, if I go back up and parse this piece (for about the 47th time this week), no, you are technically not endorsing “most people’s response,” even if it’s become obvious in this post that “most people’s response” might not be what you said it was. Or that “pretty much everyone” does not, in fact, agree that “a pregnant woman is a wonderful, life-affirming, ultra-positive sight.” I think we all know by now you are not most people, anyway. (note: I have not stated MY personal opinion on the sight of a pregnant woman, either).

    But there’s a difference between careful, specific, explicit reading – which I generally do, as do most of your regular readers – and implicit reading, which is easy to do sloppily, and is what “most people” do, especially when they are emotionally involved with an issue. I confess to writing my responses more to the rest of your readers than to you, after following this argument for however long it’s been going on now.

  • cat rennolds

    it’s surgically correctable. I’m saving my pennies.

  • Rhys Harper via Facebook

    “In the sexuality sense, not like an amoeba.” Love it. LOVE. 🙂

  • Hey, sorry! misspoke, but not taking any exception to any opinions you didn’t have anyway:)

  • Ryan Collins via Facebook

    John, you were awesome. You just shined a big spotlight on a lot more people’s crap than you realized.

  • No worries, Cat. You were hardly the only one to respond to what you thought I said, rather than what I actually said. At least you were sane about it. (And, honestly, I knew I’d get bombed for writing on the matter. It’s just … serious trigger territory.)

  • i said this on yr blog, but not so much what *I* thought you said, as to what *they* thought you said.

  • Gotcha. Thank you. (And thanks for all your great comments on my blog. You’re terrific that way.)

  • cat rennolds

    and furthermore, it was in fact mentioned more than once, and in John’s original post, that anything sexuality-related was traditionally degraded by the Church, so my boo-boo there too.

  • DR

    I think the issue with doing so Cat is how it might be impacting the woman who wrote the letter. That’s what bothers me so much about responses that don’t reflect the actual dialogue, it’s human nature to insert ourselves (and our own issues) into things we read. It’s when we take it a step further and actually change the meani or set up straw men and then challenge people like John to defend those straw men that get pretty frustrating to watch. If only because people who write carefully and choose to bring us into the dialogue with those – like this woman- who trust what they see behind that decision to write thoughtfully and carefully – don’t trust people easily. So when any of us overreact to her use of a specific word and enter the dialogue based on what that word means to us instead of her, it often causes someone like this to retreat.

    Granted she allowed to make this public and of course, dialogue spins off of specific posts and becomes its own topic. That’s a cool part of the experience. But this got pretty nasty and pretty hostile – toward this young woman and John- very quickly. And neither of them are responsible for that or for what anyone chose to read or interpret that was other than what ether of them actually said.

  • DR

    It would seem as though the straw men some set up and demand you acknowledge or defend aren’t going away in their minds anytime soon, I think some stopped responsing to what you actually said a long time ago. But in the spirit of this thread I think you should comment as “Johnny Door- romance novelist”. If people are going to make shit up and say you said it, why not go all the way?

  • Barbara

    One bit I would add to the discussion is that God did not impregnate Mary against her will. In Luke’s account, after the Angel Gabreil speaks to Mary, she says what to me is just a beautiful example of surrender: “Let it be done to me according to your word.” God didn’t intrude against Mary’s free will any more than he would intrude on ours (that is, not at all).

  • You know, you never even said that the experience of pregnancy might not be degrading in certain situations, just that if one projects thoughts of degradations on *all* pregnancies there’s a problem. Which there is, from a purely human standpoint- if it was natural to think of pregnancy as degrading there would be a whole lot less humans out there.

  • I feel that you responded to the writer’s query with empathy and concern. I liked how you simply restated back what she had said, opening the window to shine a light on an underlying issue or fear. Reading her response to yours was beautiful… it often takes an independent observer to point out underlying issues to be explored… something you did with careful, delicate, love.

  • Well, there’s this: ‎”Le’ line de’ bottom: There are two kinds of people in the world: people who know who they are, and people who don’t.” ~ John Shore

    He wrote that the other day which I felt compelled to repost as a quote on my page. Why? Because it’s true. Here’s another truism: “The trouble with those who live life unaware is that they are oblivious to their plight.” That one comes from moi. Socrates would agree with both of us: “The unexamined life isn’t worth living.”

    For a lot of us this ain’t our first rodeo. And the beautiful thing about rodeos is that the more times you fall off your horse, the next time you get better at not falling off your horse or falling in such a way as not to break anything. All experience is learning. Some of us are more experienced than others.

    It is a gift to be able to learn how to see with new eyes what has been right in front of us all along. To be able to see ourselves with honesty and authenticity, and, the funny thing is, when we do this, we are able to see others with honesty and authenticity too. John has those kinds of eyes; he earned them the hard way.

  • I understand. The short answer is I also understand why William was asking what he did.

  • Diana A.

    Good. I’m glad.

  • cat rennolds

    I took the time to consider the original writer, as well, before I posted any of my responses on this thread. Sometimes it helps ME to know that I’m not as weird as I think I am. But I flubbed when I allowed myself to fall into my own scare story, NOT helpful. Obviously I have my hot-buttons too. But not liking the hostile so much, myself, either.

    So, original writer, now you can see that there are PLENTY of people with very, very strong feelings on this subject…in every imaginable direction.

  • Awww, John, just tell ’em to stick it where…awwww, never mind.

  • Matt

    In the letter, the woman states (my emphasis addeded via [] & CAPS): “MAKING a woman have a child [against her will] is invasive, even abusive. I can’t seem to view [that kind of] pregnancy as anything but degrading…”

    As a pastor, I have come across that view many times, typically by those in feminist circles. The real question is: “Is Mary and active participant in the incarnation of God, or is she just a passive participant?”

  • Diane Re via Facebook

    F*** them!

  • Melody

    That itself is a good question. While the idea that pregnancy in general is degrading is troubling (and of course the writer clarified that she did not intend such a meaning), this particular situation definitely raises the question of whether Mary *really* had a choice. I personally think she did, even though she was chosen, but it makes for interesting discussion.

  • DR

    It does. If God “asked” us to do something, could you say no?

  • Just got back from evening out. THANKS, you guys!

  • Thank you for your response to someone who is in pain and questioning her femininity. I agree with you on what you quoted the Virgin Mary as saying and believe the gift of new life is far greater than the discomfort that accompanies it (this is, of course, my opinion as a man and also believe in freedom of choice).

  • Robert

    Did Jesus ever say he was born of a virgin… or was this added later?

  • Kirsten A.S. Mebust via Facebook

    Mary’s song reflects the enhanced sense of power so many women get from pregnancy. I think some theological sermons have emphasized her sacrifice too much and that increase of power too little. Maybe there’s a theological aspect to your questioner’s fear. I hope she took seriously your recommendation of talking to someone about it.

  • Mindy

    Amy, on FB at least, Tobi flat-out called DR an ass****. Maybe John deleted it – I hope so. It was ugly and completely unnecessary.

  • I liked John’s response. Here’s another take from a different angle: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithforward/2011/12/jesus-mom-was-a-punk/

    Rock on.

  • cat rennolds

    Of course. We do it all the time.

  • DR

    I don’t thing the two compare.

  • DR

    I spoke too soon. We do say no all the time, you’re right.

  • Calvin R. Griffin via Facebook

    John, for what it’s worth, I thought your response was spot-on!

  • Thanks, Calvin. That’s worth a lot, coming from you.

  • zoni

    The choices I see here are a) Virgin Birth or b) Mary has sex with God. Right? (I can’t think of any other options for how she would get pregnant.)

    We all know God chose a) Virgin Birth. Why? I would say that every description provided of humans being in the presence of the Lord in the OT state that they are struck with fear / awe / trembling at his power and might. Assuming God is loving and didn’t want the experience of becoming pregnant to be horrible for Mary, why would He put her through at least several minutes of physical contact with Him in all His glory? What kind of damage would that do to her emotionally / physically / psychologically? Humans are overwhelmed by the presence of the Lord, and so I don’t think it would be a joke to say having sex with Him would literally ruin it for Mary to be with any mere mortal man in her future married life. He didn’t want to traumatize the poor woman – He wanted to bestow a great honor on her. Hence, Virgin Birth.

    Maybe you should consider being a Baptist instead of a Catholic. We don’t focus on her virginity being a way to avoid sin and shame and all that the way you’re saying Catholics do. She just was a virgin because that was the best way for God to impregnate her. And like John said, it proves God had to be the father because no man at that time in history could have impregnated her and left her a virgin. 😉

  • Lymis


    Really. You can’t think of another way a woman might become pregnant?

  • Just want to say I feel so very blessed to have “stumbled” across your site… Thanks for all you do and write about!

  • yep, I just realized this, too.

  • thankk you, francie; i appreciate that

  • Annabelle

    I personally don’t see anything particularly wrong with pregnancy – however I have heard some people call the fetus a parasite, and to be honest that seems quite true. Unless you’ve chosen to have a baby, that’s what it would be. Plus, yes Mary was happy she’d get to have God’s child – but where was the choice?I would find it supremely degrading to be told “Oh, btw, you’re having my kid,”. And of course, why didn’t God wait? Was ii so hard for him to wait a few weeks until Mary was married? In a culture like that, there was a very real chance she could have been killed , and at the least ostrasized.

  • Betsy O’Leary via Facebook

    Me too. You give me hope.

  • CMHValex

    Mary V, while I respect the story of Mary and would never deign to suggest that Mary was in any way unhappy with what transpired, I do wish to call attention to the wording of your first sentences. You say that “Mary never, not even once, said ‘No’ to God. She was used to symbolize the ‘perfect’ relationship with God, one of self sacrifice and trust…” I will not pass judgment on this relationship between Mary and God in any way, but I do take some issue with your wording, as it (probably unintentionally) sounds as if you take Mary’s lack of a “no” as consent. In today’s world, when rape culture abounds and the person seeking intimacy is clearly not God, I think we need to be careful with how we word things like this, lest we send the wrong message. A lack of a definitive “no” does not necessarily equal consent. A woman who has not said “no” can still be raped if she has not given a definitive “yes.” “Yes” is consent. I am in no way suggesting that anything untoward happened in the case of Mary and God. Clearly, the circumstances described in the bible are different than those that take place today. I just want to make sure that we don’t take the wrong message from the text.

  • CMHValex

    DR – I understand that the original letter-writer (also known as X) sent a positive response to John. At the same time, this is a comments section on a blog. Typically, the comments on a blog evolve into a larger or broader discussion of the topic, not the particular writer. True, X received the answer she needed, but some of the topics brought up in her letter were left unanswered for some people. This post is primarily about her. That is true. But secondarily, the post is about the issues she brings up, which is what people are commenting on. This is why blogs reach such a wide audience. This is why the post is not in private correspondence. The comments section is open so that people can comment on what was said, how it was said, and what issues it brings up. I appreciate that this is a sensitive topic for you, as it is for many others. I also appreciate that is is easier to take offense than it is to reasonably and logically argue your point with others who may disagree with you. At the same time, though, the only way to teach others (or to learn yourself) is to try to stay calm and reason with them.

  • CMHValex

    Amanda, while I don’t completely agree with your idea of a fetus as a parasite and pregnancy as unnatural, I do understand your point. I do not have children, nor do I plan to have children in the future. When I see a pregnant woman, I don’t necessarily think it is “a wonderful, life-affirming, ultra-positive sight” like John says. I see her, realize that she’s got a human life inside her, and hope that she is happy. If she is, then I am happy for her. If she is not, then I feel bad for her, as I do see an unwanted child as a burden on the mother and as a tragedy in the life of that child. Either way, I realize that at times that woman is going to have to deal with some messy, uncomfortable, and sometimes gross situations. I see pregnancy much like I see my period. It is natural, it is not shameful or degrading, but it can be completely gross and cause embarrassment in certain situations.

    That being said, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. If you do not wish to have children, that is your choice. There are precautions you can take to avoid pregnancy. I myself do not want children either. I have not been inflicted with some sort of trauma. I do not cringe when i see children. I do understand the view of the child as a parasite from a logical perspective (the fetus/infant spends nine months taking its nutrients from the mother’s body) even though I do not share the repulsion that connotation suggests. I feel like I simply do not have the energy, patience, or desire for a child of my own. I love spending time with my nephews, as long as I do not have responsibility for their safety or well-being, and as long as the parents can take over when they start acting up. I applaud parents, but I would rather not be one myself.

    In my opinion, your stance is not deranged, like Daniel suggests. You simply have a different way of looking at things. I agree that we should be mindful that opinions such as this one are not necessarily induced by trauma (though in this case it is, according to her response to John). Sometimes people just see the world differently than those around them.

  • zoni

    @Lymis – No, I can’t. Can you? (Keep in mind we are talking about Mary having God’s child, not about her sleeping around with men and then claiming an immaculate conception.) If you want to argue against the very notion of Mary giving birth to God’s child, that’s a whole different conversation. But what we’re talking about here is Mary having God’s child, and the only way I see that happening is the story we know of the Virgin Birth, or her having sex with (and being in the presence of) God in some way.

    Truly, if you can think of another way, please share Lymis.

  • j_bird

    I suspect that the letter writer’s fear may be more about deprivation of consent and bodily autonomy than about pregnancy itself. She says ” …it seems to me that making a woman have a child is invasive, even abusive.” She has a point. Mary was not asked by God if she wanted to carry his son. If she found it a joyous thing anyway, then I’m glad for her. But in real life, rape happens; women are made pregnant against their wills; and the fear of something so drastic happening to your body is quite a reasonable, if debilitating, one. John, I think you are right that the letter writer should seek therapy to help her overcome her fear so that she can make a clear-headed decision about whether to become pregnant some day. However, I don’t like the way you call her feelings “unnatural” and “unhealthy”. If it is merely the process of childbirth that she finds degrading, then I agree that perhaps she should examine her feelings to make sure that she isn’t looking down on a female bodily function out of some kind of internalized misogyny. But if her strong feelings are about about women having control over their own reproduction, then to cast them as wrong or unhealthy could be quite harmful to her.

  • DR

    Mary was indeed, asked if she wanted to birth Jesus. The narrative is quite clear about this.