A New Batch of Responses at CT Feedback

UPDATED!!
NOW, with even more provocative responses from readers…

Here’s one of the letters contributed by readers after CT’s coverage of The Nativity Story, and there are more where this came from:

I am shocked that the Vatican approved The Nativity Story. The clergy that run the Catholic church today have gone insane. The scene where Mary goes into labor pains and Joseph delivering baby Jesus is contrary to the special dignity and power God has bestowed upon her. We true Catholics believe Mary is ever virgin, before, during and after Jesus’ birth. So how can we believe the labor pains and Joseph pulling the baby out from her and still believe she gave birth as a virgin? This movie is taking away the dignity of our Lady by making her like a common human being. We believe Jesus was conceived without human intervention entering and developing in her womb, but people have a hard time believing he came out the same way. I believe true Catholics should not go see this slanderous movie. Many Catholics today are spiritually blinded.

- A concerned Catholic

I look forward to your thoughts, but please, don’t turn this into a place for anti-Catholic rants, or anything of that nature.

And now, for some more highlights from the latest letters:

What right do you have to call yourselves “Christians” when you are no different than the world? It is disgraceful and blasphemous to give filthy and immoral films a “thumbs up.” I’m talking about movies with drunkenness, drugs, violence, nudity and cursing, especially taking our dear Lord’s name in vain. Would you sit with Jesus and watch a film like this? I know Jesus wouldn’t sit with you and watch a film like this. But if all of that garbage doesn’t bother you and you so desire to fill your mind with smut, then by all means go ahead and do so. I do not believe that you really have Christ living in your heart, or you would not choose to defend things of this world over what our dear Lord and Savior would want us to do.

- – - – - – - – - -

I was surprised by your 2½-star review of Apocalypto. First, to compare it to The Passion of The Christ is unfair and irresponsible. There is only one story of Jesus Christ, which transcends all others, and although it has been interpreted in many ways, Gibson’s portrayal will be considered among the best ever. To try and find these motifs of values in a pagan culture, and then say, “Well, it doesn’t add up,” represents a bias that is only matched by preset fundamentalism, or critics on the left with their preset positions as well. As a person who loves The Passion (I saw it nine times in the theaters and I don’t know how many times on DVD), Apocalypto only reaffirms that Mel Gibson is a great storyteller.

And, regarding The Nativity Story:

A young, unmarried pregnant actress playing Mary was enough to turn me off this movie.
- Jim Foulkes

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About Jeffrey Overstreet

Jeffrey Overstreet is the author of a “memoir of dangerous moviegoing” called Through a Screen Darkly, and a four-volume series of fantasy novels called The Auralia Thread, which includes Auralia’s Colors, Cyndere’s Midnight, Raven’s Ladder, and The Ale Boy’s Feast. Jeffrey is a contributing editor for Seattle Pacific University’s Response magazine, and he writes about art, faith, and culture for Image, Filmwell, and his own website, LookingCloser.org. His work has also appeared in Paste, Relevant, Books and Culture, and Christianity Today (where he was a film columnist and critic for almost a decade). He lives in Shoreline, Washington. Visit him on Facebook at facebook.com/jeffreyoverstreethq.

  • Sheila West

    Did I really write “Bobo” up above???

    Ewww.

  • Sheila West

    This is cool. I think Bobo is very deserving of this. And the Jedi comment must surely have George Lucas chuckling.

    I also notice this factoid with interest:

    “Because he is an Irish citizen, Bono won’t have the title of ‘sir’ before his name. That honor is reserved for citizens of the United Kingdom or British Commonwealth countries. Ireland left the Commonwealth when it became a republic in 1949.”

    About four years ago was when I first discovered Steve Irwin of the Crocodile Hunter TV show, and after a few episoides, I thought Irwin would make a good candidate for British knighthood. But then I wondered if maybe he couldn’t because he was Australian (a Commonwealth nation). However, this information here says otherwise.

    Now that Irwin is dead, I truly lament his never being named a knight. He did so much not just for wildlife, but also in service to the Australian government and military, and the New Zealand mlitary, and in unofficial diplomatic relations between the US and Australia. The monarchy missed an opportunity with him.

  • John Herreid

    Levi, the most common Catholic Marian prayers are taken directly from Scripture. And very early on the Fathers of the Church accorded much respect to Mary.

    Of course, anything can be taken too far. And, yes, some Catholics do take it past what the Church would normally consider proper respect to Mary.

    It’s kind of ironic that the modern backlash against the Catholic Church instigated by Dan Brown and the Da Vinci Code accuses the Church of being anti-woman and concealing the “sacred feminine”, while many Protestants accuse Catholics of making a cult of the sacred feminity of Mary.

  • Anonymous

    Scrivener, I certainly agree that I may have some Protestant presuppositions – but I do believe that they’re correct in this case. You bring up some interesting references – I was aware of The Protoevangelion of James but I did not know that it was written at such an early date.

    I agree that Mary’s credentials are nothing to sneeze at. Actually most of what you pointed out I agree with. But the idea that Mary was a perpetual virgin – as Wasp Jerky pointed out – contradicts scripture. More than that in Matthew 12, Jesus puts all Christians on equal footing with Mary:

    32 While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers appeared outside, wishing to speak with him.
    47
    (Someone told him, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, asking to speak with you.”) 33
    48
    But he said in reply to the one who told him, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?”
    49
    And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers.
    50
    For whoever does the will of my heavenly Father is my brother, and sister, and mother.”

    Or Luke 11:

    As Jesus was saying these things, a woman in the crowd called out, “Blessed is the mother who gave you birth and nursed you.”

    He replied, “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.”

  • Ellen Collison

    Folks might want to look here for an account of popular traditions re. the conception and birth of Christ – especially Brigit of Sweden’s visions. A lot of popular images and ideas about Mary were taken from her texts.

  • Mark Stewart

    Dear Peter,

    On John 19:25-27, I would suggest the reason why Mary’s other sons were not there is their lack of faith. In fact, only one of the disciples was there, John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. Most abandoned Him completely. Jesus’ brothers most likely came to faith around Pentecost and went on to powerful service for Christ.

    Blessings,

    Mark

  • The Scrivener

    Catholics really need to take a hard look at the amount of undue reverence they pay to Mary. There’s nothing closely resembling it in the scriptures or early church tradition.

    Respectfully, Mr Nunnik, I think you need to check you inherited Protestant presuppositions about Scripture in this regard, and familiarize yourself more with the early Church’s history and teaching on the subject. Scripture does, after all, identify Mary as the Mother of God, which is nothing to sneeze at. She gets plenty of airtime in St Luke’s nativity passages (think about Elizabeth’s “Who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?”), and in St John’s Gospel is given by Christ to us (as his “beloved disciples”) to be our mother. Not only is she the first to praise His coming, the first Christian, if you will, but it is Christ’s flesh -which is Mary’s flesh- which we are incorporated into by being united to the Church; if we are made one flesh with Christ, then she is our mother, too. And as mentioned above, The Protoevangelion of James reflects Christian tradition on the person and place of Mary in the Church as early as the 100s. St Gregory Nazianzen and others, at least as early as the 300s, knew that an impoverished sense of love and honor for Mary was symptomatic of an impoverished, and probably unorthodox, understanding of the Incarnation itself, hence the early Church’s insistence on honoring her with the title Theotokos, (God-bearer, Mother of God).

  • Wasp Jerky

    The Bible also doesn’t go out of its way to suggest that Mary herself was the mother of those siblings.

    Touché. Of course, that opens up a few new cans of worms.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you, Wasp Jerky.

    I say this not to offend but I think Catholics really need to take a hard look at the amount of undue reverence they pay to Mary. There’s nothing closely resembling it in the scriptures or early church tradition.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    Well, it says that Jesus had other siblings, and it doesn’t go out of its way to suggest that Mary was still a virgin having had multiple children.

    The Bible also doesn’t go out of its way to suggest that Mary herself was the mother of those siblings. In fact, the evidence is somewhat mixed; in some places, like Mark 3:20-35, it seems to point that way, but in others, like John 19:25-27, it seems to point the other way.

    As for whether Mary would have made an issue of the state of her hymen — and thus, whether God might have condescended to her by healing it after the birth of Christ or by preserving it from harm in the first place — well, it all depends on whether she would have shared the “ancient prejudice” referred to above. She might have, she might not have, but I really couldn’t say one way or the other.

  • Wasp Jerky

    Um – also I forgot to mention that the Bible says nothing about it.

    Well, it says that Jesus had other siblings, and it doesn’t go out of its way to suggest that Mary was still a virgin having had multiple children.

  • Anonymous

    “Would you sit with Jesus and watch a film like this? I know Jesus wouldn’t sit with you and watch a film like this.”

    As I read from Matthew there are some line that remind me of the this persons response.

    “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, behold a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners! Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.”
    -Matthew 11:19

    I think if we saw who Jesus sat and watched movies will we would all be shocked.

  • Anonymous

    Um – also I forgot to mention that the Bible says nothing about it.

  • Anonymous

    I realize this may not get posted because it sounds snarky, but I have strong doubts that Mary, the mother of God, would want anyone creating a wedge issue out of the state of her hymen. I’m a practicing cradle Catholic with conservative leanings and the notion proposed in the original CT post never occurred to me, nor do I remember it being taught anywhere. Having worked in religious media for 10 years, I know that every once in a while you hear from people whose ideas on religion indicate they need to get out of the house more. I would categorize the original poster as such a person.

  • The Scrivener

    It is an historically common pious belief of both Roman Catholic and Orthodox Christians that Christ’s birth was painless and bloodless and left Mary’s virginity intact. It reflects a common ancient prejudice that a woman’s virginity is determined not by her sexual conduct (or lack thereof) but by her intact hymen, as Peter indicated above. These traditions regarding the nature of Mary’s labor and Christ’s birth are documented as early as the 2nd century, for instance in the non-canonical Protoevangelion of James.

    Though reagarded as a pious belief in accord with the Church’s historical tradition, this is not a matter of official doctrine or dogma for either Roman Catholics or Orthodox Christians. The alarmist, reactionary response from the Catholic writer to CT is just plain silly.

  • Peter T Chattaway

    As one who watched my wife give birth to twins earlier this year, I have to say I didn’t find the experience so “miraculous”. Conception and development are miraculous, yes, but quite frankly, beholding the actual phenomenon of giving birth inspired doubts as much as it inspired faith — not unlike the ambivalence I feel when I behold a spider’s web and I marvel both at its beauty and at the violence that it represents. There are times when the argument from design poses more problems than answers. (Actually, come to think of it, at the time my kids were born, I posted a prayer request on this very theme here.)

    There are lots of Christian beliefs that the Nicene Creed doesn’t get into, and you will hear references to Mary’s unbroken hymen (not that it is put that way) in the occasional Orthodox service, too; I believe one of the Easter services makes a comparison between the way Jesus passed through his mother and the way he rose from the tomb (the angel rolled the stone away not to let Jesus out — he could pass through closed doors, after all — but to let us see inside).

    I have qualms with taking the unbroken-hymen idea literally, for a number of reasons: Jesus passed through doors in his glorified, resurrected body, but not before; if Jesus could be pierced (and retain those wounds even in his glorified, resurrected body!), then I see no reason Mary could not be pierced too; if the point of miracles is to serve as “signs and wonders”, then who, exactly, would benefit from beholding this “sign”?; the Orthodox services, like the scriptures, contain a mix of fact and legend (I think of one passage that refers to pelicans feeding their young with blood from their chests) and so we know that not everything in those services should be taken literally anyway; and so on.

    But at this point in my life, it’s not an issue I feel dogmatic about, either way.

  • Anonymous

    While I appreciate the desire to defend the hugely important doctrine of the Virgin Birth (and yeah, I’m talking to you, Rob Bell) I don’t remember anything in the Nicene Creed about a painless delivery.

    Christians believe that Jesus was paradoxically fully man and fully God. We don’t believe that Jesus was a sub or super human. To believe that his birth was different then every other human born in history seems to make him something less or more than a man. If he died like every man, why shouldn’t he be born like every man?

    It also implies that there’s something wrong or sinful about a natural birth with pain, fluids and blood. Speaking as a father of 3 children, a birth is one of the most miraculous events that occours naturally.


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