I love my readers!
Just got this from one of them:
Dear Mr. Kristof:
Allow me to express my dissatisfaction with your column on the Virgin Birth this morning. You state that belief in the Virgin Birth “pretty much has to be a leap of faith.” Yes, it does, though it’s a rather small leap — more of a hop, really — compared to the one necessary to believe in God at all.
To put it differently: to be an an orthodox Christian is rational; to be a materialist or a skeptic is rational, if a bit unimaginative; but to believe that God created the heavens and the earth, but was unequal to a little thing like the Virgin Birth, is frankly rather stupid. My sincere apologies if you feel this casts aspersions upon your grandfather, and in charity I must add that he was a child of his unreflectingly materialist age.
You speak of “the lack of scientific or historical evidence” for the Virgin Birth. On the contrary, the only evidence we have — the Gospels of Matthew and Luke — is in favor of the Virgin Birth. The silence of the Gospel of Mark is insignificant because Mark mentions no incident in Jesus’s life prior to his ministry, and in any case the chronological priority of Mark is merely conjectural. It is true that Matthew and Luke tell different stories (which, pace Hans Kung, does not mean they are “mutually contradictory”), but as the Catholic scholar Raymond Brown has pointed out, when two different stories have a common element — in this case, the Virgin Birth — it is not unreasonable to conclude that common element has a claim to historical truth. And the supposed parallels with other myths of virgin birth are unimpressive to the fair-minded critic — though of course I do not denigrate anyone whose creed requires belief in such parallels.
You are free to be unconvinced by the testimony of the Gospels. You are quite wrong to suggest that only the doltish unlettered can possibly believe in them. It is of course true that children are not ordinarily born of virgins. But it is a typically contemporary bit of ahistorical self-congratulation to suppose that our credulous ancestors could easily believe in things like the Virgin Birth, but we sophisticated moderns have been enlightened by science. One needs no knowledge of science, only of the facts of life, to understand that virgin births can only by miracle. It is the essence of Christianity that God became man — in other words, a miracle. There is no ordinary way for such a thing to occur. If you believe that it did not occur at all, fine — that means only that you are not an orthodox Christian.
If, however, you believe, as you appear to, that intelligent people cannot possibly believe in a miracle, you are merely revealing your dogmatic belief in the impossibility of miracle. My dogmas come, as I am happy to declare, from revelation and tradition. Where your dogmas come from I doubt even you know.
Finally, in a world saturated with scientism — i.e., sophomoric philosophical extrapolations from science that do not have the empirical warrant of genuine science — people who do believe in the possibility of miracle are much more likely to be open-minded and inquiring than those who adhere to a routine, dogmatic skepticism. The term “self-satisfied and unquestioning” applies better to Hans Kung than to his orthodox critics, who are people of equal or greater intellectual stature, though vastly less journalistic acclaim. It might also apply to a few people now writing for the New York Times.
That’s the idea. Don’t just grumble. Act.