Sons of Gods


Sons of Gods


According to Greek mythology, Perseus was the son of Zeus and Danae, the former a god, the latter a mortal woman (daughter of Acrisius, king of Argos). One imagines that the conception occurred in the normal way: Zeus paid Danae a visit and impregnated her by penile insertion. Sperm and ovum were involved. She was not a virgin. Zeus may have been a god but he procreated like a man, with Danae playing the woman’s part. All this we can understand: that’s how babies get produced—same way animals do it. Nothing fancy, nothing supernatural, nothing “immaculate”. Zeus passed on some of his characteristics to Perseus, by means (as we now know) of DNA molecules. The case is not really different from that of superior extraterrestrial beings impregnating human females. But the case of Jesus Christ and God is very different: here we are told that Mary was a virgin, the conception “immaculate”, and the means non-corporeal (no penile insertion etc.). It is not to be understood on the standard model: there was no sexual intercourse with God, no passing of sperm or fertilization of egg. Mary did carry an embryo and then a fetus and finally a baby, but there was no initial joining of sperm and ovum; perhaps there was an early-stage dividing cell, but there was no journey of sperm to womb. That’s the story anyway. It raises a number of questions.

            Presumably God had to implant something into Mary’s womb. Did he implant a version of human sperm, but with an extra ingredient, and allow it to join with one of Mary’s eggs, or did he take care of the whole operation himself bypassing Mary’s contribution? Was what he implanted like a human fertilized egg in being composed of DNA? Wouldn’t it have to be in order to develop in the usual way? So God created a DNA complex with the extra bells and whistles needed to allow for the ability to perform miracles (Jesus didn’t pick up these skills by learning). How was the implanting performed—did God directly inject it into the womb or was it sent up the birth canal? We are not told, but either method seems feasible. In any case, that’s roughly how it worked, presumably. But now in what sense is God the father of the resulting child? Granted he is the creator of the child, but is he the father—the actual Dad, the biological parent? The DNA did not come from God’s body, since he doesn’t have a body, so in what sense is he the father? Didn’t Jesus have no real father, though he had a supernatural creator. How exactly did Jesus differ from Adam in this respect, also created by God? God is not Adam’s father because there is no father-son relation between them, but isn’t the same true of Jesus and God according to the official story? What if God had created many children by the same method—would they all have been his sons (and daughters)? After all, a lab scientist who artificially creates chunks of DNA and uses them to produce children by implantation is not thereby the father of these children. Zeus is clearly the father of Perseus because he employs the standard fatherly method of child production, but that is precisely what is not true of God and Jesus. So the doctrine of the virgin birth is really not compatible with the proposition that Jesus is the son of God—that they stand in the father-son relation.

            Secondly, why does God use a woman at all—why not create Jesus from scratch? This is what he did with Adam—he didn’t insert suitable “seed” into a woman in order to create Adam. God is a well-known all-purpose creator, and he created the first man from nothing, so why not do the same for Jesus? It seems like a pointless excursus to bring Mary into the act. And what if she had a miscarriage or smoked and drank her way through the pregnancy? Why take the risk? God could have used Mary’s toenail as a basis for Jesus, as he used Adam’s rib to obtain Eve, so why involve Mary’s womb at all? Joseph had to use Mary’s womb if he wanted children, but God was under no similar constraint. Plus you have the risks of childbirth for both mother and baby. Then there is the question of Jesus’s childhood in which he was essentially useless in his allotted role as Son of God and Savior of Mankind—why not create him fully grown or at least a strapping ten-year-old? One wonders what occupied Jesus’s mind during his callow years, given his divine provenance: did he daydream of growing up to be the son of God, or just a humble carpenter? It all seems rather unnecessary given God’s purposes.

            Third, how did Joseph feel about his wife being impregnated by another man (albeit a rather special one)? Didn’t God involve Mary in a type of adultery vis-à-vis Joseph? True, there was no sexual intercourse involved in the “immaculate” conception, but still someone else’s child was placed in Joseph’s wife’s womb. He was then obliged to raise this child without knowing that he was not the true father, since God had secretly decided that this woman would be his vehicle of propagation. It doesn’t seem very respectful of the institution of marriage. How about asking Joseph’s permission first instead of just foisting it on him? What if God had decided to have a second son by Mary—or a third or fourth? Would that be ok? And isn’t the whole procedure suspiciously like rape? God injects his chosen DNA into Mary’s womb without so much as a by-your-leave and then leaves her to carry his child to term—shouldn’t that be illegal? If someone did that to you, wouldn’t you seek legal remedy? Mary could certainly claim that she never gave her consent to God’s act of impregnation; the lack of actual penetration is not really an adequate exculpation. Powerful men can’t go around impregnating women as they see fit, even when intercourse is not the chosen method. What if Mary didn’t want to give birth to a semi-divine being who would later be crucified? She loved her husband Joe and wanted only his babies. It wasn’t very considerate of God, was it? So the morality of God’s divine plan for mankind leaves a lot to be desired.

            The story of Perseus’s birth makes sense and raises no ethical questions (assuming Danae was willing), but the story of Jesus’s birth is riddled with conceptual difficulties and is ethically questionable (if not outrageous). That is no way for a god to bring a son into the world.


Colin McGinn  

8 replies
  1. says:

    A timely piece of blaspheme. My Catholic grade school graduated more atheists and agnostics than Believers—-, such was so compelling the theology taught.

  2. Free Logic
    Free Logic says:

    Actually the article casts a new light on the conceptual proximity of theology and gender studies. Both are full of logical fiddlesticks & flights of fancy. What’s fatherhood? What’s manhood? etc…

  3. says:

    My favorite Christmas Eve memory. Joan Jett and the Blackhearts playing live at Universal Studios (where I used to work, don’t ask) . Hundreds of people there, anticipating some good pop music. They immediately broke into some loud Sex Pistols songs, louder than I’ve ever heard at a live rock show. How the heard scrambled to escape. Joan had a smile on her face which I won’t soon forget.


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