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Did the Immaculate Conception Really Happen?
Joseph Was Not the Biological Father of Jesus
The story of the conception and birth of Jesus Christ today would make a factual summary of an exceptional family law case that might make news around the world. "Woman Claims to be Pregnant with God's Baby," might be headlines in a sensational tabloid.
But in serious religious circles this possibility is regarded as both mystery and legend. The gospels do tell of the virgin birth of Jesus. Not just one, but all four gospels concur. It is well proven that these gospels were written, perhaps not by men of the names Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but by some people within about fifty to one hundred years of Jesus' death. What is not proven, however, is the important stuff: the miracles of Jesus.
If those miracles could be proven as fact, all else would fall into place including the immaculate conception of Jesus by his mother Mary. If Jesus resurrected Lazarus, if Jesus came back to life after his execution, if Jesus turned a few loaves of bread and fishes into feasts for thousands of people, walked on water, read people's minds, predicted exact future events and so on, then immaculate conception would be nothing special by comparison.
The gospels, the letters of Saint Paul and the other disciples, the stories of more miracles after Jesus' death, the apocalypse of Saint John, and the Acts of the Apostles about Saint Paul's travels all comprise the New Testament which is based on Jesus' teachings. To this day, hardly anyone can deny the greatness of the moral philosophies expressed in these writings containing great words to live by. But what of the medical impossibility of an immaculate conception?
The gospels tell us that Mary was a virgin planning to marry Joseph, but dreamed of, or encountered an "angel." After that, she was pregnant. To a skeptic, it sounds like that angel might have been the father. Joseph himself decided to break his engagement when his fiancee was pregnant, until he too saw an "angel" in a dream, telling him that Mary's baby was the Son of God.
If someone believes simply that there is a God to whom he or she can pray, and who will understand and lend assistance, then this itself is so powerful that it supersedes any detail like immaculate conception.
In America we are so used to freedom that we think nothing of saying whether or not we believe in immaculate conception. But in other countries people can be executed for deviating from doctrinaire beliefs. In the Dark Ages someone might be afraid to say outright that he or she didn't believe in the immaculate conception. Despite our freedom, probably no one believes in every detail of every one of the world's many religions, or even in his or her own religion.
Although the immaculate conception is fundamental to Christian teaching, everyone has the right to choose what to believe in. An atheist can be an excellent person who exemplifies Christian values without believing in the immaculate conception. If a Christian's believing he or she is superior to an atheist is arrogant, then how absurd for a religious person to act superior to another one just because of belief or disbelief in immaculate conception.
The key to resolving the issue of the immaculate conception is to differentiate between an individual and his or her church. People raised in a religion teaching immaculate conception have the right, upon reaching adulthood, to believe or not to believe.
Everyone, whether atheist or believer, is free to decide whether to believe in details taught by organized religions. An individual does not have to adhere to everything. It seems logical to assume that Americans pick and choose what's best for them, same as people in the Dark Ages, except back then they were afraid to tell.
Major religious organizations do a lot of good but tend to be too doctrine-oriented. People are capable of discovering or not discovering God in their own individual ways. It's best to have the greatest respect for those who believe in the immaculate conception. Many people, especially women it seems, have staked their lives on a belief in Mary, have prayed to her, and firmly believe in the immaculate conception.
If God exists and can answer our prayers, God can make anything possible, including immaculate conception. Conception pertains to sex. Some organized religions are in the news for things like sexual abuse and birth control. This really is a far cry from an innocent virgin Mary bearing the Son of God.
Almost nothing written in the Bible can be proven. Faith is what religion is about. It involves believing the unseen. If anyone chooses to believe in the immaculate conception, freedom of religion guarantees that right. There's no law against it. But a doctor might say immaculate conception is impossible, although there are religious doctors. They are like any churchgoers, some of whom believe it and some don't.
It would be tactless to tell a known believer that you don't believe in immaculate conception. You might hurt the person's feelings unless they were liberal and tolerant.
In the gospels a great and ideal story is told. The part about the immaculate conception is in keeping with the theme of Jesus as the ideal human sent by God to teach us how to behave in our lives, especially in dealing with relationships.
No one can talk another person into believing anything about religion. It has to be a free choice. Because organized religion wants more people to join, there's a tendency to build a club-like environment based on a series of beliefs such as immaculate conception. A feeling of belonging and comfort comes when we think others believe as we do. Mutual respect for beliefs or any disbelief is more important than specific belief in the immaculate conception. In a world of so many religious teachings, it's now mandatory to respect everyone as long as they aren't breaking the law.
Religion and the Supernatural
It seems most religions have stories about miracles and other supernatural things that really are beyond the powers of human beings. Those in contact with God are said to have uncanny abilities by placing themselves within the influence of a great power. Sometimes the miracle is something that normally would not occur, but other times it's a natural thing that comes just at the right time, such as rain when it's really needed.
There have been inexplicable occurrences that mystify doctors, such as a miraculous recovery from a hopeless terminal illness. But this could be explained by factors as yet unknown to medicine.
But miracles in the Bible have been both kind and vicious. The Egyptian soldiers were ordered to march forward through the bed of the Red Sea, after Moses prayed and God split the sea apart. But then, the walls of water rushed back together and drowned the soldiers. On the other hand, women of advanced age in the Bible more than once prayed for a child and, miraculously, a healthy child was born to them in old age. To get around some difficult technicalities, the law today has a rule that applies in some situations involving older women, called the Doctrine of the Fertile Octogenarian (over 80).
In fact the entire Bible is a collection of stories of people who have incredible good luck, or outright miracles, after praying to God, putting their faith in God to resolve difficult situations. This is why many readers of the Bible assume it's meant to be a symbolic or allegorical collection of stories meant to teach a lesson, rather than an historical account of proven events. No miracle has been proven scientifically where it involves the supernatural. But the universe is so great that it would be foolish of mankind to assume everything is known at present.
With freedom of religion, each person is free to pick and choose which miracles to believe and which to disbelieve. The key to cooperation is the respect the differences in opinion and faith.