The Amazing Virgin Pregnancy

People who grow up believing certain things,
even if they later stop believing them,
may not quite realize how the beliefs sound to outsiders...

(SCENE:  A small cottage in Nazareth.)

Joseph:  Mary, my dearest fiancée, there's something I've been meaning to talk to you about.

(Mary's shoulders slump.  Slowly, as if under a heavy burden, she turns around to face Joseph.)

Joseph:  You seem to be getting fat around the waistline, and throwing up in the morning, and, er, not getting any periods.  Which is odd, because it's sort of like -

Mary:  Yes!  I'm pregnant!  All right?  I'm PREGNANT!

Joseph:  How is that possible?

(Mary's shoulders slump further.)  Mary:  How do you think?

Joseph:  I don't know, that's why I'm asking you.  I mean, you're still a virgin, right?

(Mary looks up cautiously, and sees Joseph's face looking blankly puzzled.)

Joseph:  Well?

Mary:  God did it.

Joseph:  You had sex with -

Mary:  No!  Haha.  Of course not.  I mean, God just snapped his fingers and did one of those miracle things and made me pregnant.

Joseph:  God made you pregnant.

Mary:  (Starts to sweat.)  Yes.

Joseph:  Mary, that is just so... completely...

(Mary's eyes squeeze shut.)

Joseph:  ...COOL!

(Mary opens her eyes again, cautiously.)

Mary:  You think so?

Joseph:  Of course!  Who wouldn't think so?  Come on, we've got to tell everyone the news!

Mary:  Maybe we should keep this between just the two of us -

Joseph:  No, no, silly girl, this is way too important!  Come on!

(Joseph grabs Mary's wrist and drags her out of the house. SCENE:  The gathering square of Nazareth.  A dozen well-dressed men, and the town's head rabbi, look on Joseph and Mary impatiently.)

Rabbi:  What's this all about, Joseph?  I trust there's a good reason for the fuss?

Joseph:  Go ahead, Mary!  Tell them what you told me.

Mary:  Um...  (She swallows.)  God made me pregnant.

Rabbi, looking stern, yet understanding:  Now, Joseph, you know you're not supposed to do that before -

Joseph:  No, no, you don't get it!  She's still a virgin!  God made her pregnant directly!

(There's a long pause.)

Man #1:  So, what you're saying here, basically, is that Mary tells you she's a virgin.

Joseph:  Uh huh!

Man #2:  And you haven't had sex with her.

Joseph:  Uh huh!

Man #3:  And now she's pregnant.

Joseph:  Precisely!

Man #4:  So you think that God did it.

Joseph:  What other explanation could there be?

Rabbi:  Joseph, that is just so... unbelievably...

(Mary holds her breath.)

Rabbi:  NEAT!

(Mary exhales.)

Man #5:  A miracle!  A miracle right here in Nazareth!

Man #6:  Wow!  I thought that miracles only happened in Jerusalem!

Man #7:  Come on!  Let's spread the good news!

(They depart.  SCENE:  Mary is alone with her friend, Betty, in Betty's house.)

Betty:  "God did it."

Mary:  I panicked!  It was all I could think of!

Betty:  So who's the real -

(Mary lifts an eyebrow significantly.  There's a brief pause.)

Betty:  Ah.  So that's why the rabbi went along with it.

Mary:  Well, he thinks he's the father, anyway.  Why, does it matter?

Betty:  It puts some things in a different light.

Mary:  Like what? 

Betty:  The rabbi has been telling all the pretty young girls that you, Mary, are the ultimate embodiment of feminine virtue, and when they grow up, they should be just like you -

Mary:  I just feel so awful about the whole mess.  What kind of thing is this to have hanging over my child's life?

Betty:  You've got to put things in perspective, dearie.  You told one little white lie.  It's not as if you caused the fall of the Roman Empire.

Mary:  But what if the Romans hear about it?  I don't want my baby to end up being crucified!

Betty:  No one's going to obsess about it that long.  In a couple of months this whole thing will blow over.

Mary:  I hope you're right...

(Exeunt Omnes.)

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The crazier a thing you believe as a result of trusting your community, the stronger a tie to your community that shows. So when we signal loyalty via beliefs, those beliefs can get pretty crazy.

ScentOfViolets: Yes, the Greeks mistranslated "young woman" to "virgin" in the Septuagint. Standard story.

LemmusLemmus: I was never a Christian, so I don't bear the same deep abiding grudge that I do against Judaism for alienating my family from me.

But why should I be more fond of religion than of any other massively self-destructive folly?

And if you're shocked by my blaspheming the Virgin Mary, you may have some traces of reverence left that you need to get rid of. I mean seriously, think about the storyline here. Alleged virgin. Pregnant. "God did it."

The way this post got started was that I was talking to a friend recently who had been exposed to an attempted conversion by Scientology, and he was shaking his head in wonder. And then he said, "I don't understand how Scientology converts anyone, it's so ridiculous. At least the Christian religion has a powerful story. You can see how people would be converted by that."

I said to him, "I don't see that one story is any less ridiculous than the other. You're an atheist now, but you were raised as a Christian, right? You grew up being told about Christian beliefs, but not Scientologist beliefs. You may not realize how the Christian story sounds if you're not raised thinking it's normal. I mean, consider the Virgin Mary -"

Eliezer: Hindsight bias? No crazier to believe at the time than many truths.

Hey Betty, your disease was given to you by countless little flying monsters, as many as the sands in the desert, but no one can see them. And they make babies by tearing themselves in half. Most of your ancestors were like that.

People not raised deeply in religion (like, say, the Orthodox Jewish community), and who didn't have to wait 'till they were in their 20s to 'come out' as atheist, probably don't appreciate the level of militancy folk like Eliezer display.

Correct. If you were raised in a family of gentle and convenient religion, and you don't like having militant adult atheists running around, then outlaw serious religious impositions on children under 18 (study of Torah for half of each school day, fasting without food or water for 25 hours while walking a couple of miles to synagogue). Maybe then you'll see less bitterness from the adults! D'you think?

Wouldn't support such a law? Neither would I. But bear in mind: Not everyone has a childhood that makes "religion" a cute little teddy bear.

Religion is this cute voluntary thing, with no harmful side effects, that only Scrooge would attack? How strange that anyone would hold a grudge? A bizarre public belief, which everyone repeats, but which is right up there with the Virgin Mary for inherent absurdity. If just one person came to you and said such a thing, you would laugh at them...

This post did start out as just for fun. Sometimes I can feel the world trying to strip me of my sense of humor.

Just for what it's worth as a very belated reply - I was raised in a family of gentle and convenient religion, and would strongly support such a law, as well as outlawing advertisement targeted at children.

Y'know what? Children shouldn't be baptized. None of that "confirmation" nonsense. You get to decide once you're in your twenties.

There are some Christian denominations that agree with that.

Well, let's see. First, while a mere kick in the pants is not funny, there's a long and extremely respectable tradition of satire that happens to involve a kick in the pants. "The Virgin Mary is a slut, haha" wouldn't be funny.

If you're asking what the higher purpose of this post is, it's right up at the top: If you grow up believing something, or even if the people around you seem to think it's "normal", then you may not notice the inherent absurdities in it. How many people hear the story of the Virgin Mary? How many see the humor in it, even after they become atheists? This is a kind of sleep, and one of the ways you wake up is by noticing that the people around you, and even yourself, are selectively overlooking flaws that would be obvious if the beliefs were only believed by one person.

"Mere messiahs" is along the same line. The point of "Mere messiahs" is not to attack Christianity, because superhero comics have the same problem. If only a single person had walked right up to you and said, "Here's this Superman guy - I really admire him!" and no one else had ever heard of Superman before, then you might be more likely to scrutinize for flaws, and say, "Wait a minute, how does this Superman guy reveal more virtue than a police officer who isn't bulletproof?"

You have to get used to checking all these casually, socially accepted beliefs and moralities for these hidden little gotchas. The point is to wake up and start checking social beliefs for flaws, just as if you had only heard them from one person. To this end, any bit of absurdity you can find is helpful. It gets you into the habit.

Maybe it is "puerile", but it is also much more likely than the common belief.

In a relative sense, yes, but in an absolute sense, it's still more probable that the woman had a reputation for virtue, which actual virtue makes more likely. She didn't need to be a slut, the rabbi was more than sufficient, although it needen't be him, Josef himslef is even more likely. The "He think's he's the father" line was unnecessary.

Not at all; discretion, social manipulation and control should do the trick. Powerful alliances would be better as well.

Why? Well; sinful behaviour+ discretion+ political capital has a higher probability of leading to a good reputation than good behaviour and bad political standing.

Right. It's one thing to send up the inanity of the Jesus myth. But it's quite another to cast Mary as sexually liberated. Eliezer, how dare you!

An excellent little story!

Two nitpicks: The rabbi should say ‘AWESOME!’, not ‘NEAT!’. (It has appropriate religous tones, while the modern connotations fit the spirt of your text.) Also, Betty should be Mary's cousin, not just her friend. (That's the traditional Catholic position, although Luke 1:36 is not clear.)

It's interesting that everyone gets into a tizzy whenever someone looks at religion and just tells it like it is, but the same doesn't happen with any other subject. We have some strange reverence for religion that we just don't have when it comes to something like economic models. The fact that everyone is so incredibly offended by religious beliefs being criticized doesn't justify avoiding the topic; we don't need to keep our mouths shut just because someone might irrationally be offended by frank and honest commentary. I don't think that any economist is going to tell you to stop criticizing his favorite economic model just because it "offends" him, at worst he's going to tell you that you're an idiot, and maybe even explain why in detail. But for some reason we as a society afford a kind of sacred protection to religion and tell each other not to even consider criticizing religion because it might hurt someone's feelings.

On the other hand, there's an entirely practical set of reasons to not come right out with the criticism. I fully think that religions should be subject to the same level of frank discussion, analysis, and criticism as any other set of beliefs or opinions, but it may be more practical to soften the message in today's social climate. It doesn't matter whether or not what you're saying is actually offensive, what matters is avoiding the perception of vitriol if you want to get through to people who are easily offended. As it stands, posts like this just preach to the choir and piss off everyone else. Once the reader/listener has a negative emotional reaction you're not going to be able to communicate your message to them, they're just going to block it off and not even digest what you're saying.

Anyway, this post is meant to preach to the choir; the point is to show us choir members that we don't recognize the absurdity of religious myths even if we do recognize them as myths. It's supposed to show that we still treat absurd religious myths as reasonable things to believe in -- that we fall into the trap of protecting religion out of "respect" as I described above. The comments above show that it didn't work 100%. ;-)

It's interesting that everyone gets into a tizzy whenever someone looks at religion and just tells it like it is, but the same doesn't happen with any other subject.

I think you could get similar results for insisting that nations are just something people made up and should be judged on utilitarian grounds.

It's interesting that everyone gets into a tizzy whenever someone looks at religion and just tells it like it is, but the same doesn't happen with any other subject.

Larry Summers, Julian Assange, Stephen McIntyre, and Bruce Charlton might disagree, unless you redefine "religion" to mean all the things that people get into a tizzy about in preference to discussing the evidence. (As some would.)

You can add Jocelyn Elders to your list, and matters relating to sex and young people generally.

Thanks for the Charlton reference-- I'd never heard of him, but he seems somewhat sensible about depression.

Julian Assange doesn't tell it like it is, though the point in general stands.

Julian Assange doesn't tell it like it is, though the point in general stands.

Do you mean that you disagree with what he says about the value of transparency in government, or that he disagrees with what he says?

In listing those four people I did not intend to imply that the things that these people have famously said are all true, only that all of them would see themselves as telling it like it is -- that is, expressing what they judge to be true, in spite of pressures to the contrary. And they are doing so in various areas other than religion.

Nobody has a hot line to The Truth. Everyone who is not lying believes they are telling the truth, whether what they are saying is true or not.

Unsure of your point. Unless you are talking about his public statements (I will grant you that), Assange provides factual documents created by the organisation in question. These are records of corruption or abuse. This is about as 'telling it as it is' as you can get, unless you mean the semantic difference between "Assange tells it like it is" and "Assange leaks documents that record companies telling it like it is".

Well, just look at the "collateral murder" case. The official government story there was actually closer to the truth than the WikiLeaks version-- WikiLeaks provided more information, yes, but they did so in a skewed/biased way that actually acted to obscure the truth.

IIRC they released a video from an American helictoper, calling it "collateral murder". The video showed a bunch of people, some with guns, milling about in the street. The gunners misidentify the journalists' cameras as weapons. They open fire on the group, then later open fire on a van that attempts to pick up one of the badly wounded men.

The official government story was that American troops were hit by small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades, called in reinforcements and attack helicopters, and in the ensuing fight 9 insurgents and 2 journalists were killed. “There is no question that coalition forces were clearly engaged in combat operations against a hostile force,” from Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl.

Were these the official government story and the WikiLeaks version you were familiar with? Because by any reasonable definition of 'truth', the government's version is factually wrong and obscures the entire situation, whereas the WikiLeaks version is factually correct and obscures nothing, excepting its use of the word murder.

Yes.

The fact that the journalists' cameras were misidentified as weapons is a red herring, because they were still with a group of people armed with assault rifles and at least one rocket launcher, and engaging the group was justified. WikiLeaks focuses on the single (irrelevant) misidentification and also frames the engagement as "murder," neglecting to point out the weapons that the others were carrying.

In my view, the government version is not factually wrong-- nine insurgents and two journalists were killed, after all, and the other engagements mentioned were not shown in that video-- and the WikiLeaks version is. If that means I have an unreasonable definition of 'truth,' so be it, but the case seems fairly clear to me.

Eh, coming from a modern orthodox background but with "gentle and convinient" modifications here and there, that's not all fun and games too.

"Okay... so you're saying that being overly fanatic, absolutely strict in absolute observance of the Torah is a bad thing? But you're saying you believe the Torah is the absolute one true word of God, who must always be obeyed... But, rejecting this other stuff here is fanatical and over the top? uh....."

"Okay, so you're saying times were different then... so you're saying you don't believe the notion that the Torah is eternal and unchanging? er.. the question isn't if you agree with me or not, the question is if you even agree with yourself?"

(Though at the same time, they'll laugh at the joke: "The difference between a fanatic and a goy? Anyone a drop more frum than me is a fanatic, and anyone a drop less is a goy.")

Suffice it to say that in many ways my brain still feels scrambled sometimes. :) (I took the scenic route to rationality, including such things as interest in the occult, and for a while having convinced myself that the biblical flood happened..... on mars. As I said, extremely scenic route...)

Hrm.. I wonder how tied this is to procrastination... I think I ended up procrastinating fully accepting the rational consequences of, well, accepting that rationality is a Good Idea(tm). :)

Here is my ranking of religious people, in lessening order of how irritating I find them:

  • Fundies that don't try to make sense, have an inconsisten set of beliefs, which ends up boilng down to societal rules that are abhorrent to the Liberal Social Democrat Humanist. They will behead you if you meet a certain number of more-or-less reasonable criteria. They will not feel sorry about it.

  • Moderates that don't try to make sense, , have an inconsisten set of beliefs, which ends up boilng down to societal rules that are pleasant to the Liberal Social Democrat Humanist. They will not behead you, ever. They might feel guilty about not doing it.

  • Fundies that do try to make sense, have a mostly consistent and sensible set of beliefs, which is based on the literal revealed text, understood as well as possible, using the original language, with all the modern tools of hermeneutics and linguistics, who don't care about any sensibilieties, modern or traditional, only about those of their chosen Prophet(s). They will behead you if you meet a certain number of clearly established, sensible, consistent criteria that are applied at all times to everyone. They may or may not feel sorry about it, and they may or may not try to apply as much clemency as the rules allow them.

Yup. The last ones, I can tolerate best. It takes a lot of courage, and a lot of fortitude, as well as other "virtues", to be a true, honest follower of your own religion. It requires a lot of selflessness, and a lot of sacrifice. I had been trying to be one ever since I was a child. And all I found around me were people in the first and second category. There were exceptional, modern Muslim reformists like that Tarik Ramadan (of whom I still think eh is a pretty cool guy, as fundies go), who tried to give Muslims who had a mind towards modernity and competitiveness and consistency and justice an acceptable workframe to do that within Islam. But then I stumbled upon this place and found out that the thing I was striving for, consistency, is unattainable in religion.

In other words, all those people are wasting their time.

You could say I took a sort-of scenic route to rationality, by wanting to be a real Muslim, one that did everything the Qran and Muhammad would want him to do (including figuring out what exactly they'd want me to do), consistently and coherently. Islam makes it more difficult to do than Christianity and Judaism because it is almost bare, pure Theism, and until I read Relgion's Claim to be Non-Disprovable, I thought the system was still salvageable. Well, so much for all that time wasted to angst. (Now instead I waste time ranting...)

I take it Bart Ehrman followed a similar path...learning Greek in order to learn New Testament "scripture"...only to find out that nobody knows for sure what the "original" really was.

This is a common problem for all the Abrahamic scripture-based religions, whether they admit it or not (they mostly don't.) It's really, really hard -- I would say impossible -- to prove that variations or changes have not been introduced since the time of a hypothetical original text, copied from handwriting scribe to handwriting scribe. And the harder, fundamentalist versions of the Abrahamic religions always ascribe HUGE importance to the integrity and wonderfulness of the text.

to prove that variations or changes have not been introduced since the time of a hypothetical original text, copied from handwriting scribe to handwriting scribe.

And rocks. Don't forget the bit with the rocks.

It's really, really hard -- I would say impossible -- to prove that variations or changes have not been introduced since the time of a hypothetical original text, copied from handwriting scribe to handwriting scribe.

It might be hard or even borderline impossible, but I do respect people who honestly try. I know for instance, that Jehovah's Witnesses did a lot of work in cross-corelating as many different copies of the scriptures as they could get their hands on to weed out mistranslations, copy errors, etc. when developing their own translation. So for whatever it's worth, it's nice that some people at least try.

This is why some fundies interpret their scripture to say that God will magically make it such that whatever text they happen to have on hand is the right text! Example.

Logically, this is as circular as the people who interpret their scripture to say that the scripture is inerrant, but of course it's good enough for them.

And the harder, fundamentalist versions of the Abrahamic religions always ascribe HUGE importance to the integrity and wonderfulness of the text.

If one considers the LDS to be of the Abrahamic religions and to be fundamentalist then we have an answer to this being "We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly".

"We believe the Bible to be the word of God as far as it is translated correctly"

What's your position with respect to dashing babies against the rocks?

The dashing of babies against rocks is generally to be avoided. Vengeance is the Lord's and He will repay so, unless that verse is saying that whoever ended up destroying Babylon was a psychopath, it is most likely not scriptural in nature.

Perhaps you would like to ask your real question now?

Perhaps you would like to ask your real question now?

That was my real question. Although I suppose you could generalise it to "Do you even believe all the parts that sound terrible are the word of God? Or are those parts 'translated incorrectly'?"

Because God and his angels are not very nice. In fact the angels made excellent adversaries in the Supernatural series - because they based them roughly on the biblical versions not the cultural versions.

"Do you even believe all the parts that sound terrible are the word of God?

If this was the question then you chose a poor place to attack. You should have gone with something in Genesis, Exodus, Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, or Chronicles.

For instance, to answer a common objection on this site, the passover. The passover isn't something that can be brushed off as not being meant to be real as it is fundamental to the Jews and for the Christians is a sign of Christ. It also involves killing of babies.

To understand how the passover was moral it is needed to establish a few things: First, God works according to laws so while he (possibly?) could teleport people out of Egypt that would violate the agency (or free will as it is called) of everyone involved.

Second, Everyone that is under the age of 8 is not accountable for their sins.

Third, God is a utilitarian with our eternal happiness as His primary goal. Our current discomfort if it leads to our eventual modifying of our actions or desires to match what will ultimately bring us the most happiness is acceptable to Him. This can be seen in such things as the Atonement.

So God was not only attempting to get his people free but to also provide an experience that the Jews would remember through all generations. Also he was trying to convince the Egyptians that their gods were not gods.

So everyone that he killed that was younger than 8 was automatically saved. Death happens to everyone so when we die isn't terribly important to God, our eternal happiness is his goal.

So if one was a member of the group that was killed by God that was over 8 then one would have some decent evidence that the Egyptian gods were not able to provide salvation and that possibly the Jewish God could, this would hopefully cause them to convert to following God. If one was an Egyptian that was not killed by God but saw that all the first born were killed then this would provide strong evidence that the Egyptian gods were not gods and that the Jewish one was, so when one died one would be more willing to accept God. If one was Jewish then one would have strong evidence that God was indeed God and hopefully be less likely to stop following God.

Hopefully you can see how from Gods perspective the passover was overall a worthwhile investment. The Jews commemorate the event to this day so they clearly haven't forgotten, which was one of the goals of God.

There may be more to the calculus of the passover from Gods perspective, not being God I can't say I have covered everything. If one wishes to know more then one is always free to ask God about the subject.

If this was the question then you chose a poor place to attack.

No, my original question was my question and made for the sake of personal interest and amusement.

Second, Everyone that is under the age of 8 is not accountable for their sins.

I know, that's why I make sure to kill everyone I meet at the age of seven years and six months. It's to save their eternal souls! Bite those bullets!

Agreed that consistency is very important. However, I think that your #3ers, even though they correctly push their system very hard, are actually behaving in a very irrational way.

Being willing to let inconsistencies slide (as the #1ers and #2ers do) violates the important rationalist rule of noticing when you are (or ought to be) confused. However, it's a much less dangerous response than chasing down confusion but refusing to let the results adjust your moment-to-moment world model! In other words, #3ers are only doing the first half of a scientific or mathematical process, which eliminates most of the benefit, but still is enough to give them a false sense of confidence in their own assertions.

The "fuzzy" thinkers, #1 and #2, are just sitting back and letting society guide them along the path of least resistance, often acknowledging (particularly in the case of #2ers) that they have only minimal confidence in their own knowledge. That's not particularly rational, but it at least isn't actively pushing things in a bad direction.

I guess to put it another way: not all changes make things worse, but anything that makes things worse must be a change. The volume of choice-space that makes the world a crappier place is much smaller than the volume that makes things better. Because of that, overconfidence can be much worse than underconfidence, though both are bad.

Formatting note: You're missing a space between the asterisk at the beginning of a paragraph, and the letter following it.

Frankly, I expected to be downvoted to hell for this... Why did the opposite happen I wonder?

Alternate hypothesis (of which I am a single data point): People think it was a well-written, interesting comment, despite disagreeing with its conclusion on several points.

Sometimes puerile humor serves a purpose. Some people, apparently, still need to be shocked out of their deference for tradition.

Eliezer, The claim isn't that you should not hate religion. The claim is that sociologically, this post is a bit like giving the Hated Enemy a kick in the pants. The point in it is fairly obvious (though, as people point out with the chronology, possibly historically false). People who already want to laugh at religion get to go "har-har", and people who for whatever reason want to not laugh at religion get to feel alienated from whatever it is you're up to here.

It is one of those posts that makes me wonder more acutely what you are up to here. Some months ago I found your writings on the singularity, seriously considered giving the SIAI money, and instead spent a great chunk of time trying to launch a disaster-averting effort of my own. I am still devoting most of my divert-able time toward launching that project because I still think (partly on the basis of your arguments) that reducing existential risks is the most important thing most of us can accomplish. Do you? Is this blog a way to recharge so you can return to the work at hand? Are posts like this somehow part of the research you are doing on Friendliness? Is explaining to people how Christianity could look foolish (via posts like this, which aren't even especially well done or anything) a separate good as worthy of your time as whatever work it displaces? Am I missing a possibility here?

The books composing the New Testament were written many years after the events they describe, so the whole "virgin birth" story may have been made up long after Joseph and Mary were no longer around to contradict it.

"There's a lot of confusion here."

Yes, and I'd say the biggest confusion is construing Mary's promiscuity as an accidental, gratuitous part of the joke. The whole point of the joke is that such promiscuity would be the first, most natural inference to draw were a self-proclaimed virgin to tell us that she'd been made pregnant by God.

a god that can create an entire universe in seven days just to lavish attention and affection upon the peoples of a certain small globe certainly wouldn't cavil at revealing his existence to a heretical farmer through golden plates that require a magical gem to translate

Fixed that for you.

Surely, the repentant Xenu - who ordered the genocide of countless billions of intelligent beings - could, if he chose, decide to reveal the true nature of their sufferings to the denizens of the planet Earth through the writings of a science-fiction author of questionable talent. And clearly the unbelievable nature of his claims only lend them greater authority, because who would ever make up something so ridiculous in an effort to get people to believe?

Eliezer, I'd like to refer you to your post on awful political art. What purpose does the above sketch serve? Is this is a new argument why the orthodox religious christological position is invalid? Are you expressing a newly adopted belief? Do you believe that your readership hasn't considered the possibility that the virgin birth might have been a sham? Or are you just slugging The Enemy good and hard and laughing about it? How is this different than an atheist adaptation of a hymn? It introduces no new information and serves only to delineate the boundaries of your belief group (is it Blue, Eliezer, or Green?) and the scorn that you bear for those who do cheer for your side.

Check of proof: would this have any value AT ALL if "Joseph" and "Mary" were swapped out for "Mike" and "Helen" and "Rabbi" were changed to "Mayor Wilkins" and "God" to "Elvis"?

Go ahead, paste into Word and replace the names. If you so much as chuckle, you are easily amused indeed. Awful Political Art. For Shame, Eliezer.

Am I the first to laugh at Eliezer's scenario?

It's very simple: Mary was much more likely to be a liar than a virgin mother. This is true even if you assume that there are virgin mothers who are their own granny.

And the point is even simpler: don't ignore the outlandishness of a claim just because everyone believes it.

(But I would also not advise you to judge a claim according to an unbeliever's caricature. Make sure it's not a strawman.)

I want to expand on Robin's comment. Some have hypothesized that promoting crazy beliefs helps a ruling coalition keep hold of power because the coalition's repressive efforts can be concentrated on the fraction of the population that shows signs of not believing the crazy beliefs. In other words, they can stay in power by cracking down on those who won't get with the program.

Why not believe you'll go to heaven regardless, and trump mere FAI and mere cryonics combined, so long as you're believing things you want to believe?

Because then I won't get to go to Dresden Codak's Secular Heaven. It's a Catch-22.

Jey, I think the dichotomy between religious and other beliefs (in how much offence disagreement causes) isn't so stark as it's sometimes painted. Random example: US politics; how would a staunch Reaganite Republican react to the suggestion that Reagan's policies were all deliberately designed simply to funnel money to his big-business pals? For that matter, how do biologists generally react when creationists accuse them (in effect) of a gigantic conspiracy to suppress the truth? I think there's at least some offence taken in both cases, and those accusations (rather than mere disagreement) seem to me to be parallel to Eliezer's story.

Caledonian, we should respect people who have daft beliefs for the same reason(s) as we respect other people for. Someone who views people as mere repositories of beliefs, and doles out respect solely on that basis, should not respect people w