For Unto Us A Child Is Born by Judith Hayes (December 1995)

Many of us, believers as well as nonbelievers, tend to get so caught up in the ideological details of the religions we’re bickering about, that we often overlook the actual, physical premises of those very religions. I’m thinking of Christianity in particular, partly because it is the religion I’m most familiar with, and partly because Newt Gingrich is determined that your children and grandchildren shall be indoctrinated with this religion on a daily basis as they toddle off to public school to learn to read and write. (This does seem to be putting the unconstitutional cart before the horse, since most high school graduates can’t even spellChristianity.)

In any event, the nitty-gritty of the Christian narrative is too often glossed over as True Believers focus instead on the rapturous concept of eternal salvation. The Babe-In-The-Manger scene, for example, brings lumps to the throats of millions. And “Away In A Manger” is melodically one of the prettiest carols ever written. But before you can have a Babe-In-The-Manger, you first must have a Babe.

The Bible goes to incredible lengths to assure us that Mary’s pregnancy was the result of some magical joining with the “Holy Ghost,” one-third of the so-called Triune God. In this way her conception is removed from any possible taint of carnal knowledge. Mary supposedly gave birth while still a virgin.

This same Bible, however, does not go to such lengths in describing just how the heavenly “babe” was born. In a stable, they say, but no other details are provided. We must assume, therefore, in the absence of biblical evidence to the contrary, that a normal, human childbirth took place in that stable. One would hope that Mary was spared a long labor and a breech birth. But how could there possibly have been warm water available in that stable for cleansing? The lack of such water presents us with a most unattractive picture.

Christian artwork is resplendent with portraits displaying Jesus being held against Mary’s breast. Halos abound and Mary smiles down beatifically at the holy babe at her breast. The imagery is unmistakable. Supposedly we are to infer something other-worldly about the straightforward process of lactation. Why? Perhaps Mary had chafing problems or suffered periods of insufficient milk production. These are very real, very common, very human problems. If Mary nursed Jesus, she would have been subject to the same universal nursing problems that all women have been subject to since the dawn of history.

Likewise, if Jesus was at one time a real baby, he had to have had his diapers changed regularly. Did he ever suffer from diaper rash? Did he ever have colic? Was he difficult to toilet train? Did he cry while he was teething?

When anyone tries to ask these questions about what Christians insist was a natural, mother-child relationship between Mary and Jesus, Christians balk. Such questions seem totally inappropriate when directed at a supposedly omnipotent god. But in balking, Christians are trying to have it both ways. They insist that Jesus underwent the total human experience, in addition to being a god. But then they turn around and deny that Jesus ever experienced most human conditions. This doesn’t work. They want it both ways, but they may not have it both ways.

True Believers often point out that since Jesus was the supposed “Son Of God,” none of these human, physical idiosyncrasies ever applied to him. If that’s true, Jesus could not be said to be human. And why did Mary have to go through a human, physical pregnancy? Why didn’t Jesus just descend, full-grown, from a cloud or something? It seems that Christians can’t quite make up their minds about Jesus’ supposed true nature. Their indecisiveness in this matter, however, does not prevent us from asking incisive questions. He is their god and they must explain him. The burden of proof is theirs.

So, the questions, rightly, must continue. When Jesus was a baby and learning to walk, did he stumble and fall like all other human babies? Did he ever scratch an itch? Or sneeze? Or have indigestion? Or have a head cold? Did he have any adolescent acne? Did he urinate and defecate like all other males? Did he have to comb his hair? Did he ever have a toothache? Did he dream while he slept? Did he snore? Did he ever feel sexual arousal? Did he ever have a belly laugh over a good joke?

Obviously the questions could go on almost indefinitely. And these questions make Jesus seem less and less god-like, and more and more human, which is why Christians shy away from considering them. But if they insist on Jesus’ full humanity as well as his god-status, they must grapple with such issues as dandruff, athlete’s foot and hay fever. If this thought brings a smile to your lips, ask yourself why. What is funny about mundane human conditions?

The humor in the situation lies in the image of an eternal, all-powerful god scratching at a mosquito bite. It just doesn’t work. It is difficult enough for many of us to imagine the concept of a god of any kind, even one that is ephemeral, unknowable, and floating in space somewhere. But this being known as Jesus, plodding around ancient Palestine in his sandals, simply cannot be considered to have been simultaneously an eternally perfect god-being. It just doesn’t fly, no matter how many halos you paint into your artists’ renditions of that being.

By definition, a god is not a man and vice-versa. If Christians want to revere Jesus as a great teacher among humans, fine. If they want to consider him as a god, they are certainly free to do so. But I cannot now, nor will I ever, understand how an intelligent, logically-minded adult can reconcile heavenly holiness with a hangnail.

Judith Hayes is a freelance writer who lives in California with her husband. She has completed her first book, based on previous columns, which will be published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc. Any mail sent to her c/o Freethought Today will be forwarded.

Freedom From Religion Foundation