Atheist Phil Plait famously told fellow atheists…

Published January 26, 2021

“Don’t be a dick.”

He was, unsurprisingly, attacked by Dicks for Atheism, but he was right.

Relatedly, Feminists Without Religion have done their best to prove that those who lack the anatomical equipment can still act in defiance of Plait’s warning and make giant spectacles of themselves in the process.

To wit: Science is unable to measure the galactic levels of Stupid in this failed attempt at edgy cleverdumb.

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See: here’s the thing: If there is anything the biblical record makes clear, it is that the Incarnation absolutely hinged on Mary’s consent. “Be it unto me according to your word” is the archetypal act of consent. Christians have literally spent two thousand years reflecting on the fact that Mary’s choice is at the center of the drama. No “Fiat!”, no Incarnation. Mary freely gives herself. This is, like, Marian Theology 101.

Is she chosen by God from all eternity? Of course! But Christianity is not Islam. She is not deprived of her power to consent by the raw, overwhelming power of God. Rather, as Paul says, “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” In Christian understanding, God is the ground of her power to consent–and, by the way, of ours. The cry of the human heart–including the feminist without religion’s heart–for the dignity of the human power to choose is exemplified, not denied, by Mary’s completely free “Yes!” to God.

Atheists: stop privileging nose-pulling over accuracy. If you want to insult Christians, at least have the class to know what they believe. When you lazily take stupid, ignorant cheap shots, it just makes you look like stupid, ignorant jerks. Especially when, for extra bonus jerkishness, the person who made this used the artist’s work without consent.

54 Responses

  1. So if Mary had decided she couldnt/wouldnt consent, was there another immaculately conceived virgin available as a backup?

      1. Well, you DO say “No “Fiat!”, no Incarnation. ” so you are somewhat assuming that God’s plan depended on Mary’s “consent” so you do have some idea of what might have happened.

      2. rzinsius,

        >>so you do have some idea of what might have happened.<<

        Mark is right, we are not told what might have happened. But I offer you this as imagination, not doctrine.

        The result would have been absolutely horrible.

        But is this result special? Humanity is already fallen from grace and we all already face aging, pain, and death.

        God loves us but does not need us. In contrast, we need God, and God's love and grace. Thus, Mary's obedience to God is the special story.

        So it is that we honor Mary's choice, and Mary is indeed crowned queen of heaven and earth. "Blessed art thou among women." Mary is also known as the queen of angels, the commanding officer of St. Michael himself. I posted a prayer alluding to this a while back on this blog.

  2. I don’t dispute what Christians believe, but is that interpretation evident from a plain reading of the text? Because I don’t recall any of this being posed as a question. Also, there is the fact that Mary didn’t volunteer for the role; she was selected. Saying “I’ll do as you say” after being told what to do, doesn’t exactly spell out “consent”, especially if the orders are coming from God.

    Just to be clear, I don’t have a dog in this fight; this is not something that I hang my hat on. However, you’re not really making your case as strong as you think. You have to take into account that attitudes towards what actually constitutes freely given consent has shifted considerably in the intervening millennia, especially when power dynamics are involved.

    It would be like a temp worker assenting to the sexual advances of the CEO of the company; it might not be outright illegal, but at the very least, its ethically dubious.

    And sure, with God you can say that he knew Mary would be okay with everything so its not the same, but its not a good model for ordinary men to follow.

    1. Youre right. It wasn’t consent. it was, more accurately obedience. Its poorly framed as consent to try to appeal to feminists

      1. In German one can make a distinction between ”Unterwürfigkeit” and ”freies Gehorsams”, between submission and the obedience of the free. It’s a poor translation, but it does shed some light on how one can see obedience as an act that does not diminish one’s freedom. On the contrary, it is, in its proper non-abusive form, the halmark of the free, of those who unterstand that without voluntary obedience, there is neither duty nor responsibility. Before you know it, you find yourself in the Capitol, dressed as a bison, yelling ”freedom”. That ”freedom” is just the mewling of an infant.

      2. @Sowut:

        I pretty sure “feminism” wasn’t even a thing at the time the RCC was encoding its doctrines relating to Mary, the Annunciation and whether or not she agreed to the whole affair. I think part of the disconnect is that we now think of these things in more broader terms.

        Still, as joel pointed out, the whole notion of consent wasn’t even a consideration when it came to affairs between humans and gods, so in a sense, even if you think she had a diminished or no real say in the matter, it is extraordinary that she said anything at all.

        In any case, while it might be unfair (and unhelpful) to say or imply that God was involved in outright rape, it bears keeping in mind that it doesn’t have to go that far to fall under #MeToo, which is really not so much about God as it is about just men in general.

      3. 3vil5triker
        I’ve always understood consent to mean that whatever you choose is fine. You can give consent or not, all options equally legit as choosing coffee or tea or nothing. But if youre a kid and your parents tell you to clean your room and you obey them you didn’t really give consent ie you didn’t choose between two or more equally legit options.

    2. Many religions and mythologies envision children fathered on humans by gods. None of them, to my knowledge, pay much attention to the question of consent, I suppose because one might as well ask whether Sally Hemings consented to her relationship with Thomas Jefferson.

  3. That’s beautiful Artevelde and true. Thanks. Taking care of a new infant can be seen by an outsider as a form of round-the-clock slavery, but love makes that servitude an honor and a joy. Parents can feel a kind of awe for the blessing they have received, even if the commitment is hair raising to an onlooker. There is something utterly divine about a new infant. My husband used to remark with awe: “even his/her breath smells like God!”

    I’ve been thinking all day about “don’t be a d*ck”. Bishop Barron’s words this morning in his gospel reflection ring true:

    “When, through faith, we see every moment and every creature as ingredient in the divine plan, we live in joyful surrender and with a sense of wonder. What is God doing for me now? What path is opening up to me? Why did God send that person, that trial, that pleasure to me just now?”

    We could all use an extra dose of grace to regain some lost serendipity. Part of the national tragedy of our former president was the kind of cynicism it brought on whether you were cheering for a d*ck or lamenting being subjected to one. It was hard to feel a sense of wonder in those times. He wouldn’t shut up and leave us alone. Who can relax when there is a bull in the china shop?

    I would have been a feminist long before I became one if it hadn’t been for the bitter rudeness of the d*cks.

    1. @Mark Shea:

      I wasn’t aware of her book either and I frequent her blog; by her own admission she’s not very good at self-promotion. 😁

      Anyhow, the shared usage of the word “stumbling” made me wonder if there was a bit of Catholic trivia behind it, and I figured that if anyone would know, it would be you.

  4. Thanks for posting this. I’d never heard of Phil Plait, and though I haven’t finished watching the vid, he’s clearly a stand-up guy.

    As for Mary’s consent, you could say it involves a bit of an asymmetrical power dynamic.

      1. Mary considers herself “the slave of the Lord” so of course she assents, but the point is, given the power dynamics involved, who wouldn’t? If an angel whooshed through my window to inform me the power of the Most High was going to overshadow me to conceive the Son of God, I’d consider myself outranked and be like, “Yikes, whatever you say.” Which is pretty much what Luke has Mary say. Who’s going to quibble with the Most High in that situation?

  5. And Mary said, “Behold, I am the slave of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

    The Greek is often translated as “handmaiden.”

    1. Paul says our bodies belong to God, and if I were a Christian I’d accept that. But then the notion of consent is problematic.

      Also, let this cup pass from me, but OK, your will be done, not mine. Same problem.

  6. No place else to post it, and I’ll probably get accused of something or other for doing it, but here goes. Nothing really has changed, has it?

    VATICAN

    Bishop cleared of sex abuse

    The Vatican has cleared a retired U.S. bishop of allegations he sexually abused minors and teenagers, rejecting lay experts’ determination that a half-dozen claims were credible and instead slapping him on the wrist for what it called “flagrant” imprudent behavior. The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith exonerated retired Cheyenne, Wyo., Bishop Joseph Hart of seven accusations of abuse and determined that five others couldn’t be proven.

    Flagrant imprudent behavior? WTF?

    1. There were 27 accusations against Pell, –many more than Hart. One by one the credibility of the accusers fell apart. I think Pell was probably innocent. Hart seems possibly guilty. I don’t know. We will never know on this earth, but that’s why we don’t indulge in “guilty by popular consensus.”

      No, I’m not trying to say that those guilty of covering up abuse didn’t fail miserably.

      My older sons went on a lot of overnight excursions with priests and lay celibate men. They really loved those trips and benefitted spiritually. Everything changed in the last 15 years. It’s a shame that the perverts ruined it for everyone else. My younger sons will never experience the great time their brothers has. I can see why they don’t risk it anymore though. Any random guy could come forward later and say, “I went on an overnight camping trip with Fr. So-and-so”, and the priest would automatically be considered guilty.

      On a service trip to Tijuana, (with priests and laymen in charge) my oldest kid snuck away with two other boys and bought brass knuckles, explosives, cuban cigars and tequila.

      When I reported this to one of the guys in charge he was deeply stricken. At that point I was able to laugh about it, but he didn’t. I’ll never forget what he said in exasperation. He put his face in his hands and said, “it’s always the kids from the big families.”

      1. Pell wasn’t found “guilty by consensus” but by a jury’s unanimous verdict at his second trial.

        https://www{.}reuters{.}com/article/us-australia-abuse-pell/ex-vatican-treasurer-cardinal-pell-acquitted-of-sex-offences-leaves-jail-idUSKBN21P00L

      2. @taco

        I don’t know really any more quite what to say about this. The whole pell thing is a good case in point. The royal commission concluded that perhaps Pell did not participate, the juries said otherwise. but he was certainly aware that it was going on. They said that that was without a doubt.

        What p.o’d me so much about this story was my last line of my post. Flagrant Imprudent behavior.

        It is as difficult for me to fathom someone knowing about the sexual abuse of children and doing nothing about it as it is for me to understand sexual abusers abusing children. As a gay man, I am especially on guard regarding false accusations, seeing as some people have made a very nice living doing that to gay men for some decades and centuries.

      3. @ raco

        Well, today, the Spanish Jesuits decided to add more soaking wet wood to the fire.. In a report issue today, they admitted that there has been a teensy problem over the last hundred years, but they were sure it’s now under control.

        The order, more commonly known as the Jesuits, held a press conference last week to mark the release of their first “safe environment” report (PDF, in Spanish). In addition to expert consultations to help identify areas for improvement, the project involved two years of research into the order’s history of sexual abuse within Spain: an effort to reckon with the scope of past abuses in order to prevent future ones.

        Their research confirmed that 96 abusive priests within the Jesuit order amassed more than 100 victims since 1927, a far greater number than originally estimated based on public disclosures. Nearly 70% of those victims were children at the time when the attacks took place.

        The most astonishing thing about the report, next to the very low numbers, is that it only took them 96 years to get around to addressing a problem that has been rocking their world for a few decades. I understand– two jesuits, three opinions.

        BUT…

  7. I’m astounded by the fervent faith of atheists that Mary was abused by God.

    What I think it all boils down to is the fallen human desire to reign supreme in an autonomous state. It is *the* original sin.

    The name “Michael” literally means, “Who is like God?!” Which is what he uttered when his counterpart claimed autonomy and refused to serve.

    Mary’s joyful “fiat” and “serviam” are the opposite of Satan’s bitter refusal.

    In both cases neither experienced the beatific vision. Had they seen “the face” of God:

    a. they wouldn’t have been able to endure it
    b. they wouldn’t have been capable of free will

    The angels that chose freely to serve were able to see God. The rest couldn’t and have never seen the one they continue to reject.

      1. “It’s like Christians think we aren’t God’s equals or something!” – In the story, Mary and God are *not* equals. We have here the greatest possible power imbalance in a relationship.
        Did Sally Hemings actually love Thomas Jefferson? It’s possible. But the context of their relationship was that he could take her by force any time he wanted without consequence, so asking that question is kind of obnoxious.

      2. Precisely the mistake here is to conceive the relationship between God and his creatures as a “Power Imbalance”, as though they are in competition such that the freedom of the latter is diminished by the power of the former. The saint does not relate to God in that way. Until you grasp that Mary is speaking the language of love, not of power and competition, you are talking like somebody who think the essence of poetry is black marks on white paper.

      3. It’s also worth noting that Mary, like Sally Hemings, was likely in her early teens when this happened. Tell me again how lovely this was?

      4. You need to make up your mind about whether you are going with “There is no God and the Virgin Birth never happened” or “The Virgin Birth happened and was evil, despite Mary singing the Magniifcat to celebrate it and her soul magnifying the Lord in exultation over it.” I’ll wait here till you decide. If you care this much about consent, you might trying Believing Women when they say “My spirit rejoices in God my savior”.

      5. * sigh * I don’t feel like prefacing every single one of my comments with “in the story”, as I did above. The people who wrote the Marian story had exactly the sexual ethics one would expect of their era, one in which the law said that a man could be penalized for rape by marrying the victim and paying a fine to her parents. It’s pure oversight that the OT writers didn’t include a celebratory psalm written by one of those brides.
        And with that I’m going to leave this discussion behind. I imagine you’re getting as tired of it as I am.

    1. Here at least
      We shall be free; th’Almighty hath not built
      Her for his envy, will not drive us hence:
      Here we may reign secure, and in my choice
      To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:
      Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n.

      1. Hahahahahahaha
        Welcome to my world. Thank you. Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side! So much truthiness.

  8. Joel, your power balance dynamic argument continues to amaze me. Really, I’m not trying to make fun. It’s all hard to wrap my head around, but from my side of things, –that God became so little and defenseless, and swallowed human milk at a human breast. Unfathomable.

    @Neko & Ben
    That’s why we have courts and lawyers and juries instead of lynch mobs. As a Catholic I sometimes grind my teeth over miscarriages of justice. (Remember OJ in his Ford Bronco?) but at least I can find solace that there is justice in the next life for all kinds of victims if and when the system fails. The bottom line is that none of us know if these men are guilty in the way we think they might be. Also, when it comes to Pell, it’s pretty interesting that he was the top money guy. The mafiosos who were/are running all kinds of scams could have threatened him, and he refused to play ball. Do you remember reading in the news about a billion dollars that had been transferred to Australia from the Vatican that Pell wasn’t aware of? There are some high stakes shenanigans going on. Or or in other words, business as usual. I hope they don’t take Francis out.

    Ben, I’m not making light of the cover up, and think every prelate that covered up abuse to shield the reputation of the church should do time for it. I’ve had this conversation with you and Neko before. I think some of these guys really, truly and honestly thought they could send the creeps to the funny farm and fix them. They were(are!) used to sitting in the confession and listening to people confess non. stop. abuse. that is what sin *is*. I’d give those guys–the “God’s love will heal them” types– a lighter sentence for their ridiculous ignorance/optimism and throw the book at the old creeps that acted like Casa Nostra by browbeating the victims and their parents into submission. I’ve wondered if Benedict stepped down in solidarity with his brother priests who took the blame, because he recognized his own failure. I don’t know. Given the scandal and all of the egregious mistakes, I’m inclined to think that every judge and jury would err on the side of the heavy hand of justice.

    Ben, I’m truly sorry for the pain gay men have had to endure. I used to be brainwashed about the role of gays in the scandal, and don’t have that bias any longer. By the same token, I would never broadbrush the goodness of most priests with the evil of the few.

    Frankly, I’m relieved that the ones that really needed it have been humbled. They were a scourge upon the whole Church.

    1. Thank you for this. I’m going to presume to speak for Ben and point out we don’t have the solace of cosmic justice at the end of life and of history. We can only press for justice in our time for those in the here and now and for those who comes after us.

      1. @ neko.

        It’s fine to speak for me. I agree 100%. I think justice in this life is what is required. God can manage it in the afterlife without any assistance from me

    2. @ taco

      As always, when you write, you write on the side of justice and compassion. sometimes I use the term “good Christian“ as a sarcasm. In your case, I use it as the highest praise imaginable.

      The nuances in this subject that you note are what are very hard for many people to understand. The big problem is confusing Christian notions of sin With understanding of human behavior. Rather than understanding the root causes of some peoples behavior, problems are viewed as “Temptations“ and “giving into sin“ that will be fixed with “confession“ and “repentance.” This is a problem for both the sinners and the enablers. As I have written before on these very pages, I think a lot of men enter the priesthood without ever confronting their sexual issues, feeling that the priesthood and the celibacy requirement will fix their problems. Unfortunately, when they enter the seminary, they are joining a lot of other man in a similar situation: people who have never confronted their sexual issues. I knew two men who had entered the seminary in order to escape their sexuality, one in the 70s, and one in the 90s. In both cases, they found far more sex going on inside the seminary than they ever experienced outside of it. Both left— first the seminary, then the church, then finally, religious belief entirely.

      I agree with you. I try to avoid the broad brush of “all religion is evil” and “all priests or ministers are (fill in the blanks).” In my working days, I met a lot of priests, and I am sure that most of them are very good men doing the very best that they can to make other peoples lives better. I also met more than just a few total as wholes. There was a priest who was the pastor at a prominent church in San Francisco. He treated everybody like dirt, especially photographers, probably because of the bad behavior of just a few of them. A few years ago, I visited my friend who lives in an upscale retirement community in the city. We were having dinner in the dining room when this guy entered in, loudly demanded this and that and the other, and made sure that the serving staff knew he would not be pleased with anything they did. (For the record, the staff there are really nice to everyone). I asked my friend who he was, and she said that it was Father X. The very same guy. I saw him a few more times, and he was always the same.

      Here he was, living at the expense of a prominent Catholic San Francisco politician and one of the best places to be in, and he couldn’t find it in his heart even to be polite to other people. She told me that he had no friends in their community, and that when he died, both residents and staff said something like, “good riddance”. to me, That was just sad.

      1. Ben, Oh. My. Gosh. All I can say is that I feel your pain exquisitely.

        I have been abused psychologically in the confessional, I have been abused by the narcissists. If I even think about it too much it will ruin my evening.

        The good ones have been there for me. A lifeline. No words. Just gratitude.

        So many people lie to themselves. Ones that rely on the god-cloak scare me more than any of them. I have to admit that some of the strangest priest-characters I’ve met, were here in NorCal. I thank God that I didn’t encounter them when I was younger and more vulnerable. Late vocations and strange men with issues…

        I talk to my kids bluntly. My Mom was a good, dutiful housewife that always looked lovely, had a lovely life, bought me Catholic books and sent me to Catholic school. I noticed that she *didn’t* go to confession. I’m not going to accuse her of anything, but I’ll say that examining the conscience is better than not, even with weirdos that are weird and the bored that are reading the paper and punching the clock. I still marvel about the unsung heroes that listened carefully and answered with steel-trap minds–just there every Tuesday at Saint Sebastian Church –my kids crawling all over me and sometimes screaming in their ears–with zero expectation for payment. They encouraged me so much. They probably saved my marriage too.

  9. @Sowut – as Mark says, the mistake here is to view God-Man as a power relationship – it is a love relationship. It is true that all power comes from God, even my power to consent. If – in your illustration – I as a father ask my son to give me a hug, his consent is that he loves me.

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