A fun-loving atheist (and university professor) named Eric Sprankle recently tweeted “The virgin birth story is about an all-knowing, all-powerful deity impregnating a human teen. There is no definition of consent that would include that scenario. Happy Holidays.” He continued, “The biblical god regularly punished disobedience. The power difference (deity vs mortal) and the potential for violence for saying ‘no’ negates her ‘yes.’ To put someone in this position is an unethical abuse of power at best and grossly predatory at worst.”
Anecdotal information about Sprankle indicates he may also be a satanist, or it could just be a hobby. His tweets may have meant to be puckish and stir things up. But they merit a response – particularly because many “cultural Christians” (and “cultural atheists”) are likely to read them and think “Hey – he’s got a point there!”
There are so many teachable moments it’s hard to know where to start. We’ll select just three.
#1 – Faith and Reason. Most anything can be made to look contemptible if viewed only with a narrow, cynical perspective determined to grasp soundbites to find justification for its contempt. Catholicism, on the other hand, champions the inseparable pairing Faith and Reason. Faith tells that God is all good. He is goodness itself. Our faculty of reason confirms this truth. Anyone who has turned their life over to Christ can testify that when we are living closely to Him and his Church, life goes well. As we move away from him, the going gets tough. Our experience and reason confirms for us that God is the source of goodness. Mary would have known this perfectly well – she was born and raised to be a deeply faithful child of God. She would have trusted in God’s goodness. We understand this from our human experience by considering a parent-child relationship. A small child trusts their parent perfectly because they intuitively know their parent wants only good for them. Human parents, of course, aren’t perfect (for example they often let their children attend universities with (ahem!) narrow-minded professors), but you get the gist of the analogy. So faith and reason would tell a rational person that God is all good and if he asks something of us, it will only be good for us.
#2 – Human Dignity and Free Will. It can be hard for non-believers to believe (get that?) the great amount of freedom that Christianity recognizes is given to humanity. We are actually free to say no to God (try saying no to, say, an average school board…). As Katie Yoder, from Student’s For Life, pointed out (https://www.catholicvote.org/19815-2/) another woman, Eve, was perfectly willing to exercise her option to say “no” to God (one could say she was the first “pro-choice” woman). And we see how well that worked out (for example, with a world where highly credentialed educators use one of the most beloved scenes from the bible to try to bait people of good will). We all have the opportunity to say “no” to God. He doesn’t punish us like, say, a vindictive Antifa mob – but he does allow us to suffer the consequences of our “no”.
#3 – Rejection of God. Sprankle’s tweets are a powerful, and ominous, illustration of the principle that our freedom even allows us to ultimately reject God. Many theologians have taught that the further we move from God the more heaven seems like hell, and hell like heaven. Consider Mr. Sprankle as Exhibit A. The Nativity Story is one of the most tender and beloved moments in salvation history. To Mr. Sprankle, it’s just another sign of oppression and brutality. It matters not if his tweet was meant to be mischievous – it reveals his true feelings about God. It is this type of hard heartedness (when even something like the nativity is worthy of mockery) that the theologians are speaking of, and taken to an extreme would lead a person, when faced with their final choice, to choose hell over heaven. Other examples abound – check out this from Salon (10 Ways Heaven is More Like Hell) as Exhibit B: https://www.salon.com/2015/03/23/10_ways_christian_heaven_is_more_like_hell_partner/
To be sure, only God knows who actually makes the choice to banish themselves to hell, and why they make that choice, but this is nothing to be taken lightly.
And this gets to the point of it. Some may consider Mr. Sprankle’s tweet puckish, pluckish or pithy – but the p-word that best describes the underlying mindset is “perilous.” We must pray and sacrifice for the Sprankle’s of the world that are moving so far from God that even the concept of Him has become distasteful. And we have to do our best to be points of light to help others from getting drawn into the darkness of Mr. Sprankle’s world. Christmastime is as good as any to renew that inner fervor for Christ to be born anew in heart upon heart.