I bought a copy of atheist Christopher Hitchens’ book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. I always buy these books from used bookstores, mainly because I refuse to have any of my money go to support the atheists. In this particular used copy, the person who had it before me made some notes on a slip of paper and left it in the book. One of the notes says “p. 23 Cites 11 virgin births from various mythic histories, including an Aztec case.”
To summarize, Hitchens completely misses the facts on almost all of his points and may have plagiarized the entire passage. Even if his facts were correct, which they are not, he is guilty of not drawing valid arguments and conclusions. Supporting details are as follows.
On p. 22-23 of the book, Hitchens’ passage is as follows. He first quotes Matthew 1:18 then adds some comments.
“Now the birth of Jesus Christ was in this wise. When his mother, Mary, was espoused to Joseph, before they came together she was found with child of the Holy Ghost.” Yes, the Greek demigod Perseus was born when the god Jupiter visited the virgin Danae as a shower of gold and got her with child. The god Buddha was born through an opening in his mother’s flank. Catlicus the serpent-skirted caught a little ball of feathers from the sky and hid it in her bosom, and the Aztec god Huitzilopochtli was thus conceived. The virgin Nana took a pomegranate from the tree watered by the blood of the slain Agdestris, and laid it in her bosom, and gave birth to the god Attis. The virgin daughter of a Mongol king awoke one night and found herself bathed in a great light, which caused her to give birth to Genghis Khan. Krishna was born of the virgin Devaka. Horus was born of the virgin Isis. Mercury was born of the virgin Maia. Romulus was born of the virgin Rhe Sylvia. For some reason, many religions force themselves to think of the borth canal as a one way street . . .
Hitchens continues on in what reads like a magazine-grade rambling article without benefit of much of a point. He does seem good at insults, with such language as accusing Christians during the crusades as having “tempests of hatred and bigotry and bloodlust.”(p.23). Such is his revisionist history.
Although Hitchens does not make much of a conclusion, he seems to be implying, and the previous reader of my copy of his book appears to have understood, that there were many virgin birth stories, the one in the Bible being one in a long line, and therefore we have no use for such mythological rubbish. His idea seems to be that since there are many other stories of virgin births, therefore the one in the Bible is surely false.
The reasoning would not pass undergraduate logic class, for even if these other accounts did exist, what does this prove? That many other accounts are false have no connection on the one at hand, which is the eyewitness accounts in the Bible. Are we to prove the case at hand by looking at many other cases not connected to this one? Since no other general in history has put together two armies soon after two major defeats, does this mean Napoleon did not either? The logic is flawed beyond repair.
The larger problem is that Hitchens theory is beat up by a brutal gang of facts. The list he gave, when we examine it more carefully, presents a different story. According to the myths:
Perseus did indeed come from Jupiter and Danae. But according to the myth, Zeus came upon Danae through an open roof, in the form of physical gold, which then physically impregnated Danae, who is not described as a virgin after the impregnation.
Buddha’s mother, Queen Maha Maya, became pregnant in the normal way from her husband, King Suddhodana. Buddha never claimed to be a god, and in fact denied there was a god. Many modern Buddhists are atheists, a fact of which Hitchens seems to not be aware.
Catlicus: Hitchens got the story basically correct, but left out the small detail that she had 400 other children, which would seem to be primary evidence against her being a virgin. Nevertheless, I suppose one could argue this one was miraculous. But Chris also left out the part about the birth happening when her head got chopped off. The pressing question is where did Hitchens get this story, especially when the typical spelling is Coatlicue? See the possible answer below.
Nana: The possible origin of this alleged connection was a book called The Golden Bough by Jame Frazier, a terribly confused book. The explanation is a bit graphic, but here goes: The god Agdistis had both male and female organs. The Greek gods cut off the male organ and threw it away, where it grew to be an almond tree. Nana placed one of the almonds in her bosom and became pregnant. So the imagery of the almond and the seed is clear, and could be argued to not be a virgin story.
Genghis Khan: Here, Hitchens again makes a mishmash of the story. One of the few sources for Genghis Khan has him being the result of his father taking his mother into the tent, and says nothing more. Perhaps the confusion is in the story of one of Khan’s distant ancestors, Alan Gua, who was found with child when her husband was away, and she described a yellow man coming in “by the light of the hole” at the top of the tent, rubbing light into her belly, and leaving by the beams of the sun or moon. But even this was not of a virgin, for the text describes her having had two older sons by her husband, Doben Mergen. (see The Secret History of the Mongols, vol. 1, 4, 13-14)
Krishna: The mother and father were locked in a prison cell, where Krishna was born the eighth child. No virgin birth.
Horus: This is particularly laughable, since the only valid account describes the parents mating for five days straight. I have dealt with this at length, which you can read here.
Mercury: Both the Greek and Roman myths have Mercury (or Hermes) being the result of normal physical relations between his parents. Sure, the parents were gods, but the accounts tell of them having relations. No virgin birth.
Romulus: Which version do we want to consider? The one where Mars has sex with Rhea Sylvia, Amulus has sex with her, or Hercules has sex with her? We will pick the Mars version, since it is mentioned most often.
So with all of this, of the 11 stories of virgin births, none fit the comparison clearly, and only a couple could be compared by stretching one’s imagination. Most are completely factually incorrect. Therefore there is no connection between pagan myths of a virgin birth and that of the Bible, for none of the ones Hitchens mentions are pagan virgin birth myths. But again, the logic is completely flawed. The truth of the Bible is not determined by whether or not it sounds similar to other stories, but whether it stands on its own merits.
Where did Hitchens get these stories? One author seems to have shown the connection, and accuses Hitchens of rank plagiarism. See the article here. The author compares Hitchens work to an old atheist book, Essays in Freethinking by Chapman Cohen. The citations given seem to show a clear source for Hitchens writings, and therefore do not appear to be original to Hitchens. The words are misspelled similarly and the factual inaccuracies are the same.
If Hitchens did plagiarise this part of his book, it will not be the first atheist who has read something and repeated it without checking the facts. The former owner of my copy of the book seems to have been just as gullible, taking statements at face value without checking the sources. It amazes me that the modern atheist accuses the Bible of being guilty of poorly copying from outside sources and not being reasonable, when in fact the modern atheists are more guilty of these sins than most writers, ancient or modern. Popular atheist writings are sprinkled with hefty doses of unreasoned, unsupported attacks that are without benefit of truth.
It is astounding that Hitchens would write a book specifically about religion, that is so widely read by atheists, and would so grossly misrepresent even obvious religious claims, such as calling Buddha a god. Hitchens apparently included this list of 11 myths without even checking them, for the only other option is that he intentionally misrepresented them, an idea I reject.
It is very easy to throw out false statements that read like tasty morsels to atheists who already have their minds made up. It is much harder to take the time to dig through the sources to see if these things are actually true. In the case of Hitchens’ virgin birth connections, we find them entirely false, and the Bible once again is supported with truth. While revisionist history may be common, it is not scholarly. However, it does sell books and appeals to those who are not skilled in building philosophical arguments.
For sources, see the following:
Perseus, et al: http://www.theoi.com/
Rhea Sylvia: http://mythology.wikia.com/wiki/Rhea_Silvia
Genghis Khan: http://www.livescience.com/43260-genghis-khan.html