The holiday season is upon us, and Christians around the world will be celebrating their virgin birth story. Most Christians read the story literally. And it is obvious from worldwide literature that miracle conceptions and virgin births are common and popular, even today (as evident in Star Wars Episode I). However, what if these stories were never intended to be taken literally? What if these stories were originally intended to be read metaphorically? Is this possible? Maybe Joseph Campbell has an answer.
Joseph Campbell was a “giant” in his field, a leading scholar in mythology. He did not view God as an actual being, but rather as a metaphor for the ultimate mystery of life. In May of 1987 (at the age of 83) he was interviewed by the Los Angeles Times. Below is an excerpt from the interview.
“The virgin birth has nothing to do with a biological accident,” Campbell explained. It symbolizes instead, he said, “the awakening of spiritual life in the human animal. It’s a mythic symbol. It should not be read, finally, as historical fact. All mythology is misread when it is read as referring to historical events or geographical places. The Promised Land is not a piece of land to be conquered by military might; it is a condition of the heart.”
If Campbell is right, then the Christmas story is not just for Christians, but rather for everyone, “believers” and “nonbelievers” alike. While the “free-thinking” secular humanist may scoff at the idea of Jesus’ virgin birth, Campbell is inviting us to read the story differently, and to take it to heart.
Happy Holidays everyone! And, in the words a true Jedi Knight, “Metaphors be with you!”