Growing up in the Jewish faith, Christmas always fascinated me in many ways. Not only did I view images of Santa Claus and prancing reindeer bringing gifts to happy children, but more serious (and to me, mysterious) displays included a family in a barn, celebrating the birth of a miracle child. As I aged and learned more about the Biblical circumstances that led to the birth of Jesus, I became more confused than ever. How did this story translate to policies that seemed to govern my life? For clarity, I set out to read more about the Annunciation.
According to New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia (emphasis mine):
Many holy fathers (Sts. Jerome, Cyril, Ephrem, Augustine) say that the consent of Mary was essential to the redemption. It was the will of God, St. Thomas says (Summa III:30), that the redemption of mankind should depend upon the consent of the Virgin Mary. This does not mean that God in His plans was bound by the will of a creature, and that man would not have been redeemed, if Mary had not consented. It only means that the consent of Mary was foreseen from all eternity, and therefore was received as essential into the design of God.
Consent, according to Merriam-Webster, means "to give assent or approval : agree." In order to give assent or approval, it is logical that one is posed with a question and given a choice. In a thoughtful post exploring the meaning of the immaculate conception and how to interpret Mary's role in the event, Crystal at Perspective wrote:
What makes her special to me is not some assigned purity but that she, as flawed and vulnerable as the rest of us, gathered up the courage and trust to say "yes".
In pondering The Annunciation, Fr J at "pins of light": a bible blog wrote:
It's hard to imagine that you said "Yes" understanding fully well what you were getting into. I mean, it just wasn't possible to understand everything about that decision and commitment of yours--as it is impossible today to understand every consequence and implication of our decisions and commitments. As I reflect more about the Annunciation, more and more I can't help but suspect that you must have accepted the angel's invitation without complete understanding! But that, more than anything else, reveals the generosity of your "Yes."
It's easy to say "Yes" when we know exactly what we're getting into, and when we've been able to do the math as far as the costs and benefits are concerned. It's much tougher to be generous when we can see some of the costs but don't see the benefits too clearly. But just the same, you paused and thought for a while, took a deep breath, summoning all your faith, and said "Yes."
I think it is fascinating that although God knew in advance that Mary would agree to conceive His child, it is essential to the story that she was allowed the option of consenting. Everyone celebrates the choice that she made, even if it was predestined for her to make it. Hence, God didn't just approach any woman and force her to get pregnant against her will. He chose a woman who willingly agreed to do so.
So here's what I want to know this Christmas: Since God gave Mary a choice, can the Bush administration justify why they feel they are more powerful than God when it comes to giving women the right to make informed decisions about whether or not they will become pregnant?
Let me be very clear: This is not a post about abortion. This is a post about conception, about whether all women have the right to make a choice of whether or not to become pregnant in the first place - the same choice that God extended the courtesy to Mary to make. In fact, the Bush administration's latest spit into the collective face of women denies us the options to make decisions for ourselves about whether or not to become pregnant. Despite millions of letters protesting any changes in HHS regulations (including "thousands of objections from several medical associations and 13 attorneys general," as Ximena at Feminist in the City points out), the Bush administration forced through a last minute rule that makes it harder for women to make choices regarding their reproductive health. Planned Parenthood explains:
The Bush administration has released a rule that could allow individual health care providers who receive federal funding to redefine abortion to include the most common forms of birth control — and then refuse to provide these basic services. A woman's ability to manage her own health care is at risk of being compromised by politics and ideology.
President Bush's new regulation allowing individual health care providers to redefine abortion to include the most common forms of birth control poses a serious danger to women's health. With the economy stumbling and more and more Americans uninsured, this is the worst possible time for the government to deny women, men and families access to basic health care and information.
This regulation limits the rights of patients to receive complete and accurate health information and services. Women's ability to manage their own health care is at risk of being compromised by politics and ideology. Contraception is not abortion, and the doctor's office is no place to play political games.
Now, some would argue that it the situation is different because women who choose to sleep with men choose to accept that they may or may not become pregnant as a result and it is God's will whatever happens. But the next step in the Annunciation story is that God sends an angel to Joseph to explain what is going on with Mary after she chose to become pregnant. So, if God just lets things happen and the women need to deal with consequences of their actions, it doesn't make sense to me that He smoothed things over with Joseph. I mean, Mary chose to carry God's baby just as a regular woman might chose to sleep with her husband; that doesn't mean that the result is inevitable, otherwise there would be no need to run interference on Mary's behalf with Joseph. Does my logic on this make any less sense than the other interpretations? No! Which is another reason why we shouldn't force religious beliefs on others through the law. (It's not just heathens like me who want to be left to follow my own conscious and values: Just ask the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.) There's no one way to interpret the Annunciation.
I find it presumptuous that Bush and his cronies would deny women the same basic rights that God gave Mary, and I am signing the Planned Parenthood petition to repeal this change because I don't think that people have the right to play God. I'm not a Christian, but I am glad that Mary had the opportunity to say yes. In that vein, I wish everyone who celebrates the holiday a merry Christmas.
Suzanne also blogs at Campaign for Unshaved Snatch (CUSS) & Other Rants and wishes everyone a happy holiday season.
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