The above hyperlink of the title is to an article in Slate, by Chloe Breyer, posted today, 12/22/05. There are a large volume of comments about it on Slate, ranging from the reactionary and ignorant (mostly!) to the thoughtful and informed. I opened an account on Slate today and posted my comment below, under the name Kabloona.
Personally, I’m not ready to give up such a pillar of Christian doctrine as the virgin birth!
However, In the Bible, the usage of the term virginity always has a higher meaning of spiritual virginity, which is the only meaning that counts with God. Even if a person were to not believe in the virgin birth as traditionally understood, Mary was always a virgin spiritually.
If it was the case that Mary had relations prior to her betrothal to Joseph, then, if anything, that God chose the violated Mary to be the mother of Jesus would only serve to emphasize, even more, the God-given, irrevocable human dignity of all, no matter how low, humble, stigmatized, or degraded a person may feel or appear in the eyes of the world.
Note however, that even if Mary had relations with someone prior to her betrothal, it does not preclude Jesus having been conceived by the Holy Spirit. I can’t and won't give up that belief.
Without giving up the idea of the traditional virgin birth, there is much here that one can ruminate over, with profit. In terms of Jesus’ humanity and his sharing in the same troubles as we, imagine Him growing up and being aware of being looked at or spoken of as a child conceived out of wedlock. There is a message there for any person born out of wedlock. Moreover, how dare we look down on, scorn or stigmatize any child born out of wedlock! Imagine Mary, a teenage girl totally dedicated to God, and how she may have felt being looked upon or talked about by others, as having relations prior to marriage? How dare we look down upon any teenage girl in a similar situation! Imagine how Joseph may have felt being looked upon as a cuckold and a fool? The common denominator here is shame, stigma, and humiliation, and one need look no further than the Holy Family for empathy, a sense of dignity, and as an example for one’s own situation in life.