Many sceptics dismiss the Gospel accounts as mere fiction due to their similarities to prior mythology. There is a popular belief in circulation today that Christ himself was an imagined archtypal hero in the same vein as Zeus or Archilles. According to the adherents of this belief, the Christian God is Zeus retold, minus the virtue of strength and will to power. This was certainly similar to the view held by Nietzsche. According to René Girard, this line of reasoning shamelessly misses the point and, therefore, fails to see the real uniqueness of the gospel stories, a uniqueness wherein lies the salvation of mankind.
Take for instance the similarities of the divine birth narratives. In the ancient mythological stories, there are many instances of the gods copulating with mortal women in order to give birth to hybrid divine heroes. The birth of Dionysus comes to mind. Zeus, the chiefest of all gods, becomes the father of Dionysus through a mortal woman by the name of Semele. Similarly, the gospels also speak of a divine being, the Holy Spirit, conceiving Jesus inside the mortal Mary. Here the sceptic will go, "Aha! Do you see the origin of your 'divinely inspired' nativity story now?" In saying this, the sceptic misses the point. There is a world of a difference between the two in one key aspect: the issue of force, namely violence. Girard explains this in his book, 'Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World':
"Stories of this kind always involve more than a hint of violence. Zeus bears down on Semele, the mother of Dionysus, like a beast of prey upon its victim, and in effect strikes her with lightning. The birth of the gods is always a kind of rape...These monstrous couplings between men, gods and beasts are in close correspondence with the phenomenon of reciprocal violence and its method of working itself out. The orgasm that appeases the god is a metaphor for collective violence."
Compare this story to the nativity accounts, where Mary's status, unlike Semele's, is elevated by God to that of nobility. In the gospel of Luke, the angel Gabriel greets Mary by saying, "Hail, O favored one, the Lord is with you!" God makes known to Mary that she will bring forth his son, to which Mary replies, "Behold I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word." There is a complete absence of violence and coercion in the virgin birth story. There is no element of force whatsoever. This is no coincidence, neither is it a proclamation of harmlessness as Nietzsche would have it.
For centuries, humanity has drawn a particular image of God that uses coercion combined with sheer might in order to impose divine will on creation. This human depiction of God is okay with, and even demands, ritual sacrifice. Our modern day society, despite the lack of extravagant mythologies, still operates under this same principle. We often think that for justice to prevail there has to be scapegoating, and for good to come about there has to be coercion. Our societies operate under this false precedent that good comes out from using evil against evil. This kind of idea, when put into practice, gives rise to war, rape, abortion, homicide, domestic abuse, and countless other malevolent acts. We can observe this phenomenon acting out vividly when the state, the religious priesthood of our time, sanctions theft against its own citizens and throws non-violent dissenters into cages like wild animals.
In the myth of Dionysus, Semele, under the might of coercion, becomes nothing more than a means to an end. She is glorified in her utter humiliation. This is what pagan sacrificial culture leads to, and what our modern day pseudo-pagan culture continues to enforce. Through the rape of a fragile mortal woman, heroes and deities are born, and order is brought forth. On the other hand, the God of the Bible brings order through non-violence. The mortal and vulnerable is proclaimed to be the image bearer of God. Mary is honored and praised by the angel Gabriel, and later her dignity is defended by God. From the elevation of Mary comes the true hero Jesus.
Jesus is the perfection, redefinition, and embodiment of true heroism. The hero of the Bible does not act out the carnal, coercive nature of fallen man, but, rather, exhibits bravery and determination in perfect combination with gentleness and compassion. There is no weakness in him because the powers and principalities of the world holds no power over him. In him resides the perfect balance of the cosmos. He is able to triumph over evil, not with the parasitical force of Satan, but through the reversal of the Satanic contagion itself.
The gospel revelation encourages us to be imitators of this mighty yet gentle Christ. Through the imitation of Jesus, we are unable to extort goodness from our neighbor. We cannot rape anymore Semeles. We cannot scapegoat those vulnerable than ourselves. We cannot demonize or lynch our enemies. The catharsis from all these ungodly acts are wearing thin. We are instead called to universal chivalry for our fellow human beings. We are left with no choice but to infect the world with the love of Christ through the love of our neighbor.