Liddick: Merry Christmas
December 24, 2012
Yes, Merry Christmas. In this season of unbridled avarice and consumerism, may I suggest you take a moment away from news of retail sales and what they augur; away from breathless reporting on the crises du jour; away from politicians, protesters, modern-day Luddites and all manner of such hucksters? Consider instead the origin of today’s celebration. Contemplate for a moment a humble birth in an occupied Middle Eastern country two millennia ago. Think what you will, that event changed the world profoundly, and for the better.
I can see the brows furrowing, particularly among those who consider “mere Christianity,” to borrow a phrase, a bit declasse; too lowbrow, with a tinge of unlettered hickishness about it. Or perhaps too fervent, too feverish, too odd. Then there’s that “greater than one’s self” business: uncomfortably slavish for those taught from birth that they can be anything they wish, and do exactly as they please – except perhaps smoke a cigarette on the Pearl Street Mall…
These are confusions, fed by a culture profoundly uneasy with the call to service, sacrifice and self-control. For more than 50 years, American society has taken as its lodestar the philosophy of Rabelais’ Abbey of Thelema: “Do as thou would’st.” Self-gratification and self-realization is paramount; we dislike being said no to. In contrast, Christian philosophers from St. Augustine to Thomas Moore to C.S. Lewis have had no problem distinguishing liberty from license, condemning the latter as harmful but recognizing the former as one of the fundamental elements of true freedom – when alloyed with a healthy appreciation of our own limits and nature. Theirs is the season’s greatest gift; it should be unwrapped and treasured, not left under the tree.
One current argument against celebration of the Bethlehem event is hypocrisy: believers tend to be more conservative, and – it is said – to oppose funding government programs for the poor. In contrast, more “open-minded” liberals are generous with entitlements. This is false logic, as any Bible-reader knows: Christ’s mandate was for individual action. He said “sell all you have and give it to the poor,” not “give all you have to Caesar, that he may spread the wealth around.” One should also note that self-described American conservatives are far more charitable than their liberal brethren. But charity is personal; one uses one’s own money and gives directly.
There’s also the objection that religion has been used to justify some pretty sketchy behavior – think about the Crusades or Conquistadores. But if one speaks of the Catholic Church – central to both of the above – one should note that it operates through human instruments, subject to all the failings and foibles of our nature. If anything, the shortcomings of a Pope Leo IX or Alexander VI should move us to consider our own frailties, and to be mindful of them when we act.
We should also note that in the latter case, Christianity’s arrival in the Americas resulted in the elimination of two great evils: human sacrifice and slavery. The latter was a much-protracted struggle in which religion played a crucial role, beginning with the sixteenth-century writings of two clerics, Bartolome de las Casas and Sor Juana de la Cruz.
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Recent opposition to religious expression in America seems to grow out of a mistaken belief that we are an utterly secular nation, religion having nothing to do with our mores, laws or customs. This fallacy is quickly debunked by noting our Founders’ statements about the source of our rights – God, not government – and by reading, among others, President John Adams’ opinion about the sort of people our government was created to serve. That the mistaken belief continues is due largely to a small but vocal minority who seek to drive religion from public life, in service to some warped version of multiculturalism or out of their own personal pique. Their success, to the extent they have it, is an indication of how uneducated and uncaring we are concerning our own origins and foundational principles.
In the end, however, this is a passing concern. Politics change. Societies evolve and eventually, fade. Even nations grow and die. But truth abides. The truth of the Bethlehem event and what followed will certainly outlive all of us. It will outlive those who think it foolish. It will survive those who wish to wipe it out. It will be with humanity when the memory of the United States is as dim as that of the Merovingian kingdom is for us today. Perhaps that is what disturbs those who struggle against it the most: the reality of what is eternal, and what is ephemeral. Food for a long thought on this quietest of days.
So, Merry Christmas to all. And may God bless us, every one.
Summit County resident Morgan Liddick pens a Tuesday column. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.