Beliefnet
At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

Unquestionably, no one who has ever lived has impacted the course of human history to the extent that Jesus of Nazareth has.  In fact, to speak this way is to dramatically understate matters, for such was the power of His life that Jesus didn’t just impact history; He radically subverted it.

Jesus was in history. By the time that his short 33 years on Earth came to a close, history would be in Him.

The world today measures time and history (“B.C.” and “A.D.”) around the life of this carpenter from Galilee.

The planet’s 2 billion or so Christians are just days away from celebrating His birth.  Of course, for His disciples, Jesus was not just a human being.  He was God in the flesh!  In celebrating Christmas, we celebrate the Incarnation, the event in which the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, God the Son, assumes our human nature by becoming one of us.  Christmas occurs when the God-Man, Jesus, fully human and fully divine, enters the world through His Blessed Mother Mary straight into a manger.

In stark contrast to any other national holiday in America, its decorations, songs, television specials, and movies makes Christmas ubiquitous and, thus, unavoidable.  This, doubtless, accounts for how and why many nonbelievers and even unbelievers, particularly nominal Christians (and some others), also partake of Christmas festivities.  Until they are ready to embrace Jesus as the Christ, the Son of the Living God, both those nonbelievers who observe Christmas and even those who do not should find Jesus’s historical legacy worth celebrating.

As the Reverend D. James Kennedy puts it, “Jesus Christ, the greatest man who ever lived, has changed virtually every aspect of human life….”  The problem is that “most people don’t know it.”  He adds: “The greatest tragedy of the Christmas holiday…is its trivialization.”

Kennedy informs us that “its humble origins” aside, “the Church has made more changes on earth for the good than any other movement or force in history.”  Indeed.

(1)Prior to the advent of Jesus, infanticide, child abandonment, and abortion were common practices throughout the Greco-Roman world (and beyond).  Christianity, though, in sanctifying all human life, unequivocally condemned these activities. All human life, now, was regarded as possessed of an inviolable glory by virtue of having been made in the image of the One, True God.

Christians rescued abandoned children and cared for them. They created the world’s first orphanages, nursery homes, and foundling homes.

(2)Jesus’s monogamous ideal of marriage—the two shall become one flesh—as well as the prominent role that women figured in His ministry elevated women from the rank that they assumed right above beasts of burden to that of moral equality with men.

Infant girls were disproportionately harmed by infanticide until Christianity abolished it, it is true. But Christians also stamped out such institutions as the perennial Indian practice of “suttee”:  In India, widows were expected to burn alive with the cremated corpses of their husbands—whether they wanted to do so or not. Christian missionaries in the early 1800s put an end to this.

(3)Charity, which Westerners have long taken for granted as a moral imperative, is not unique to Christianity.  However, as the Jewish writer Ilana Mercer notes, it was most definitely “perfected” by the latter.

Kennedy writes: “The world before Christianity was like the Russian tundra—quite cold and inhospitable.” He references the work of a Dr. Martineau, a man who, Kennedy informs us, “exhaustively searched through historical documents and concluded that antiquity has left no trace of any organized charitable effort.”

What this means is that prior to Christianity and the Bible that it sought to export to the four corners of the globe, “Disinterested benevolence was unknown.”  Posterior to Christianity, though, “charity and benevolence flourished.”

The Salvation Army; Samaritan’s Purse; World Vision; Catholic Charities; the Red Cross; Catholic Relief Services; Christian Foundation for Children and Aging; and Operation Blessing are among the innumerable charitable organizations that Christianity has bequeathed to the world.  Each and every church—not denomination, but individual congregation—that exists has multiple ministries aimed at alleviating the plight of the poor and needy.

That scores of Western secularists have created charitable organizations only underscores the extent to which they’ve appropriated the legacy of the very religion that they reject.

(4)While homes and centers designed to care for the sick existed in some places in the ancient world, it was only after Christianity became the religion of the Roman Empire that we witness the exponential expansion of this phenomenon.

The Christian origins of the modern hospital are unmistakable.

In the fourth century, a hospital would be built in every cathedral town.  These hospitals would attend to various classes of patients, offer training programs for those entering the field of medicine, and maintain libraries where physicians would conduct medical and pharmacological research.

Albert Jonsen, a historian of medicine, credits Christianity with what he describes as “the second great sweep of medical history,” a 1,000 year reign beginning at the end of the fourth century and lasting until the end of the 14th century when “medicine [was] well ensconced in the universities and in the public life of the emerging nations of Europe.”

Others too have meticulously traced the Christian pedigree of the modern hospital.

(4)Christianity has spearheaded the movement to educate the masses.  Kennedy states: “Every school you see—public or private, religious or secular—is a visible reminder of the religion of Jesus Christ. So is every college and university [.]”

To put it bluntly, “the fact is that the phenomenon of education for the masses has its roots in Christianity.  Christianity gave rise to the concept of education for everyone.”

Institutions of higher learning were Christian in conception.  Of the 123 colleges that we find at America’s origins, all but one had an explicitly Christian mission. Princeton, Harvard, and Yale, to name three prominent examples, were Christian.  England’s Oxford and Cambridge Universities were also Christian, as was St. Andrew’s, Scotland’s oldest university.

Given their desire to make disciples of all nations, during the Reformation, Christian leaders and missionaries took advantage of the Gutenberg Printing Press to spread literacy.  For the first time, it was possible for people to read the Bible in their native tongues.  Courtesy of Christians, languages that had only been spoken previously were cast in written form.

(5)Christianity gave rise to modern science.  Science depends upon certain non-scientific suppositions regarding the nature of reality in the absence of which it never would’ve arisen. That the world is real; that it is rational or orderly, capable of being explored and discovered; and that it is good, deserving of being studied—are assumptions that are thoroughly Christian in character.

It is not by accident that the first and greatest of scientists—Galileo, Roger Bacon, Copernicus, Kepler, Pascal, Newton, Boyle, and Mendel, to name but a few—were Bible-believing Christians.

Rodney Stark makes the relevant point: “Not only were science and religion compatible, they were inseparable—the rise of science was achieved by deeply religious Christian scholars.”

(6)In literature, painting, and architecture, i.e. the arts, the world has been immeasurably enriched by the Christian inspiration that led to the production of masterpieces. The magisterial cathedrals that adorn Christendom; Michelangelo and Da Vinci; Dante, Chaucer, Shakespeare; Handel and Bach—these are just some of the names of which we never would have heard had it not been for the life of Jesus.

(7) Human slavery has been practiced from time immemorial. Most moralists, secular and religious, never seriously questioned it.  But in the 18th century, a group of especially devout English Christians (led most notably by William Wilberforce) launched a global campaign to abolish this perennial, universal institution.

And abolish it they did.  The English Empire—the largest in the world at this time—deployed its political, military, and economic might to insure the extinction of the slave trade in every area of the planet in which they had a foothold. Against their will, Africans, Asians, and Middle Easterners had to stop peddling human flesh.

The ideas of “human dignity,” “natural rights,” “human rights”—these are all the legacy of Christianity.

Thanks to the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the world ceased being the “Russian tundra” that it once was.

For this reason alone, I happily proclaim to all atheists, agnostics, and non-Christians:

Merry Christmas!

 

That there is some sense in which Christmas can be said to have become “secularized” over the years is undoubtedly true.  Nevertheless, this judgment may be overwrought. Perhaps Christ is more present in “secularized” expressions of Christmas than either Christian or non-Christian is willing to acknowledge.

“Christmas” literally means “the Mass of Christ.” Thus, though often unintended, each and every use (and misuse) of the word “Christmas” throughout the season references the Christ.  The decorations and lights; department store sales; songs; “holiday” film and television programs; the practices of gift-giving and exchanging cards; “holiday” work parties; school concerts; family dinners and gatherings—there would be none of it if not for the carpenter from Nazareth.

Even Santa Claus—jolly ol’ Saint Nicholas—took flight from the life of a Godly fourth century Catholic bishop.

There would be no Christmas if not for Christ.  And because the former is as ubiquitous as it is, particularly in the Western world, every Christmas season renders it impossible for anyone to be entirely ignorant of “the Reason for the Season.”

Or maybe it is accurate to say that just as God the Son became incarnate in human flesh, so too does He become incarnate in every manifestation, every sign, of the Christmas season.

What I am here arguing is that there is a closer connection between the Miracle, the Birth of Jesus, and the “miracles” commonly associated with it in popular depictions of Christmas than has been acknowledged.

Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, for example, never explicitly mentions Christ.  There is nothing overtly Christian in the idea of ghosts or spirits haunting a wretched man on Christmas Eve.  At the same time, it is not coincidental that of the 365 days and multiple holidays from which Dickens could have chosen to make the backdrop of his tale, he chose this day and this holiday.

Ebenezer Scrooge is an old man who, in the early morning hours of the day that the Christian world reserves to celebrate the birth of God, discovers the reasons for the despair to which he long ago succumbed.  Courtesy of his encounter with its “spirits,” Scrooge experiences the miracle of Christmas as he undergoes a radical conversion, a rebirth of the spirit reminiscent of that which Saul of Tarsus had to endure on the road to Damascus before he could become Paul, God’s ambassador to the Gentiles.

Those who lose their lives will save them, Jesus insisted.  To achieve the supreme good, genuine, eternal happiness, one must die to oneself and be reborn in Christ.  This death occurs when the heart, like an empty shell that has been dropped on concrete, shatters.  Christians call this contrition.  It’s what Scrooge suffered on Christmas Eve.

Recognizing his vices for what they were—selfishness, greed, pride, bitterness, mercilessness—Scrooge, with the help of some supernatural beings, slayed his old self.  By dawn of Christmas morning, he was born again, a new creation committed to living a life of charity in the most Christian sense of this term.  “Charity,” some may forget, derives from the Latin “caritas.” In Christian theology, caritas became synonymous with (the Greek) “agape,” the unconditional love for others.

By way of the miracle of Christmas, Scrooge transformed from near-spiritual death into a man consumed with a passion for loving others as he loves himself.

It’s a Wonderful Life is another popular Christmas film with a Christian subtext.  Jimmy Stewart’s character of George Bailey is a good, but frustrated, man.  For all of his life, George has deferred pursuing his lofty dreams for the sake of fulfilling his duties, or what he took to be his duties, to his family, friends, and local community of Bedford Falls.  On Christmas Eve, his frustration gives way to despondency as George—in covering for his absent-minded uncle who misplaced the family business’s proceeds long enough for the film’s villain, the Scrooge-like Mr. Potter, to steal it—finds himself facing prison time.  But as he is about to hurl himself from a bridge into the cold running river below, an angel, Clarence, intercedes.

When George tells Clarence that the world would have been better had he never been born, Clarence decides to prove him wrong by revealing to George an alternate reality that is George Bailey-free.  Through much pain, even horror, George discovers that the life that he just a short time earlier regretted was actually quite…wonderful.

George Bailey is a character to which average folks, Christians especially, can readily relate.  He not only harms no one; George is good to others. Still, he has not yet crucified his old self.  In fact, despite his modest circumstances—or is it because of these circumstances?—George isn’t just in the world. He obviously is very much of it.

He resents that he never left his hometown.

He resents the Bailey Savings and Loan Bank that his father built and that, from George’s perspective, has prevented him from achieving his dreams.

He resents that he doesn’t have as much in the way of material goods as some others.

In a particularly unguarded moment, George even expresses resentment that he has children, the family that he evidently views as but another hindrance to the life that he wanted for himself.

But through the miracle of Christmas, George, like Scrooge, has his sight restored. Scrooge was a bad man that became good. George was a good man who became a better man.  Both, though, were surprised by joy, as C.S. Lewis memorably titled one of his books.  Via the miracle of Christmas, both underwent a miraculous transformation when they discovered the secret to joyful living: gratitude.

Both George and Scrooge recognized existence generally and their personal lives specifically as given, i.e. as gifts for which to be thankful.  Yet if thanks are due, then they must be owed to someone. In the instances of George Bailey and Ebenezer Scrooge, it’s clear that it is someone greater than themselves to whom their gratitude belongs.

And, to repeat, both came to this realization by way of supernatural assistance at Christmas.

Miracle on 34th Street, though regularly characterized as a “secular” holiday film, bears upon it the unmistakable impress of Christianity.  For starters, as is abundantly clear by the title, this movie centers around what it portrays as a miracle of sorts.  Secondly, the latter occurs at—when else?—Christmas.

An elderly man by the name of “Kris Kringle” arrives at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade claiming to be the real Santa Claus (“Kris Kringle”, recall, derives from the German “Christkindl,” meaning “Christ Child.”).  He is the embodiment of kindness and cheeriness. Kris is in the world, but not of it, for the world that he wishes to change is marked by a crass “commercialism,” as he describes it.  This is a world (eerily similar to that in which we find ourselves) that exploits Christmas for the purposes of profit, status, greed.  It is a world that has forgotten not just the true meaning of Christmas. It has abandoned all sense of vision, moral imagination.  The world of Miracle assigns negative value to anything that can’t be readily reduced to an instrument for some immediately practical use or other.

The world that Kris enters is signified by Doris Walker (Maureen O’ Hara), her seven year-old daughter, Susan (Natalie Wood), and Macy’s psychiatrist, Dr. Granville Sawyer (Porter Hall). Doris, a single mother, is a decent but jaded woman who thinks that being “truthful” with her daughter means forbidding her from believing in “fairy tales, like Santa Claus.”  Sawyer, in contrast, is the penultimate symbol of all against which Kris rails: mean, contemptible dishonest.  The goodness exemplified by Kris and his young friend Alfred, a teenage employee of Macy’s who enjoys dressing up as Santa and distributing presents to children at the YMCA, Sawyer writes off as a function of mental illness.

As His contemporaries sought to remove the Prince of Peace from their world by nailing Him to a cross, so too does the world, represented by Sawyer, seek to remove Kris by way of a sort of social death: Sawyer attempts to have him institutionalized in a mental hospital.

Goodness, though, ultimately prevails. An idealistic lawyer, Fred Gailey (John Payne), quits the prestigious legal firm for which he works in order to prove to the world that Kris Kringle is Santa Claus.  Just as Christ was considered “foolishness to the Gentiles,” as St. Paul puts it, Kris was considered the same by the self-appointed guardians of the world around him.  But just as Christ radically subverted the epistemic hierarchy of the world, so too does Kris, via Fred, do the same.

Sawyer is disgraced and terminated.  Doris begins to soften her heart and, along with Susan, begins to believe in Kris.  She allows herself to love and be loved by Fred.  The world is redeemed. Hope dawns anew.

And this miraculous chain of events occurs, not incidentally, during the season of Christmas.

 

 

 

Whenever it came to anything that he knew he shouldn’t have done, the comedian Flip Wilson used to say: “The Devil made me do it.”

For the Democrats, it is the Russians who made us do it.

More exactly, it is the Russians who made the Democrats lose on November 8.

For a variety of reasons, it is particularly odd that the left, of all people, would take to peddling this notion that Donald J. Trump won, or was helped to win, by Vladimir Putin and the Russian government.  In short, far from serving as an indictment of Trump, this narrative reflects poorly on the Democrats.

First, if the Russians hacked Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s emails, as the Democrats swear, it is because they were able to do so.  By now, everyone knows that Clinton—again, while Secretary of State—dispatched tens of thousands of emails, including and especially some that had been marked “classified,” over an unsecured, private server.

Clinton compromised the security of every American man, woman, and child.  As FBI Director James Comey confirmed, Barack Obama’s State Department was “extremely careless” through its handling of “very sensitive, highly classified information.”  In telling the world that a hostile foreign power actually succeeded in accessing this material, the Dems underscore just how vulnerable they rendered the country.

Second, if the Russians hacked Clinton’s emails—her thousands and thousands of emails—then this would, presumably, create an interest on their part to see to it that she was elected.  No pun intended, but Clinton’s tsunami of emails would give a whole new meaning to blackmail. Vladimir Putin would be in the proverbial driver’s seat, hanging Clinton’s emails over her head at every turn.

Third, if there is evidence of Russian tinkering with the election, this in itself would not establish that the hackers were interested in securing Trump’s election.  Given that the hacked information came from the Democrats, this alone would make it eminently more plausible to suspect that the Russians would interfere in order to secure a Clinton victory, for it is the Democrats whose secrets the Russians (or anyone else) could release.

Fourth, if the Russians interfered with the election, then while they would have an interest invested in seeing Clinton elected, they would indeed also have an interest invested in seeing Trump elected.  The reason for this is obvious:

The Russians no more want war with the United States than (most) Americans want war with them.  Trump is among a few voices on the contemporary American political scene who has repeatedly expressed a desire for peaceful relations with Russia.  A third term of Obama via Hillary Clinton promised to exacerbate tensions between the nuclear giants of America and Russia.

A Trump presidency, in glaring contrast, portends peace.

The Russia-Made-Us-Do-It narrative, even considered on its own terms, makes the Democrats look worse, not better.

What’s worse of all, however, is that there is no evidence at all to support this tale.

Glenn Greenwald just may be the last of the true investigative journalists.  Though he is a left-leaning writer whose work has been regularly featured in The Guardian and Salon, Greenwald is a genuinely principled journalist whose commitment to exposing corruption in government transcends whatever ideological prejudices he may hold.

The latest instance of corruption on which Greenwald has set his sights is what he himself refers to as the “McCarthyite” conduct of the Democrats.  On Friday December 9, the Washington Post announced that the CIA confirmed that the Russians intervened in America’s latest election in order to hand Trump a victory.

Well, actually, WaPo revealed that anonymous sources confirmed that the CIA confirmed this. To be more specific, anonymous sources confirmed that the CIA confirmed in an informal, secret session, that Russia intervened in America’s election so as to hand it to Trump.

As Greenwald summarizes it, “the key claims are based exclusively on the unverified assertions of anonymous officials, who in turn are disseminating their own claims about what the CIA purportedly believes, all based on evidence that remains completely secret.”  He calls this “classic American journalism of the worst sort [.]”

What’s crucial for Americans (and others) to realize is that not only is “none of the actual evidence for these claims…disclosed,” but even “the CIA’s ‘secret assessment’ itself remains concealed.”

Though the reader has to dig down deeply to get to it, Greenwald notes that even the Post’s own article mentions that the anonymous sources upon which it (allegedly) relies report conflicts between the members of the CIA over questions that still haven’t been resolved.

Most importantly, the same article states that intelligence agencies have no intelligence that the Kremlin issued orders to hackers or leakers.

Read this again: Its sensationalistic headline and shoddy journalism aside, and even though it buries this far into its propagandistic piece, WaPo itself has to report that there is zero evidence that the Kremlin, i.e. Putin and/or “the Russians,” had anything whatsoever to do with the charge that this fake news outlet is making on behalf of its fellow partisans in the Democrat Party.

Greenwald writes: “The Democrats—still eager to make sense of their election loss and to find causes for it other than themselves—immediately declared these anonymous claims about what the CIA believes to be true, and, with a somewhat sweet, religious-type faith, treated these anonymous assertions as proof of what they wanted to believe all along: that Vladimir Putin was rooting for Donald Trump to win and Hillary Clinton to lose and used nefarious means to ensure that outcome.”

Greenwald adds that it is of no surprise, given the shameless “McCarthyism” in which they’ve engaged throughout this election season, that the Democrats “are now venerating unverified, anonymous CIA leaks as sacred [.]”

To be sure, if Russia or anyone else in any way compromised the integrity of the electoral process, this would be both very bad and something that Americans have a right to know. And it may have happened. However, the point here is that the Democrats, despite having whistled this tune from nearly the time that Trump received the GOP presidential nomination to the present, have never had evidence, much less proof, to substantiate the charge that they have been making against Russia.

If anything, there was evidence against it.  For starters, the Obama White House verified that neither additional cyber activity nor plans for Russia’s involvement in the election had been detected.  Moreover, the FBI, which originally conducted an investigation into this matter, came up empty.

It isn’t a desire for truth that drives the Democrats who are busy pushing this fiction.  Greenwald calls the WaPo coverage of it “classic American journalism of the worst sort.”  We can just as easily say that Democrats, being the sorest of sore losers, are guilty of classic American politics of the worst sort.

 

 

I’ve been trying to get into the Christmas spirit by detaching myself somewhat from politics. But I have too many friends who aren’t there yet, and they pull me in. So I just want to offer some quick thoughts on the Russophobic/neo-McCarthyite/red-baiting line that the Democrats can’t stop pushing:

It makes little to no sense. Consider:

(1) IF the Russians hacked the tens of thousands of emails that Hillary Clinton sent over a private server while Barack Obama’s Secretary of State, then they were able to hack her emails. Obama and Clinton compromised America’s national security to an unprecedented extent.

(2) IF the Russians hacked the tens of thousands of emails that Hillary sent over a private server while Barack Obama’s Secretary of State, then the Russians would have an interest invested in seeing to it that she was elected as President.  Think about it:

With all of this access to all of Clinton’s and America’s secrets, there would be an awful lot there for blackmail and bribery.  Putin would be in the driver’s seat, for sure.

(3) Given (2), the claim (still not borne out) that Russia tampered with our election process could mean that the Russians tampered with it so as to get Hillary elected. Thus, from the claim that there was election tampering it cannot be inferred that, ipso facto, it was meant to get Trump elected.

(4) Even if (3) is mistaken, and even though (2) would be true if (1) was true, a Russian interest in a President Hillary Clinton need not be an exclusive interest. The Russians would, admittedly, also have an interest in seeing Donaldus J. Maximus elected. After all, he is among a tiny handful of world-famous politicians who have repeatedly expressed a desire for peace with Russia.  The Russians, presumably, have the same desire.

Why wouldn’t they want for the head of America to be a person who would seek peace in international relations?

Of course, the foregoing propositions are all hypothetical.  As of now, there is no evidence, much less proof, that Russia tampered with this election, much less determined its outcome.  In fact, the FBI has conducted an exhaustive investigation into this matter, and while it hasn’t conclusively ruled out the possibility that foreign entities interfered in the American electoral process, it has ruled out the notion that there was any relationship between Trump and the Russian government.

The FBI also believes that if Russia involved itself in the election, it was for the sake of causing chaos—not electing Trump.

“But, but,” so scream the objectors, “the CIA maintained in a ‘secret session’ that Russia did interfere to help Trump win!”

Let’s think some more, shall we?  It’s not just that the CIA contradicts the findings of the FBI.  The CIA, along with the world’s leading intelligence agencies, assured us that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction,” a falsehood that resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives in the Middle East, thousands of our own soldiers, and the maiming of hundreds of thousands more.

Nor is it intellectually honest to say that no one knew in 2003 what we know now.  Some folks did indeed know that the Iraq War was being sold on the basis of a fiction.

In fact, recently, Barack Obama admitted the rise of ISIS—or “ISIL,” as he always refers to this Islamic terrorist organization—was  not (incredibly!) on his “intelligence radar.

So, neither the CIA nor any other intelligence agency could anticipate during Obama’s presidency that the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq would create a vacuum for bloodthirsty, American-hating terrorists to fill—even though this is exactly what every opponent of American withdrawal warned about.

Now, though, we’re supposed to believe that what the CIA (allegedly) said during a “secret session” is gospel.

Pardon me for being skeptical.