In the perennial debate at Christmastime regarding how to refer to this great feast that has been largely secularized, we often do not realize that the word often put forth as the safe secular alternative “holiday” has the root meaning that it has always had: “holyday”. There cannot be holiness without God. Thus, even the secular proponents of this term ought to consult their dictionaries for the etymological meaning of the term!
Embedded in our Western Culture are the assumptions and outline of the Judeo-Christian worldview. It is present in everything. This is why it is so difficult to discern. If fish could talk, would they notice water? It is that all-encompassing. Even the thinkers who attack faith use the weapons forged by this world view. We are all, even the atheists and nihilists, speaking in Christian terms. Marx and Freud, Cinderella and Darth Vader, Democracy and Communism would be meaningless without Christianity.
This is a hard pill to swallow if you are a militant atheist. Christ, like in the BC and AD split of time and history, has changed everything, even altering the way we understand reality itself.
This Christian Humanism pervades our business world, our entertainment and our secular government. Gone are the gladiatorial conflicts and the throwing of human beings to the lions for entertainment. We may be cruel at times, but we all know it is wrong.
This moral outlook which was the gift of our Judaic ancestors in the faith is at the basis of our entire outlook. I remember one poet of the Japanese Haiku (a short poem of a strict brevity) remarked that what was purely descriptive in Japanese was often, when admired by a Western observer, turned into a moral lesson. We worship God, not by ritual, but by moral living. One has only to compare a Japanese Haiku with an equally pithy short poem by Emily Dickinson with its deeply ethical viewpoint to see the difference that Christianity has brought to the World.
This ethical and deeply meaningful point of view can be found all through the concerns that fill our newspapers, often written by supposed unbelievers. Whether the issue is climate change, sexual abuse, the MeToo movement, democratic reforms etc., the guiding energy is always ethical. Its basis is of Judeo-Christian origin. This is what the Ayatollahs and the Communist Chairmen fear the most. Even in its secular garb, the concerns and the whole framework of reality has been shaped by the Christian ethos. It is very attractive and it begins to transform, in a hidden but effective way, as soon as it touches other cultures.
Its power can be explosive. What was it that turned Rome against Christ? How could a religion of universal love and the Good News of the inherent dignity of the human person be so feared by Caesar? Was it perhaps the sight of slave and freeman attending Eucharist side by side, both receiving Communion? Was it the banishment of the code of hatred toward one’s enemies? Was it the equal dignity given to women? Was it the proclamation of God’s special love for the poor? Yes. All of it, for compassion and forgiveness drive a stake through the heart of most world governments, be they ancient Rome or modern Beijing. Christianity is destabilizing in every age and in every culture.
The story of the Infant born in poverty in Bethlehem, who lived His life in obscurity and died as a result of Capital punishment is the most radical manifesto of a new world order that was ever proclaimed on earth. And it is so attractive that a sage like Aquinas and the simplest peasant of the Andes could both bend the knee at the beauty and the justice of it all.
We have developed, without knowing it and probably as a consequence of God’s action, a kind of Christian Secularism that is not overtly religious but has within it Christian concerns and principles. It is hard for us to see at times how the story of Batman or Cinderella could be Christian parables. But many films and fairy tales that seem even explicitly critical of religion are based on Christian presuppositions.
As Western Culture spreads, so do those Christian principles that will create problems for those of opposing viewpoints. What is China to make of what is happening in Hong Kong? The love of freedom and the moral concerns that they are fighting for? And will the communists ever accept that the basis of their communist “faith” is the Judeo-Christian world view that formed Karl Marx?
To be human has become a Christian project whether the participants know it or not.