Translate into a different language

Friday, December 25, 2015

The Christmas Revolution

Photo: Peter Wehner
Peter Wehner, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and contributing opinion writer reports, "Jesus changed the very notion of what it meant to be human."
 
Photo: New York Times

BECAUSE the Christmas story has been told so often for so long, it’s easy even for Christians to forget how revolutionary Jesus’ birth was. The idea that God would become human and dwell among us, in circumstances both humble and humiliating, shattered previous assumptions. It was through this story of divine enfleshment that much of our humanistic tradition was born.

For most Christians, the incarnation — the belief that God, in the person of Jesus, walked in our midst — is history’s hinge point. The incarnation’s most common theological take-away relates to the doctrine of redemption: the belief that salvation is made possible by the sinless life and atoning death of Jesus. But there are other, less familiar aspects of Jesus’ earthly pilgrimage that are profoundly important.

One of them was rejecting the Platonic belief that the material world was evil. In Plato’s dualism, there was a dramatic disjuncture between ideal forms and actual bodies, between the physical and the spiritual worlds. According to Plato, what we perceive with our senses is illusory, a distorted shadow of reality. Hence philosophy’s most famous imagery — Plato’s shadow on the cave — where those in the cave mistook the shadows for real people and named them.

This Platonic view had considerable influence in the early church, but that influence faded because it was in tension with Christianity’s deepest teachings. In the Hebrew Bible, for example, God declares creation to be good — and Jesus, having entered the world, ratified that judgment. The incarnation attests to the existence of the physical, material world. Our life experiences are real, not shadows. The incarnation affirms the delight we take in earthly beauty and our obligation to care for God’s creation. This was a dramatic overturning of ancient thought.

The incarnation also reveals that the divine principle governing the universe is a radical commitment to the dignity and worth of every person, since we are created in the divine image.

But just as basic is the notion that we have value because God values us. Steve Hayner, a theologian who died earlier this year, illustrated this point to me when he observed that gold is valuable not because there is something about gold that is intrinsically of great worth but because someone values it. Similarly, human beings have worth because we are valued by God, who took on flesh, entered our world, and shared our experiences — love, joy, compassion and intimate friendships; anger, sorrow, suffering and tears. For Christians, God is not distant or detached; he is a God of wounds. All of this elevated the human experience and laid the groundwork for the ideas of individual dignity and inalienable rights.

A Brief History of Thought

In his book “A Brief History of Thought,” the secular humanist and French philosopher Luc Ferry writes that in contrast with the Greek understanding of humanity, “Christianity was to introduce the notion that humanity was fundamentally identical, that men were equal in dignity — an unprecedented idea at the time, and one to which our world owes its entire democratic inheritance.”
Read more...

Source: New York Times


If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my Email Updates!

0 comments: