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The European Journal
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Juan A. Soto

Celebrating Christmas as a civilizational mandate

Western civilization has undeniable Christian roots that are embodied, in every sense of the word, in the Nativity of Jesus Christ. The Mystery of the Incarnation, which we celebrate on Christmas, is also a fundamental pillar of the system of values enjoyed by liberal democracy and, in particular, is the ideological forefather or starting point of the modern human rights doctrine. Some dismiss Christmas, others hate it, but its relevance is such that we must celebrate it for what it is, the birth of Christ and, because of it, as a civilizational mandate.

It is Christmas, a time of the year when family and friends get together and celebrate the birth of Christ. However, in the West in particular, these days off work, grand meals and shopping frenzy has blurred the true meaning of Christmas, which has quickly become a celebration of life in general. However, any celebration should be an external consequence of the profound joy caused by the arrival to the world of one life in particular. One which was born in Bethlehem over two millennia ago: Jesus. The Mystery of the Incarnation is what we, Christians, have been preparing for during Advent and we look forward to rejoicing in the company of our dear ones to contemplate the arrival of the new-born King.

However, this arrival is neither the end of the road nor the culmination of a path in a specific time of the year, as many —including faithful Christians— seem to practice consistently, going back to business-as-usual mode just as they get back to their offices after the holidays. Quite the contrary, it should be the beginning of a new life with —and in— Christ, filled with resolutions and an overall renewal that we repeat every year. And the reason for this commitment is that the consequences of the theological and historical truth that we celebrate these days are monumental. And not only in a religious way, but also philosophically and, in particular, with respect to political theory.

In fact, the ramifications of the Incarnation of Christ inform, to a great extent, the cornerstone of Western Civilization. I could mention number of reasons that attest to this statement, but let me illustrate it with an example, which is the modern human rights theory.

Human rights, I argue, are little more than wishful thinking without is deepest roots in the Christian faith and tradition. And not because they are not effectively enforceable claims —something that is particularly clear to all in these coronavirus times. No, what I mean at this point is that the notion that human beings are sacred in so many respects and must be equal before the law is merely because they are endowed with a dignity that emanates from the fact that we are creatures of the same Creator which, as the Christian faith teaches, is also true God and true man, something that gives us special reverence. And what is more, a God and man that died to redeem all Humanity. If one does not hold these truths, many other claims turn out to be built on weak foundations. If not through, and because of, these mysteries, why would we be deserving of such reverence as mere creatures? If it is solely because of our higher conscience or reason, would the same criteria apply to members of the same species with different levels of conscience or reason, which would then be deserving of various levels of dignity? What if other animals in the evolutionary scheme of things also develop some level of conscience? Would they then be entitled to the same rights as we are? The number of questions that would remain unanswered without this very specific Christian notion is indeed unfathomable. As Tom Holland claims, there is nothing at all self-evident about the equal intrinsic worth of all human beings or the inherent preciousness of individual persons. These values belong to Christianity and are now taken for granted by secular thinkers and society as a whole. Paradoxically, however, that same liberal West which ignores that it is a creation of Christianity and today rejects it, still asserts Christian values.

Natural law theorists knew the much better than we do the philosophical underpinnings of natural rights —immediate ancestors of modern human rights— all too well. We are who we are because we are imago Dei. This is why the true nature of Christmas must be dusted up and put back in the place it deserves, which is an altar and not a folkloric festivity or a concatenation of parties and culinary treats. Western civilization is Greek philosophy, it is also Roman law, but above all, it is the Christian faith. And on Christmas day, God becomes man to redeem us all.

Barbarians —ideological or otherwise— hate Christmas because they despise civilization. Some might not even be aware of this logical connection, but their lack of understanding of what they really oppose does not prevent them from doing so. And, of course, there are others that know perfectly what their target is. They know Christmas is civilization. They hate Christmas because it is Christianity. And they hate Christianity because it is civilization. That is why it does not come as a surprise that radical secularism, as I have argued in previous articles, is embarked on a crusade against Christianism but not other faiths and religions —though their day will also come. Yet again, Christianity is dismissed as a fairy tale by the liberal West but its assumptions underpin the modern secular world.  

In the face of such adversity, and given what barbarians hate and despise, we, the people that love —by virtue of birth or adoption— Western civilization must also defend, and celebrate, Christmas. For doing one is to do the other. Celebrating Christmas is a civilizational mandate.