Friday, December 26, 2014

The Real Meaning of Christmas: What Would Jesus Teach Today?

In The Real Meaning of Christmas, Brian Regal, a fellow of the Kean University Center for History, Politics, and Policy, explained why Christmas should be celebrated by all people:

    [A] common refrain today . . . is the exaltation to "keep Christ in Christmas." This, I would suggest, is the much better argument than the "war on Christmas" angle. . . .
    Commercialization and atheists are the least of our problems here. Jesus said some of the simplest, yet most moving statements ever uttered: statements to inspire all human kind.
    Whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist or Ufologist, one can’t help but be touched by the profound humanity of "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in."
    He urged his followers to treat people as we would have them treat us. He rejected the pursuit of wealth and political power. He embraced the poor and the outcast, not Hollywood celebrities or mega-preachers. He said the meek would inherit the Earth. It’s unlikely he ever owned more than one set of clothes, let alone an assault rifle.
    Jesus did not say, "When I was hungry, you turned away from me," or "When I was sick, you cut my health care," or "When I was poor, you mocked me," or "When I was a stranger, you pulled a gun on me and stood your ground."

I have a different take on Christmas. Following is an expanded version of my posted comments:

I agree that Christmas is a holiday for all, but for a different reason. (I don't agree with Jesus's ethics.)

Christmas ceased being a religious holiday when Congress declared it a national holiday. A national religious holiday in a secular nation based on the separation of church and state is a contradiction in terms. Today, Christmas is a secular holiday by law, and everyone should feel free to observe it (or not) based on his own values. You want Christ in Christmas? More power to you. No Christ? Same sentiment. To each his own. To paraphrase Jesus, respect others' right to their values, just as you would have them respect your right to your values.

As to Jesus, the context of the time in which he "rejected the pursuit of wealth and political power" was one in which wealth was largely accumulated by thieving rulers. Poverty was the widespread norm, save for the politically powerful few, who took from the meager earnings of their subjects. The pursuit of wealth and political power were synonymous, so Jesus's position was perhaps understandable, if not justifiable.

But the rise of modern capitalistic, free market individual liberty unleashed productive work and win-win, mutually beneficial trade as the path to wealth. People pursue wealth, not by theft, but by creating wealth and then exchanging value for value, simultaneously enriching both themselves and others. The rise of the free market economy separated the pursuit of wealth (economics) from political power. As the Declaration of Independence states, the purpose of government was set to protect individual rights, not the power of parasitical rulers to enrich themselves at the expense of the average man. What would Jesus say to that? Would he understand the difference between the pursuit of wealth by legalized theft, and the pursuit of wealth by work? Hopefully. But his 2000 year-old ethical ideology is not applicable to a free market economy, to the extent that we have one.

Of course, political power can still be an avenue for pursuing wealth by theft, as is the case with the modern redistributionist welfare state. Regal implies that Jesus would endorse this legalized theft with his statement "When I was sick, you cut my health care"—a slap at those who oppose government handouts paid for by forcibly taking from someone who earned it. Jesus certainly preached the morality of what we know today to be socialism; self-sacrifice for the needs of others. But remember the context. Would he endorse the modern union of wealth pursuit and political power—forced transfer of wealth from those who earned it to those who didn't—over voluntary giving? 

The blind, dogmatic adherence to Jesus's 2000 year-old ethical ideology is resurrecting that ancient evil; the pursuit of wealth through political power. It's time to modernize our ethics. What would Jesus preach today if he observed the broad-based prosperity created by self-interested, reason-guided labor (productive work) and trade? What would he think when he observed "poor" people living in comparative luxury vs. the "rich" rulers of his day, as is the case in the semi-free industrialized nations? 

We need a new ethics. In the modern world of wealth creation, should Christmas be about the worship of poverty? No. It should celebrate the rise from poverty made possible by the liberty to selfishly and rationally pursue one's own happiness by one's own efforts. By all means, lend a helping hand to someone in need, if it's consistent with your values and personal circumstances. That doesn't require a holiday to justify. Christmas should be a celebration of the good things in our lives, including our life-enhancing material achievements and the free exercise of spiritual values like rationality, productiveness, honesty, and pride that made those achievements possible. Spirituality and good will toward one's fellow man are not the exclusive monopoly of religion.

This Christmas season, I'll celebrate family, food, cheery decorations, and the wonderful commercialization—the symbol of freedom of production and trade—that enriches all of our lives. Earned spiritual and material enrichment go hand in hand.

Related Reading:

The Creed of Sacrifice vs. The Land of Liberty—Craig Biddle

Books- Understanding Rational Selfishness

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