“For Christians, 78% of the American people according to a recent Gallup poll, Christmas is the hinge of the world’s fate, the turning point of life. It is the most important thing that ever happened, and we celebrate it every year because it is still happening now. Whether we know it or not, whether we appreciate it or not, we are part of the Christmas Event that has turned history upside down.”
If Jesus is in fact the most important person in history, if he is the man who started a new movement in history that begins in servitude and ends in freedom, then it ought to be possible to demonstrate this truth in secular terms free of all religious dogma. For the fact is we are free today, at least most of us who are fortunate to live in the former lands of Christendom. This is unique in the whole history of civilization. Not since civilization began some 6000 years ago in the Tigris-Euphrates River Valley has there been a complex society not based on servitude. What happened? How is this possible?
In material terms – and by all means let us speak in material terms — it is because we have an enormous stock of tools and machinery to do the work formerly done by the great mass of ordinary men and women living in bondage of one form or another. Tools, machinery, modern technology — in a word, capital — is what has enabled us to be free. And what is capital but a kind of stored servitude? It is the accumulated crime and sacrifice of centuries, plus interest.
If is no accident that capital first accumulated in Christian societies. Nor is it a coincidence serious, dedicated, practicising Christians — Protestants for the most part — were the people who first gathered capital up into their hands and, instead of wasting it, invested it in new tools and inventions which started the Industrial Revolution.
Jesus taught an ethic of self-sacrifice for the sake of the future. Christianity is a religion of self-sacrifice for the sake of the future, symbolized by the figure of a man on a cross. It was all about trading the pleasures of this life in the hopes of a better world to come, on earth as well as in heaven.
But what is saving and investment but sacrifice for the sake of greater happiness in the future. Our accumulated capital is the measure of that sacrifice. It is what sets modern civilization apart from all civilizations of the past.
For contemporary human beings capital is the tree of life, whose fruit is our livelihood. And though made of base metal it is more precious than gold, for with its help we are able to produce that cornucopia goods that give gold its value. Take capital away and we are back where we started from.
If children ask where this capital came from we can truthfully answer that our ancestors dug it up out of the ground, starting with their bare hands.
These are secular truths. They are demonstrable, empirical facts. . Our children should learn these facts in school. It is vital for them to understand both where we came from and how we got here. How precious is our inheritance, and what a terrible human price has been paid! This is clearly too important a job to leave to the churches. Even if they should proclaim that capital is the reincarnation of Christ.
That is why we should celebrate Jesus’s birthday. It’s not just about Christianity. It concerns us all.
Merry Christmas to you, too, Professor! I look forward to reading the upcoming Yule blogs!
This article greatly puzzles me……….
I seek the answers to these very simple
questions about Christianity.
The religion teaches that Christ was a Jew,
yet this seems seldom to be mentioned in your
Sunday schools…you worship a Jew as your God yet you then preach hatred against Jews because you go on to state incorrectly that
the Jews killed him, which is untrue because
it was the Romans who killed him.
This alone has caused more present hatred
..so called antisemitism…than any goodwill otherwise the religion might have created.
Why is it that some 2000 years later the Jews
are still attacked as being the killers of
Christ? Does it not occur to any of you that
at that time the only religion that existed
was Judaism and that it was a Jew whom you
have elevated into being a God.
This becomes a kind of love-hate relationship
which totally defies any explanation.
The Christian bible itself has the Jewish
Old Testament as its basic foundation yet
this is seldom if ever mentioned having been
replaced by a new Testament which is used in
Judaism is in fact the basis of Christianity,
as is recognised, but the Jewish religion and
the Jews who practise it are reviled to this
very day. They are hated because they are said to have killed one of their own and at
the same time the same one has been elevated
into being the son of God…
I can see no explanation why a so called
killer, according to your faith, can at the
same time be worshipped as God.
I would like to know what Mr.Walter Russell
Mead has to say concerning the above.
Short answer: I completely agree that anti-Semitism is a violation of everything Christianity is about. I am currently working on a book about American attitudes toward Israel and the Jewish people that will give a longer and better answer than anything I can do on the blog. However, for what it is worth, Christians today — especially but not only in the United States — are making a more widespread and concerted effort to kill the virus of anti-Semitism than at any time in Christian history.
In response to Stanley Cohen:
There are literally tens of millions of American Christians who reject anti-Semitism while acknowledging Christian sins of the past (and present) against Jews. Ironically it is Christian denominations associated with the left of the American political spectrum (including, unfortunately, Professor Mead’s Episcopal coreligionists) where anti-Semitism is most often found. More right wing Christian denominations have, as of late, forcefully repudiated their anti-Semitic past.
I am active in the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) a pro-Israel group; some of our greatest allies are members of a Christian organization established to support Israel, Christians United for Israel (CUFI). This group represents tens of millions of passionate Christian Zionists, many of whom feel terribly about the way that Christians have treated Jews throughout the centuries.
Because CUFI was founded by Pastor John Hagee who is doctrinally conservative and adheres to a particular Christian theology (dispensationalism) that promotes a definite eschatological concept about the end times, many liberals, including liberal Jews (which is what most of us are) believe that dispensationalists are only interested in Israel because they view the “in-gathering of the Jews” in Israel is a prerequisite for the sequence of events that they believe will lead to the rapture and eventually the conversion of some Jews to Christianity. In my experience, this is inaccurate. Most of the CUFI members that I have met seem genuinely saddened and apologetic about the Christian history of oppression of Jews and they seem genuinely affectionate and committed to the Jewish state. They never proselytize during their work for CUFI, they have selected a Jewish American as their Executive Director and, in my experience at least, their only goal is a prosperous and secure homeland for Israelis.
I am looking forward to Mead’s book because I am curious about his take on why anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism have become so prevalent in many leftist oriented Christian denominations,(including the Episcopal Church), while at the same time, right wing Christians have escaped (at least partially) the bigotry towards Jews that was unquestionably a part of their past.
Mead’s comments, especially toward the end, do a fine job of echoing that old Christian tactic of playing the injured persecuted victim of others’ intolerance and persecution. However, when the Pope or other Christian leaders take comfort from the fact that, according to their beliefs, if you don’t believe as they do, you are doomed to rot in hell, well,it’s pretty clear to me just who is the real victim of such intolerance and, allegedly, eternal persecution.
People can threaten me with all the misery they want in the afterlife as long as they agree to let me alone until then. There’s a difference between asserting a belief (everyone who disagrees with me about religion is going to Hell) and persecution. And I don’t know where you get the idea that people “take comfort” in the idea of other people going to Hell. To believe that something is true is not to be glad that it’s true; I believed that smoking causes cancer, but I was not happy when my grandfather died of it. That is probably much closer to the way most religious people think about Hell: they might believe that it is real and that people end up there, but there’s nothing about it that fills them with joy. If you’ve encountered some twisted souls who take a different view — I’m sorry.
God is just, showing mercy to the merciful, forgiveness to the forgiving, judging each individual according to his deeds: “With what measure ye meet it shall be measured unto you.” This is the fundamental Hebraic conception of God (with a capital G) common to Jews and Christians alike. If you believe there is such a God then you believe that sooner or later everyone gets what they deserve even though you may not be able to see it. Those who have faith that it is so are able to do things which otherwise they could not. This is a truth which even those who lack faith should be able to understand.
The possibility that this Hebraic conception of God has been the single most influential idea in history is one even atheists ought to be prepared to admit in principle, depending on the evidence, IMO.