History Without ChristDONALD DEMARCO
Bertrand Russell, one of the twentieth century's most apostolic atheists, believed that human history would have fared far better had Christ and his followers never come into being.
In Why I Am Not A Christian, Lord Russell explains, rather tersely and simplistically, why he could not be a disciple of the Nazarene: "Christ tells us to become as little children, but little children cannot understand the differential calculus, or the principles of currency, or the modern methods of combating disease." Such an attitude, of course, is mockery rather than argumentation and hardly warrants a rebuttal. Russell does not really explain why he is not a Christian, nor why he has so little regard for the love that Christ brought into the world and that his followers spread to its four corners. He does tell us, however, that he finds it preferable to believe that man is a product of chance and that life is entirely devoid of purpose: "The world in which we live can be understood as a result of muddle and accident; but if it is the outcome of deliberate purpose, the purpose must have been that of a fiend. For my part, I find accident a less painful and more plausible hypothesis."
On another occasion, the same Bertrand Russell writes: "If life is to be human it must serve some end which seems, in some sense, outside human life, some end which is impersonal and above mankind, such as God or truth or beauty" (Principles of Social Reconstruction). This is an extraordinary admission for such a stouthearted atheist. If there were no God, needless to say, there would be no atheists. But here, Russell is in touch with his deeper self, the self that yearns for meaning and dignity, but does not know how to locate it.
Coventry Patmore once said that Mary is "Our only Saviour from an abstract Christ." By extension, we can say that Christ incarnate is our only Saviour from an abstract God. Russell, Freud, Nietzsche, Marx, Darwin, Sartre, and other staunch and influential opponents of Christianity were not entirely irreligious. Their problem was that of worshipping a God who is so abstract that he is an indistinguishable blend of wish, imagination, egoism, yearning, and realism. Christ is God who enters the world as a human being and forevermore clarifies His reality and distinguishes it from myth and wishful thinking. His teaching clarifies who we are and what is expected of us.
Heathenism sought religion; Judaism hoped for it. Christianity is the embodiment of what the heathens sought and what the Jews hoped for. Without Christ, people would be still seeking and hoping for that religion and that person who is the incarnation of their deepest longings. They would be still searching in that twilight where wish and hope converge for a reliable morality, a way of truth, a consolation for suffering, and an assurance of the hereafter. Without Christ, who brought light into a darkened world, the world would still be in the dark.
The English historian Thomas Babington Macauley was right when he eloquently outlined some of these essential gifts that Christ brought to the world: "The real security of Christianity is to be found in its benevolent morality; in its exquisite adaptation to the human heart; in the facility with which it accommodates itself to the capacity of every human intellect; in the consolation which it bears to every house of mourning and in the light with which it brightens the great mystery of the grave."
Christ offers us the answer to what we seek. It brings light to dispel darkness, hope to relieve anxiety, joy to replace sadness, truth to efface error, justice to counter prejudice, and love to overcome indifference. Pope Leo XIII stated in Rerum Novarum that "Civil society was renovated in every part by the teachings of Christianity. In the strength of that renewal the human race was lifted up to better things. Nay, it was brought back from death to life."
In Christ, God became man and entered into history. The eternal entered into time. The divine and the human were united. Thus, it made perfect sense that in art, the finite symbolizes the infinite; that in marriage, spousal life images Christ's mystical union with the Church; that procreation is a continuation of creation; that everyone who abides in love abides in God. As St. Thomas Aquinas has written (Summa Theol. III, 40, 1): "Christ's manner of life was shaped to the purpose of His incarnation. He came into the world, first that He might proclaim the truth . . . Secondly, He came that He might free men from sin . . . Thirdly, He came that we might have access to God."
Henri de Lubac, S.J., in The Drama of Atheist Humanism, documents how "man cannot organize the world for himself without God; without God he can only organize the world against man." Exclusive humanism, that is, atheist humanism, is inhuman humanism. The existence of God means that we are not mere members of society, but brothers and sisters of the same family. The reality of Christ means that we can participate in His divine life. Regnum Christi intra nos est (the kingdom of Christ dwells within us).
One of Pope John Paul II's favorite themes was how Christ reveals man to himself. The ancient Greeks believed that the counsel to "know thyself" was so profound as to have a supernatural origin. Without this understanding of what man is, he experiments endlessly with a limitless variety of false identities. He is a mere individual or a faceless member of the collective! He is a consumer or a laborer! He is a netizen of cyberspace or a pawn of big government! He is an animal or an angel, a divinity or dust! He is the product of blind evolution or a self-made man! He is an intricate machine or a trousered ape; an id without a super-ego or a super-ego without an id! He is a winner, a loser, a victim, a predator, a success, a failure, an alien, a patriot, a nobody, a somebody, a superman, a patient, a pauper, a prophet, a party member! Man oscillates miserably between identities that do not quite fit the measure of his being. It must be explained to him from a higher source that he is of infinite value and yet must live, not by pride, but by love.
"Why do we need Him? This is the question John Paul asked in Celebrate 2000 about our need for Christ. "Because," he answers, "Christ reveals the truth about man and man's life and destiny. He shows us our place before God as creatures and sinners, as redeemed through His death and resurrection, as making our pilgrim way to the Father's house. He teaches the fundamental commandment of the love of God and love of neighbor. He insists that there cannot be justice, brotherhood, peace and solidarity without the Ten Commandments."
The question, "what would history be like without Christ?" is something like asking, "what would the statue of David be like without Michelangelo?" Christ is the Maker of history! He is that agent without whom history would not have its proper meaning and direction. Christ is the alpha and the omega. He is the architect that gives history its eschatological significance. Without Christ, history would be unintelligible to the mind; but it would be unbearable to the spirit. Without Christ, the life of each person would be accurately encapsulated by T. S. Eliot's mordant phrase: "I have measured out my life with coffee spoons."
Aquinas states (Summa Theol. III, 35, 8) that "one difference between Christ and other men is this: they do not choose when to be born, but He, the Lord and Maker of history, chose His time, His birthplace, and His mother."
Christmas means that Christ enters the world and thereby gives meaning and direction to both human life and to the course of human history. He reveals man to himself, forgives sins, provides grace, and through His resurrection, offers a place with Him in paradise. He clarifies our dignity, our destiny and our duty. He arrives as a child, advises us to be as little children, but invites us to renew the face of the earth. He arrives on Christmas Day to tell us, as Clarence Oddbody, Angel Second Class, said to George Bailey: "You've really have a wonderful life. Don't you see what a mistake it would be to throw it away?"
Christ chose to be born so that we, who could not make such a choice, could nevertheless choose to be reborn, to accept our birth and life with meaning and joy. His physical birth was for our spiritual rebirth. He brought light into the world so that we could cherish and enjoy the gift of life. Without prizing life and sharing His light with others, the world would lie in darkness and our lives would remain unlit, unappreciated, unhappy, unhopeful, and unredeemed. Christmas is a festival of light, a light by which we begin to discern the value of our lives and the glory that is God's.
Donald DeMarco. "History Without Christ." National Catholic Register.
Reprinted with permission of Donald DeMarco.
Copyright © 2008 Donald DeMarco
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