Since The Classic Liberal is a political blog, the following two articles offer a couple of very important Christmas lessons we can apply to our political lives.
The decorations and gifts of Christmas are one of our connections to a Christian culture that has held Western civilization together for 2,000 years.
In our culture the individual counts. This permits an individual person to put his or her foot down, to take a stand on principle, to become a reformer and to take on injustice.
This empowerment of the individual is unique to Western civilization. It has made the individual a citizen equal in rights to all other citizens, protected from tyrannical government by the rule of law and free speech. These achievements are the products of centuries of struggle, but they all flow from the teaching that God so values the individual's soul that he sent his son to die so we might live. By so elevating the individual, Christianity gave him a voice.
Formerly only those with power had a voice. But in Western civilization people with integrity have a voice. So do people with a sense of justice, of honor, of duty, of fair play. Reformers can reform, investors can invest, and entrepreneurs can create commercial enterprises, new products and new occupations.
The result was a land of opportunity.
In recent decades we have begun losing sight of the historic achievement that empowered the individual. The religious, legal and political roots of this great achievement are no longer reverently taught in high schools, colleges and universities or respected by our government. The voices that reach us through the millennia and connect us to our culture are being silenced by "political correctness" and "the war on terror." Prayer has been driven from schools and Christian religious symbols from public life. Constitutional protections have been diminished by hegemonic political ambitions.
All Americans have a huge stake in Christianity. Whether or not we are individually believers in Christ, we are beneficiaries of the moral doctrine that has curbed power and protected the weak. Power is the horse ridden by evil. In the 20th century the horse was ridden hard. Millions of people were exterminated by National Socialists in Germany and by Soviet and Chinese communists simply because they were members of a race or class that had been demonized by intellectuals and political authority.
Power that is secularized and cut free of civilizing traditions is not limited by moral and religious scruples. V.I. Lenin made this clear when he defined the meaning of his dictatorship as "unlimited power, resting directly on force, not limited by anything." Our government's drive for hegemony is resurrecting unaccountable power.
Christianity's emphasis on the worth of the individual makes such power as Lenin claimed unthinkable. Be we religious or be we not, our celebration of Christ's birthday celebrates a religion that made us masters of our souls and of our political life on Earth. Such a religion as this is worth holding on to even by atheists.
At the heart of the Christmas story rests some important lessons concerning free enterprise, government, and the role of wealth in society.
Let's begin with one of the most famous phrases: "There's no room at the inn." This phrase is often invoked as if it were a cruel and heartless dismissal of the tired travelers Joseph and Mary ... [But in fact] the inns were full to overflowing in the entire Holy Land because of the Roman emperor's decree that everyone be counted and taxed. Inns are private businesses, and customers are their lifeblood. There would have been no reason to turn away this man of royal lineage and his beautiful, expecting bride.
In any case, the second chapter of St. Luke doesn't say that they were continually rejected at place after place. It tells of the charity of a single inn owner, perhaps the first person they encountered, who, after all, was a businessman. His inn was full, but he offered them what he had: the stable. There is no mention that the innkeeper charged the couple even one copper coin ...
It's remarkable, then, to think that when the Word was made flesh with the birth of Jesus, it was through the intercessory work of a private businessman. Without his assistance, the story would have been very different indeed.
And yet we don't even know the innkeeper's name. In two thousand years of celebrating Christmas, tributes today to the owner of the inn are absent. Such is the fate of the merchant throughout all history: doing well, doing good, and forgotten for his service to humanity.
[The room shortage] was because of a government decree that Mary and Joseph, and so many others like them, were traveling in the first place. They had to be uprooted for fear of the emperor's census workers and tax collectors. And consider the costs of slogging all the way "from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David," not to speak of the opportunity costs Joseph endured having to leave his own business. Thus we have another lesson: government's use of coercive dictates distort the market.
Moving on in the story, we come to Three Kings, also called Wise Men. Talk about a historical anomaly for both to go together! Most Kings behaved like the Roman Emperor's local enforcer, Herod. Not only did he order people to leave their homes and foot the bill for travel so that they could be taxed. Herod was also a liar: he told the Wise Men that he wanted to find Jesus so that he could "come and adore Him." In fact, Herod wanted to kill Him. Hence, another lesson: you can't trust a political hack to tell the truth.
Once having found the Holy Family, what gifts did the Wise Men bring? Not soup and sandwiches, but "gold, frankincense, and myrrh." These were the most rare items obtainable in that world in those times, and they must have commanded a very high market price.
Far from rejecting them as extravagant, the Holy Family accepted them as gifts worthy of the Divine Messiah. Neither is there a record that suggests that the Holy Family paid any capital gains tax on them, though such gifts vastly increased their net wealth. Hence, another lesson: there is nothing immoral about wealth; wealth is something to be valued, owned privately, given and exchanged.
When the Wise Men and the Holy Family got word of Herod's plans to kill the newborn Son of God, did they submit? Not at all. The Wise Men ... snubbed Herod and "went back another way" – taking their lives in their hands ... In short, they resisted. Lesson number four: the angels are on the side of those who resist government.
In the Gospel narratives, the role of private enterprise, and the evil of government power, only begin there. Jesus used commercial examples in his parables (e.g., laborers in the vineyard, the parable of the talents) and made it clear that he had come to save even such reviled sinners as tax collectors.
And just as His birth was facilitated by the owner of an "inn," the same Greek word "kataluma" is employed to describe the location of the Last Supper before Jesus was crucified by the government. Thus, private enterprise was there from birth, through life, and to death, providing a refuge of safety and productivity, just as it has in ours.