Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christianity and Universal Values

This was on a hobbyist blog - the exact source doesn't matter as it is a very common sentiment:
I love the Solstice. It's such an important day of the holidays for us, marking the root of the whole season. We're not Christian, so Jesus isn't the reason for our season -  but the ideas that he represents within that religion, light, love, compassion, kindness, generosity, these are pretty universal human values that we can rely on to guide us through the darkest days and the longest nights, and for us, those are the spirit of Christmas, Yule and the Solstice.   Every day between now and Twelfth Night, this family will concentrate on those things- like we try to all year - but it's just so much easier to keep our focus there when there's a big honking pagan symbol of the season in our living room.
Unfortunately, Jesus didn't represent values, or at least any values that make sense without him. The love Jesus represents is a self-sacrificial divine love that transcends the human: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." But more significantly, Jesus did not "represent" that love, he is that love. If Jesus is not real, then in fact God did not so love the world that he gave his only begotten Son, and in that case what becomes of the "universal human value" of love? It remains a merely "human" love, a love that perishes with us and has no more power than any other human value - for instance, the value of social stability (which is why agitators like Christ should be executed) or personal security (which is why it is foolish to give all you have to the poor). Love remains, it is true, but it is not the love with the revolutionary power of Christ. If it tries to be, it ends up crucified like Christ, but without a resurrection and therefore permanently dead and buried in the tomb. The universal human value of love without Christ is a muted love, a love that cherishes others to be sure, but must be tempered by worldly prudence and circumspection. For to love as Christ does is to become vulnerable to the point that suffering is inevitable, and death the only end.

Like Christian love, Christian generosity is revolutionary and, without Christ, appropriately dismissed as crazy. Thus the figure of St. Francis, who gave the very clothes off his back and ran naked into the woods. This is a nutty thing to do - unless you are do it in the Name of the God who volunteered to be nailed naked to the Cross.

And so it goes with all the values. In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the universal human values are remade in His image. Without Him, you may keep your human values... but they remain merely human.

Merry Christmas.


Pseudonoma said...

Great post! I feel that many Christian theologians --otherwise astute and orthodox --understate or neglect this point and its wide ranging consequences.
Not only does Jesus not "represent values" but also he does not represent representations or ideas. I have always found people who speak of Christian ideas without careful qualification to be courting serious misunderstanding. People tend to want to do so approvingly while charting a history of ideas --e.g. "Atheists counterpose the achievements of humanism and social justice (and say the dissemination of the recognition of universal human liberty, equality, fraternity--I use this anti-Christian motto on purpose for hyperbole), but in reality these all have, like their institutional manifestations of hospital and university etc, their source in Christianity and they are Christian ideas. But when these eidetic genealogies are proposed, they seem to preclude the recognition of that which makes anything Christian --the Person of Christ. Indeed the "idea" of person so central to a "trinitarian concept of God" is also, qua idea, uniquely self destructive. Hence the precision of apophatic theology. It is here where I find no Christian need be taken aback by the statement Heidegger makes, in his Einfuehrung in Die Metaphysik, that "Christian philosophy is a square circle." The idea "judge not" is sheer stupidity (not to mention impossibility) --but "judge not that ye be not judged" becomes possible with reference only to the Judge --the Person of God the Father revealed through Person of Christ...

David T. said...

I take your point about philosophy... philosophy is either reborn in Christ or it is a stumbling block.