Special Report

Keep the Christ in Christ

It's not just about Christmas anymore.

By 12.1.05

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A friend recently gave me a sleeve of stickers to affix to my Christmas cards that read "Keep the Christ in Christmas." While I strongly agree with the sentiment, I fear it may be too late. Anyone who has seen news footage of idiots duking it out over the last X-Box 360 on the Wal-Mart shelf would have to agree that the War on Christmas is over and the materialists won.

And they aren't even magnanimous in victory. They're rubbing it in our faces. Have you seen the latest Honda commercial? It features the song "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" -- a secular ditty if ever there was one -- only the ad wizards changed the words and mangled the tune to recast the song as "We Wish You a Happy Holiday":

We wish you a happy holiday
We wish you a happy holiday
We wish you a happy holiday
And a happier new year

Advertisers seem to have given up on trying not to offend anyone and have instead come to realize offending Christians is inevitable. Whatever. As the man said, I'd rather push a Ford than drive a Honda.

It's only natural, I suppose, that Christ should be robbed of His Big Day. Everywhere we turn in the common culture, the Jesus of the Bible has been replaced by the Jesus of the Da Vinci Code. For example, my wife and I hosted two couples over the Thanksgiving weekend. Perfectly willing to shatter the rule about not discussing religion at the dinner table, I brought up the subject of Unitarianism, as two of our guests had attended a Unitarian church over an extended period of time during the 1990s and early-2000s, though they no longer do. They believe in a god, they were swift to assure me, but they were unwilling to accept the divinity of Christ. Was he a great moral teacher? Of course. All you need to do is read the Bible to know that, they told me. But the idea that He is God is simply too much for them to grasp. In other words, God may not necessarily be dead, but Christ sure is (though, it must be stated, He's well known for His comebacks.)

It is fortuitous, then, that Mr. Clive Staples Lewis has once again entered the public dialogue by way of the December 9th cinematic release of his masterwork of children's literature The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. Certain to be among the year's blockbusters, it will also serve as one of those "water cooler" cultural moments. While a tad subtler than Mel Gibson's graphic The Passion of the Christ, TLTWTW will nevertheless similarly find us talking about Christianity again.

But it is Lewis's works in the field of Christian apologetics that provide the best ointment for the open sore of Jesus-was-just-a-really-nice-guy-ism. More than anything Lewis wrote in The Chronicles of Narnia, this blurb from his The Case for Christianity eviscerates the proposition that Jesus was a great moral philosopher, but in no way divine:

I am trying here to prevent anyone from saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him [Jesus Christ]: "I'm ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don't accept his claim to be God."

That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic -- on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg -- or else he would be the Devil of Hell.

You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse....You can shut him up for fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come up with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great humanteacher. He has not left that option open to us. He did not intend to.

Ah, but there is a third option, my guests argued. The Gospels were written some forty years after the death of Jesus of Nazareth. Isn't it possible that He was just a wise teacher but that His followers embellished the stories about His teachings to include his claims of divinity?

This proposition is the subject of the cover story in this month's Harper's titled "Jesus Without the Miracles: Thomas Jefferson's Bible and the Gospel of Thomas" and written by Erik Reece, a lecturer in English at the University of Kentucky. Jefferson, the reader will recall, clipped his favorite phrases of Jesus from the New Testiment to create The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. And the Gospel of Thomas is a Gnostic collection of sayings attributed to Jesus, but which were probably written a hundred years or so after the canonical Gospels.

But it isn't logical to conclude that Jesus was a wise teacher who was later turned into God by fawning enthusiasts because His wise teachings and His claims to divinity were recorded by the same people. If we cannot know that He did in fact say, "All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me," then we can't know that he actually said, "Blessed are ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God." It defies logic that His disciples were meticulous scribes of his moral pronouncements but zealous fabulists about everything else. They were either telling the whole truth or a whole lie. And considering they spread the Gospels under penalty of merciless torture and death, it seems unlikely they were lying. Would you allow yourself to be crucified upside down for a lie?

No, you wouldn't. But would you for a mistake? There is another possibility my dinner guests did not suggest. Suppose Jesus was just a slick magician performing parlor tricks for the rubes, sort of like when I disconnect my index finger to impress my niece and nephew, and the dern country mice fell for it and started following him around. But if this was the case, wouldn't the yokels have given up on Him after He was captured and killed and they became the subject of public ridicule for having believed him? I know the day will come when my niece and nephew will realize I can't actually remove my finger and instead I just configure my thumb to look like the tip of my finger. On that day their faith in my "magical powers" will die and they'll just roll their eyes and run off to play Power Rangers. Truth be told, some of Jesus' disciples' faith was shaken. But then He rose from the dead and issued to them the Great Commission to spread the Good News. That must have been one hell of a parlor trick because these fishers of men bought it hook, line and sinker. While it is possible that Jesus was just a first century Doug Henning, the idea that he could raise himself from the dead is an incredible stretch.

And so we are left only with Lewis' formulation. Jesus was either the Son of God or a nut or the Devil himself. Too many in academia, the news media, and the religious and political Left are unwilling to consider the former and few of us can even fathom the consequences of the latter two. And so a great many Americans have chosen the least logical conclusion: they have constructed an image of a polite, well-meaning Jewish boy who had some compelling thoughts on how people should treat one another. As Reece writes in Harper's, "My main focus is to look at the actual teachings of the reformer we call Jesus, and not be burdened with sin, sacrifice and salvation."

We have taken the Christ out of Jesus Christ. Is it any wonder then that we have taken Christ out of Christmas, as well?

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About the Author

Patrick Hynes is an account executive with the consulting firm Marsh Copsey + Scott and the proprietor of the websites www.passionforfairness.com and www.crushkerry.com.