In the Atheist Age — the age of Richard Dawkins, Philip Pullman and others whose verbal assaults on God bedeck the best-seller lists — it might seem barren to celebrate a stable, a star and a baby, these being the central figures of Christmas.
Virgin birth? Angels? Bah, humbug — by the reasoning of our the rejectionists and their cheering section.
The communal pieties of the 1950s have loosened their hold on the culture, which explains the set-tos over "Merry Christmas" vs. "Happy Holidays." The Dallas Morning News, just before Christmas, helpfully explained the emergence of the Winter Solstice festival — a manifestation of group spirit for those otherwise lacking the Spirit. Which proves perhaps that it’s hard to get Christmas out of your system, even when you disdain its central tenet — that of the entry of God into human life and affairs through the birth of His only begotten Son.
The claim that He did so is certainly a large one, encroaching deliberately, you might think, on claims concerning the superiority of the scientific method and of the methods of men in general.
The Christmas claim, to be sure, is not only ancient but also pervasive. The whole of what we once were pleased to call Christian civilization rests upon it, as on an immense platform. The improbability of that claim is the point that atheists such as Professor Dawkins push under our noses. What do you mean, "virgin birth?" Who ever heard of such a thing?
It’s a point not without interest. Nobody ever heard of such a thing — this one instance aside. The rule can’t prove the exception; but the exception, and its centrality in the belief system of Christian civilization, give us a way of thinking about the objections of the rejectionists. That is, wouldn’t you think Christians, if they were trying to dupe the world, would traffic in the world’s categories and terms? They’d say — wouldn’t they? — "Let’s leave off this ‘Carpenter of Nazareth’ business, and all that about virgin births and resurrections, and make Jesus … a scientist."
That’s it — a scientist. Not some baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. No, a scientist — a Manger of Affairs. A big shot. Maybe that kind of presentation would get to the atheists: Jesus as a kind of super Nobel laureate in physics and peace. That would sell, wouldn’t it?
Whether or not it would do so, formal, orthodox Christianity concedes not a single comma to the those who promise to like Jesus if he just acts normal. It’s rather a stretch for the incarnate (i.e., "enfleshed") son of God to come on as a sort of First Century Al Gore. On the authority of the Gospel accounts, that’s not what he was about. Rather, on the authority of those same Gospel accounts, and that of Paul — he was here among us to establish direct human link with the Almighty God who had made heaven and earth?
Yes, Dawkins, we hear you. Made what?! Heaven and earth, I believe I said. Not for the Dawkinses, such a non-scientific assertion of non-scientific premises. But, you know, we probably just have to let that go here in the Christmas season. Just as well to reflect on the united belief of the civilization that shaped us, and all we have, and all we are, and all we hope to be, in contrast with the nay-saying of those to whom the babe of Bethlehem may not yet have spoken as loudly as he might have. Or might yet — to their infinite surprise.
The decrepitude of Christian civilization is seriously overestimated. As is the power of the rejectionists to speed up that decrepitude by vehement denunciation. Vehemence! The song of the angels smoothes and calms it at this time of year, with words of love rather than anger and fury and contempt and scorn and derision and the other hallmarks of rejectionist argument.
Have a merry Christmas. It won’t be the last one.