In my columns about gay marriage and abortion, I did not mention religion at all, because I was not basing my arguments on religious belief but simply on logic, which, it may surprise some to hear, is not incompatible with religion, though they can be separated.
However, the negative response I received still accused me of wanting to impose a religion-based government on the nation. I’d like to acknowledge the positive responses I received, of which there were far more.
But now, given the privilege of writing the My View right before Christmas, it would be remiss not to mention that I am Christian, a Catholic. My college degree is in theology. So I’m going to talk about Christmas from a Christian perspective, but I hope what I say can be applied to a non-Christian experience of the holiday too.
One thing Christmas means is solidity, not abstraction. The origin of the holiday is the birth of Jesus. A digression: people point out there were pagan festivals with similar traditions around the same time and conclude that Christmas is actually pagan, but this does not follow. Both birthdays and weddings are often celebrated with cake. A person usually will have celebrated birthdays before celebrating their wedding; does that mean that, if they have cake at the wedding, they’re not actually celebrating a wedding at all, but a birthday? When cultures became Christian they brought their traditions of celebration with them.
Back to the point. In Christian belief, the birth of Jesus was God becoming human, the incarnation. The idea is that, in a specific place at a specific time, the being who caused the Big Bang and created spacetime, who invented the laws of physics, who holds the universe in existence and makes every fusion reaction in every star happen, became a baby boy, with skin, hair, cells and specific and unique DNA, and that he did this so he could die to save mankind.
This is the foundation of Christianity and, to many, it seems crazy. It kind of is – that an omnipotent, omniscient, immaterial being would become an infant – which makes it all the more wonderful. What this means for human life, if it is real, is cataclysmic, but one small way we honor it is to give presents. Just as the immaterial God became solid, a human with a body, we put our immaterial love and good wishes for others into solid objects that we hope will bring them joy.
The practice of Christmas gift-giving has been criticized as materialistic and commercial. While greed and consumerism do often corrupt the attitude toward Christmas, they don’t have to. Properly cherishing material goods can be a sign of reverence for the fact that God entered the material world. Gifts are worthwhile, not as instruments of indulgence and vanity, but as solid signs of generosity and love. So even if you’re not Christian and are celebrating this time just because of family or fellowship, the same principle of incarnation can apply. You may not believe in Christ, but if you believe in Hope, Joy, Truth and Love, don’t keep them immaterial as abstract concepts. Make them solid, with specific acts of kindness and compassion toward specific people.