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Even atheists should celebrate Christmas

Author: Glenn Roberts Jr.

Christmas is a time of traditions - new and old - commencing with the fairly new ritual of going to the mall the day after Thanksgiving.

If you decorated a tree, you also shared in a fairly new tradition. Although the Christmas tree has ancient roots (no pun intended), 100 years ago only 1 in 5 people put up a tree. Only in the 1920s, when Calvin Coolidge became the first president to light a tree on the White House lawn, did the Christmas tree become the hallmark of the season.

Gifts are another established custom. The Bible's "wise men" started this tradition by bringing gifts to baby Jesus. The decorations and gifts of Christmas are only one of our connections to a Christian culture that has held Western civilization together for 2,000 years.

In our culture, because of, and as a reflection of the Christmas event, it is the individual that counts. This permits an individual to assert himself, to take a stand on principle, to become a crusader, to be a reformer and take on injustice. This empowerment of the individual is unique to Western civilization.

It has made the lowliest person a citizen equal in rights to everyone else, protected, from tyrannical government by the rule of law, which includes free speech. Certainly these achievements result from centuries of struggle, but they all flow from the teaching that God so values the individual and his soul, that "God sent his son" so we might live (now and eternally). Christianity gave man importance and a voice.

Formerly only those with power had a voice. History bears witness to this. Now, in Western civilization, people with integrity have a voice - a loud voice. So do people with a sense of justice, honor, duty and fair play. Reformers are free to reform, investors to invest and entrepreneurs to create commercial enterprises, products and occupations.

The result has been a land of opportunity. We used to attract only immigrants who shared our values and reflected them in their own lives. Our culture was absorbed by a diverse people who became one. Unfortunately, in recent decades, we have begun losing sight of the historic achievement that empowered the individual.

The religious, legal and political roots of this achievement are no longer reverently taught in high schools, colleges and universities. The voices that reached us through the millennia and connected us to our culture are being silenced by "political correctness." Prayer has been driven from schools, religious symbols from public life and moral absolutes from our private lives.

There is plenty of room for cultural diversity in the WORLD, but not within a single country. A Tower of Babel has no culture. How can a person be a Christian one day, a pagan the next and a Muslim the day after? A hodgepodge of cultural and religious values provides no basis for law - except the raw power of the pre-Christian past.

All Americans have a huge stake in Christianity. Whether or not we are individually believers in Christ, we are nevertheless the beneficiaries of the moral doctrine that has curbed power and protected the weak. Power is the horse ridden by evil. In the past century, this horse was ridden hard. One hundred million people were exterminated by the Nazis 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 tradition is not limited and restrained by moral and religious scruples. Christianity's emphasis, however, on the worth of the individual makes such power unthinkable. Be we religious or be we not, our acknowledgement of Christ's birth celebrates a religion that made us masters of our souls and of our political life here on earth. Such a religion as this is worth holding on to and honoring - even by atheists.

Glenn Roberts Jr. is a retired businessman who lives in Big Stone Gap. E-mail him at gerpar@mounet.com.

Date Published: December 25, 2003

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