“In the beginning was the Word: the Word was with God and the Word was God … The Word became flesh, he lived among us, and we saw his glory, the glory that he has from the Father as only Son of the Father, full of grace and Truth… Indeed, from his fullness we have, all of us received – one gift replacing another, for the law was given through Moses, grace and truth have come through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:1,3,14,16-17).
In the first place, I begin this short reflection by wishing each, and every one of us, members of our respective families, friends, communities and the nation, a very Merry Christmas 2020, and a serene and prosperous New Year 2021. May the Child Jesus, the Prince of Peace and Lord of Lords, born in the manger at Bethlehem of Judea on Christmas Day for our eternal salvation, fill our individual hearts, minds, souls and spirit, which is the indwelling place in us, of God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit revealed in Jesus Christ, with His Truth, Love and Peace! Amen!
May the Spirit of the Child Jesus – the Risen Christ, find his dwelling-home in us, and transform our individual hearts, minds, souls and redeemed human spirits, into his place of habitation! Amen! May he bless us with strong faith, grace, good health, the sincerity of heart, the strength of character and steadfastness, and with the love of neighbour, singlemindedness, the security of lives and property, and protection from every danger and the evil one, now and forever! Amen!
The Birth of ‘Truth’ at Christmas at a Time like This!
This Christmas and New Year celebrations, my reflection centres on the theme of ‘Truth’ at a time like ours today! It is a reflection on Jesus Christ as the Self-revelation of the ‘Truth of God.’ That is, Jesus Christ himself, as the final and fullness of God’s Self-revelation to humanity and the world, the Truth of God, which took human flesh on Christmas Day at Bethlehem in Judea for our redemption and salvation! God, who, in his fullness and at the appointed time, revealed Himself to us, in Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
The Birth of this ‘Truth’, who is Jesus Christ by name, and who was born in human flesh at Bethlehem, is what, we Christians celebrate at Christmas every year! Christmas is about this ‘Truth,’ Jesus Christ, God-made-man for our salvation. Christmas time, therefore, offers us an opportunity to reflect on the Truth of God revealed in Jesus Christ, and on its relationship to the reign of the Kingdom of God in our hearts, inaugurated in Jesus Christ himself – the ‘Truth’, born at Bethlehem on Christmas Day.
Some Basic Questions
One may ask, ‘what has all these gotten to do with the reality on the ground today in the world in which we live?’ A world devastated by the scourges of COVID-19 pandemic that seems to have no end in view? A world in which ordinary citizens are increasingly losing confidence and trust in their political leaders and institutions of governance? A world groaning under mediocrity of an increasingly declining visionary and sincere political leadership, while wallowing in the endless wilderness of globalized extreme capitalism and consumerism?
What has a discourse on Jesus Christ as the ‘Truth of God’ born in human flesh at Bethlehem on Christmas Day, gotten to do with our world today? A world governed by neo-geopolitics and neo-colonialism supremacy of the powerful nations and the ‘superpowers’ over and above poor peoples and nations of the world? That is, with their excruciating, exploitative and oppressive economic and political order, as well as religious, cultural and traditional institutions, that seemed to have relegated Truth and God, as well as things of God to the background while extolling a kind of ‘neo-humanism’ and ‘world order’ devoid of Christ – the Incarnation of the Son of God at Christmas?
A world where the gap between the rich and poor are on the daily increase and the end is not in sight? A world that is nowadays, under constant threats of deadly virus and pandemics that often looked tele-guided, and in which the common-man looks confused about its origin, whether they are natural, or manmade! A world infested with political instability caused by corrupt regimes, totalitarianism, and of economic recession, exploitation of the poor, as well as wars, genocides, racism, ethnic-cleansings of the most vulnerable groups or nations, and continued religious fundamentalism and terrorism of the highest order!
What has a discourse on Jesus Christ as the ‘Truth’ of God born in human flesh at Christmas gotten to do with the world of today held in sway by the Western hegemony – the political, cultural, and moral crisis and secularism of the West that is immensely affecting all mankind? A world, where there is no generally recognized system of values on which to build? A world where even crimes against humanity are justified by pseudo-religious fanatics, ethnic-irredentism, racism, bigotry, cultural imperialism, severe anti-immigration laws, the deceit of the devil, and ideological hegemony meant to force acceptance of their demand for totalitarian power and control?
Even in countries that claim to be practising democracy and constitutional law, the security of lives and human rights are being subjugated to whims and caprices of the privileged few, the most favoured and powerful in the society, on a pretence of the latest majority decision in the Parliament that is anything but anti-people, lopsided, corrupt and devoid of a human face! A world where the powerful, wealthy, and modern imperial centres of power, would privilege the conservation of nature (which is good), but downplays that of human lives? A world where environmental pollution of ancestral lands of poor countries with rich natural and mineral resources, through indiscriminate exploitation and mining of the Multi-National Companies, takes precedence over and above the protection of human lives and environment of the local inhabitants! A world where billions of dollars could be spent by the powerful for the depopulation of the poor countries in the Southern Hemisphere, but very little attention is paid to nursing, promoting and protecting the life of every human person, especially, the most vulnerable and the poor, from conception to natural death!
As one author rhetorically, puts it: “In how many states are the fundamental human rights observed unconditionally in theory and practice? Someone who, for example, rejects the killing of a child in his mother’s womb or assisted suicide because life is an inviolable gift of God, and considers the equation of marriage with sexual relations between persons of the same sex to be a degradation of the lifelong partnership of a man and a woman, can be prosecuted for alleged intolerance.” (Gerhard Cardinal Müller, “The Power of Truth”, Ignatius Press, San Francisco 2019, 7).
Furthermore, one may also ask, what has our reflection on the Truth of God revealed in Jesus Christ gotten to do with our contemporary world where the modernist’s philosophy that questions the relevance of religion for the modern man appears to be on the rise again, even among our own intellectuals? At a time like ours today, when some of our own local intellectuals are blaming religion as the cause of our woes, of what use is, therefore, a reflection of this kind on the ‘Truth of God’ revealed in Jesus Christ at Christmas? At a time like this when some blame religion as the reason for some of the social violence and poverty in the society, and as the reason why the majority of the poor masses lack the courage to challenge their despotic rulers and dictators, of what use is a reflection of this kind at Christmas and New Year!
Modern Man’s Denial of ‘Truth’
Our thesis in this reflection is that the above scenario of disaster in our world today flows from modern man’s ‘subtle’ but ‘strong’ denial of Truth of God revealed in Jesus Christ. It is a sign also that our seeming manifestation of the pomposity of religiosity in today’s world is not skin-deep. Things are the way they are today because as creatures of God, we are running away from embracing the “objective truth”, and its transforming power, which is ‘founded in God, the Creator of the world, and in the nature of things, and which becomes manifest in rational human thought.’
For many today, religion is useful only if it could offer worldly consolation, strength, influence, physical ‘healing’ and material wealth! The real encounter with the ‘Truth of God’ revealed in Jesus Christ, the total transformation of the human person the encounter with God revealed in Jesus Christ brings about, is often relegated to the background in our religious beliefs and practices nowadays. This is the problem! It is as if religion is there only to offer consolation to people, or to serve one’s personal needs. In other words, modern man has made ‘truth’ of God, something subjective, self-serving, and as that which finds its criterion only in the individual, selfish advantage and pleasure. By so doing, the modern man has himself refused to embrace fully the reality of ‘Truth’ of God – the kingdom of freedom, love and true peace revealed in Jesus Christ!
The modern man is thus, stranded in what theologians call the “dictatorship of relativism” – the philosophy that believes that anything is as good as the other and that anything can go, even if it is against the law of nature and God! This is the crux of the matter!
Modern man has, out of his free will, backed away from embracing fully, the ‘new life’ of the Gospel of redemption, a transformation of human life shaped by the birth of Jesus Christ in human flesh on earth. It is as if a modern man has decided, out of his free will, to run away from the redemptive acts of Jesus Christ, which we Christians celebrate, first at Christmas, and then, reenact at Easter in its fullest form!
As the Gospel of John, which we quoted at the beginning of this reflection, reminds us: “What has come into being in him (Jesus Christ) was life, a life that was the light of men; and the light shines in the darkness, and darkness could not overcome it” (John 1:1-5). In fact, what many are yet to appreciate is that Jesus Christ did not come on earth and took human flesh, because he wanted just to make us nice persons, as in the natural order of things, unredeemed human nature.
No. The Son of God did not take human flesh, just to make us nice persons. Otherwise, there is no difference between Christianity and other world religions like Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Shintoism, the Primal (Traditional) Religions, etc., or the natural law of nature! Rather, God in Jesus Christ took human flesh at Christmas to transform us from within, body and soul, heart and spirit! The Son of God took human flesh to make us better human beings, redeemed, renewed, and recreated, in the ‘image and likeness of God’, as adopted sons and daughters of God through Jesus Christ himself.
This is the mystery, which we celebrate at Christmas! Our adopted ‘son-ship’ (or ‘daughter-ship’) in God through Jesus Christ, transcends our ‘biological’ or any other type of ‘birth’ in the natural order. Christianity, therefore, is not just about long life, or luxurious or nice living in this transitory world. It is about the offer of new life, the eternal life in God through Christ, the taste of which we are expected to bear witness to in this life, in the hope of the eschaton!
This is the ‘new life’ in God inaugurated with the coming of Jesus Christ as “God-man” on earth at Christmas! Ours is, therefore, a ‘redeemed life’ through Jesus Christ. We are no longer living a ‘life’ of the natural order, so to say, but rather in the ‘supernatural’ order in this world, shaped by the redemptive acts of Jesus Christ through his Incarnation (Christmas), Passion, Crucifixion, Death and Resurrection!
In the ‘old order’, it was as if man depended wholesale on his own power as a man to work out his own destiny, without God. In the ancient religions of the East, the man thought he could reach God and things of God by himself, through personal contemplation (or yoga), and sometimes, by ‘worship’ of nature and sky. The followers of Traditional Religions, on their own part, e.g., African Traditional Religion (ATR), sought God and things of God through ancestral veneration and mediation between the visible and invisible worlds, the world of man and that of the spirit world. In each of these cases, there was no way a man could reach God or even know God as God is in himself, by human efforts alone. Because, only God can make God known, and only him alone, can reveal his true nature and inner-life to man and other created reality.
Moreover, goodwill is not enough! Goodwill, itself, is part of the effort of man to know God all by himself and through his personal efforts or search (contemplation) of the ‘divine.’ This is not enough! There must be ‘divine grace’, shaped by Christ-event, the incarnation (Christmas) and crucifixion on the cross, to make that happen! As traditional theology teaches us, “grace does not destroy nature.” Rather, it perfects and ennobles nature, to make it pleasant before God and man, for the greater glory and honour of God.”
‘Nature’, on its own, has no meaning without the ‘Supernatural’, enlightening the ‘nature’, giving it shape and meaning! Moreover, it is not the function of ‘nature’, to determine on its own, the origin and contents of the ‘Supernatural.’ Explaining everything about the ‘Supernatural’ on the basis of ‘natural’ order alone, is like the barrister at law, who sees everything about the man and human nature from a legal point of view, forgetting that man is more than legal or things of human law! It is could also be likened to that psychologist (or even the psychoanalyst), who attempts to explain everything about man, human nature and behaviour in terms of psychoanalysis or psychoneurosis.
These experts in various fields of humanity and human behavior often forget that man is larger than any field of their specializations. They forget the divine nature, origin and destiny of man is in God. Moreover, they forget that nature on its own cannot do much. Nature needs the grace of God to realize its essence of being and destiny! Without grace, nature is nothing! This is how the Creator, has made it to be from the beginning. It is also part of the reasons, why we have the incarnation of the Word of God, Jesus Christ, in human flesh, and not pantheism.
Pantheism believes that ‘everything is ‘supernatural’ and ‘supernatural’ is everything.’ This is blasphemy! In other words, pantheism is a belief in and worship of nature as gods. Pantheism mixes nature with nature and calls it ‘supernatural.’ The equivalent of which is ‘magic.’ Pantheism does not distinguish between nature and the ‘supernatural.’ Neither does it know of the grace of God, which nature needs to make itself pleasant before God and man. It is heretical and theologically wrong, to speak of a mixture of nature with the ‘supernatural’ for one to create a new order! Rather the order of things is that the grace of God works on nature in order to renew nature itself and recreate it according to God’s original plan of salvation for man and the created reality.
This is because, the origin of ‘nature’ itself is from the ‘Supernatural’ and its final destiny, is determined by the ‘Supernatural.’ It is the work of the ‘Supernatural’ to reveal to ‘nature’ the true meaning of what it is, its form and content, and not the other way round. This is the order of nature, of our relating with the ‘Supernatural’, and of our relationship and way of comprehending, in an objective way, the mystery of God, the Creator, who, in his fullness, at the appointed time, has been revealed to us, in Jesus Christ!
Such that the effort of man in all the non-Christian religions to reach God through man’s personal effort could best be described as ‘providential way’, God, in His divine wisdom used in preparing humanity – the followers of those non-Christian religions for the coming of Jesus Christ. With the advent of Christianity, however, those non-Christian religions have served their purpose. In the new dispensation, therefore, the only true way to God – the ‘Truth’ about God, is Jesus Christ. Every attention now should be focused on Christ, in whom, in the fullness of God’s Self-disclosure to humanity and the world!
Therefore, thanks to the coming of Jesus Christ in human flesh, humanity has now learnt the true way of God’s dealing with man and the created reality. It is not ‘man going to God through human efforts’, but rather God, in His Son, Jesus Christ, coming to man in human flesh. God comes to us. In creation, he came down and created man in his image and likeness, and called him to communion with himself in paradise. This was before the “Fall” of man through sin. Creation itself was God’s initiative, not man’s.
For our redemption after the “Fall” of the ‘first parents’ Adam and Eve, God, out of his own initiative, and according to his original plan of salvation, sent his own begotten Son, Jesus Christ for our redemption and salvation through the same Christ-Event. He came to us in his Son Jesus Christ, through which, we have been redeemed, and today he lives among us, in the power of the Holy Spirit, which is the Spirit of the Risen Christ himself, who died on the cross for our salvation.
Implications for Our Secularized and Globalized Society
What is the significance of this our reflection on Christmas as the feast of the birth of “Truth” of God, revealed in Jesus Christ, for our society today? The odd things happening in the society, in which we live and work today, have made some people, who by all standard should have known better, to turn religion into a business-like venture, and as a thing for economic enrichment and aggrandizement. The abuse of spiritual power by some religious leaders, especially, priests and pastors in the ‘healing ministry’, of which distress poor people are often their victims, is a great distraction to the people’s faith and understanding of the essence of religion and the Truth of God revealed in Jesus Christ!
Some others, especially, our local intellectuals, instead of challenging the corrupt and incompetent politicians at the seat of power as responsible for the mess and violence in the society and state, attack religion. Some of these intellectuals have even gone to the extent of calling for the taming of religion by the state. But they forget that religion is as a victim of bad and corrupt leadership in the society as everything else! Because religion is not the cause of violence or ineptitude and incompetent leadership of the politicians.
Moreover, one can ask whether the identification of religion – or rather of Monotheism with violence and of modern man’s near return to ‘worship’ of nature and ‘polytheistic spirituality’ with tolerance, holds up to empirical scrutiny? History tells us of different facts. Consider, for example, the persecutions the Jews endured on account of their loyalty to the One-True God and Maker of all. The martyrdom of the scribe Eleazar and seven brothers (2 Maccabees 6:18-7:42), is just one example. The same applies to the persecutions of Christians under the Roman Empire during the first three Christian centuries.
In our time, in different countries of the world, particularly, in Africa and Asia, each year thousands of Christians testify with their lives to the truth that God’s love is stronger than the world’s hatred. They are the martyrs of the truth, the truth that is God himself and that is founded in him. As Gerhard Cardinal Müller tells us, “Whoever, in the face of the martyrs’ suffering and death, asserts that their monotheism [belief in the One-True God] and their confession of Christ is a source of violence, demonstrates a degree of thoughtlessness that holds people in contempt.” Furthermore, the very allegation that belief in the One-True God revealed in Jesus Christ, implies a readiness to resort to violence is in itself an expression of mental violence, which in some civilized societies, leads to verbal aggression against committed Christians.
Again, the identification of belief in One-True God with violence is not found lacking only when it comes to empirical verification. It also contradicts basic logic. Violence is the one instrument the truth cannot use to make itself recognized. After all, truth aims at understanding, which comes about only when the truth is freely accepted by reason. “Therefore, to help someone come to this understanding – to help someone come to know the truth – one cannot resort to violence but must rather make use of rational arguments that seek to persuade. Truth can be denounced as a source of violence only if one apodictically asserts that relativism is the only correct position that one can take before a truth that is ultimately unknowable.”
What all these imply is that religion or rather the truth about the One-True God revealed in Jesus Christ cannot be a source of violence or anxiety to the world or to any individual for that matter! ‘It is rather the lie, inasmuch as it can’t prevail by force of argument, that necessarily gives birth to violence or the threat of it.’ On top of this, there may be the lure of worldly goods to entice the believer to fall away from the true faith. For instance, speaking to the last of the Maccabean brothers, “the king appealed …, not with mere words, but with promises on oath, to make him rich and happy if he would abandon his ancestral customs: he would make him his Friend and entrust him with the high office” (Mac 7:24).
In fact, this scene is relevant to the current situation of things in our society, plagued by neo-feudalism, ‘false democracy’, the dictatorship of the most powerful, and tyrannical regimes of the highest order. The scene is about the tyrant’s reaction to the faithfulness of a true Israelite: “The king fell into a rage, and handled him worse than the others, being exasperated at his scorn” (2 Mac 7:39). Just as in later days, Jesus would not threaten his tormentors but pray for them while hanging on the Cross, here too we can recognize the nonviolent fruit of every martyrdom: “So he died in his integrity, putting his whole trust in the Lord” (2 Mac 7:40).
This scene reminds us of what caused the fall of totalitarian regimes and ideologies that sustained such a regime. ‘Intelligent critics of totalitarian ideologies (such as George Orwell in “Animal Farm”, Alexander Solzhenitsyn in “The Gulag Archipelago”, or Eugene Kogon in “The SS State”), have traced the collapse of extremely violent states, such as the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, to the lies on which they were built.’ For these authors, in those systems, solidarity with members of the same class or ethnicity counted more than truth and regard for our common humanity.
Erich Mielke, the minister for the state security in the German Democratic Republic who was responsible for hundreds of deaths at the Berlin Wall, faced critical questions in the first democratically elected parliament after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Seeking to apologize for his misdeeds, he stammered: “But I love you all.”
Commenting on this, Gerhard Cardinal Müller says, “Both experience and reason tell us that truth and love belong together and that truth and freedom are twin concepts, whereas lies and hatred, ideology and violence, form an ominous alliance.” For instance, Israel’s primordial experience of God’s truth is connected with its liberation from the power of Pharaoh. The people are freed by God, who makes a covenant with them. The God of Mount Sinai, who revealed his truth by saying, “I am who I am” (Exodus 3:14), is also the God of Exodus, who liberates his people: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Exodus 20.2).
In Jesus Christ, the One who made all human beings also want to save all human beings. “For there is one God, there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:5-6). God is not the overpowering heavenly dictator who demands blind obedience, but “our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4). And his apostles (and disciples) do not come as propagandists of a secular doctrine of salvation or power “in lofty words or wisdom” (1 Corinthians 2:1), but as “ministers of the word” (Luke 1.2), as his “witnesses … to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8), as preachers and teachers of the Gentiles in “faith and truth” (1 Timothy 2:7).
This implies that the truth of God in Christ and in His Church remains the foundation and the source of the love of God and neighbour, a love that is the fulfilment of the whole law.
In our society of today, devastated by various kinds of manmade problems, and controlled by the powerful and the rich, the only thing that the poor man holds on to survive and hope for better tomorrow and life eternal, is God. It is his faith in the One True-God, revealed in Jesus Christ. Take away God or religious faith from the common man, he is gone as a human person, a finite being, dependent solely on God for survival and living.
This is why we should be wary of anybody, theory or ideology that tries to discourage a man from believing in the One True-God and in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the only mediator between God and man. Religion or worship of One True-God (Monotheism) is not the problem of the world. It is not the cause of social violence, either.
Rather, human beings’ manipulation of divisive elements in culture and religion to cause violence in the society is the problem, not a religion, per se! Thus, it is a human being that needs to be tamed, not religion. Because to discredit or ban religion in the society in which we live, is to stop a man from practising and manifesting openly his faith in the Truth of Monotheistic God. This could be dangerous!
In fact, Plato was right when he subordinated his reverence for Homer to the truth about God, and Aristotle applied this principle to Plato himself, his teacher. Because as Aristotle affirms, “Amicus Plato sed magis amica veritas” – Plato is a friend but truth is a greater friend.
In our day, this aphorism of Aristotle on the supremacy of truth of God, remains in force!
Merry Christmas, and Prosperous New Year 2021!
By Fr. Francis Anekwe Oborji, a Roman Catholic Priest, Professor Ordinarius of contextual theology at the Pontifical Urbaniana University, Rome.
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