It is Christmas eve, and I'm enjoying the deep peace of an evening with my family, and I am thinking about this beautiful season and the hope that it brings, and also about people celebrating the season around the world under very different circumstances.
These are the Christian communities in peril in places like southern Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Turkey and too many other places in the world. Almost universally, these communities are threatened by Islam, and as that religion drifts more and more into extremism, the danger to the Christians living among them grows.
One of the saddest consequences of the Iraq war was its effect on Iraqi Christians. This community has been decimated, forced to emigrate, and generally oppressed in recent years by both Shiites and Sunnis, who are united in their prejudice against Christians.
The Turkish Christian Community, which is among the oldest in the world, has been reduced to just a few thousand by the orchestrated oppression of the Turkish government--and this is a country that aspires to entry into the European Union. It should never be admitted until it faces its own truth both in regards to Christians and Armenians, not to mention Greeks, and becomes a modern nation, which is to say one that is genuinely secular, recognizes human rights, and expects its citizens to respect all.
The Christians of southern Sudan are hunted like animals by Muslim militias. They are considered barely human, if at all, and yet they are, arguably, the only civilized and compassionate community in the region.
We live in a world whose outrage is methodically blunted by the political correctness of governments and media who endlessly try to placate Muslim extremists.
Let's resolve, in 2010, to forget this nonsense approach to the problem. We need to admit something: Christian ethics, Christian compassion and Christianity's regard for the value of the individual human being are among the very greatest of all moral achievements.
Whether one is a fundamentalist, a moderate or a secular Christian, we absolutely must stand up for Christian values--specifically, those values that Christ taught, and that are embodied in the gospels.
We need to renew our support for the gospel and the sterling excellence of its message.
No matter how much the modern secular community may wish to deny it, in fact, western civilization is Christian civilization. The reason is that it rests in recognition of the value of the individual.
In pre-classical times, during the long ages of the Egyptian and Mesopotamian empires, there was no such thing as an individual. The concept simply did not exist. Even the rulers were so constrained by ritual that they were not in any real way free.
Then, with the advent of Greek thought and Greek culture, the idea of the citizen was born, and unspoken within it, the idea of the individual.
The Roman Empire was the first to build a body of law around the rights of individuals, but, like the Greeks, the concept of the individual and the citizen were essentially the same.
Jesus Christ added a single idea of absolutely extraordinary importance to this: that every human being, no matter how humble, had value in the eyes of God, and was a valid individual.
This is the idea that Christianity has brought to the world, and with it all the compassion, decency and cherishing of the needs of one another that come with it.
And this is why we absolutely must recognize and defend the value of all Christian communities in the world, for they are precious outposts of civilization on a planet where the light of human decency is growing dimmer every day.
What is best in modern civilization rests on the shoulders of the Gospels. Even our most secular western communities derive their awareness of the value of the individual from their own Christian roots.
We must not assume that other traditions are somehow equal to the Christian tradition. They are not equal. I know that it is sacrilege among the politically correct to say so, but it is, quite simply, true. Christianity offers to the world one, single idea of overwhelming importance, that is, in fact, the salvation of this overpopulated world: it is that every human being has value, and it is incumbent upon all of us to cherish each of us as much as we cherish ourselves.
Outside of the Christian world, this idea, is, at best, severely diluted.
Insofar, for example, as Asian societies have embraced the value of the individual, they have done so because of the influence of Christian civilization. For example, the Japanese constitution, promulgated after World War II when Japan was occupied by the western powers, recognized the rights and value of the individual. Before this, Japan absolutely did not recognize individual rights. The only individual in Japan was the emperor, and he was, himself, severely constrained by ritual.
In China today, the individual is almost without legal significance, and, except for a tiny affluent minority, has essentially no social value.
It takes the clarity and force of the Christian message to enable people to recognize the value of the individual.
So, in this season of celebration of the birth of the author of this sterling and sacred ethic, it is well worth considering that there are Christians all over the world, on the peripheries of civilization, who are suffering for their faith, and deserve our recognition and support.
Pray for them.
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