There are two seasons within the year when the whole of Christendom turns with particular fervor as one family to God. Our tradition is rich in both. The first is Christmas, which celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, whom Christians believe is the Son of the Living God, come to redeem mankind from the sin of its first parents. The second is Easter, which proclaims the Lord’s death and professes his resurrection, precisely to complete his divine mission on earth.
Yesterday (25 December) was Christmas. Churches filled to overflowing, and Christian homes shone with special piety, joy and hope as humanity relived the birth of the Christ Child. The celebration will continue through the octave (eight days) of Christmas, and will not end until the Baptism of our Lord following the octave of the Epiphany. It is a special time for loving, self-giving and forgiving; to remember that we are, indeed, “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people set apart.”
An extraordinary time for the entire nation, Church and State, all sectors, to work together to lift all boats, in terms of the moral, spiritual and material lives of all Filipinos. We should not let it pass. At this time of giving and receiving, when many can see only what they have and what they do not have, shouldn’t we do all we can to inspire our people to fix their deeper gaze into what we are, what we have become, or could become and should become, as a people, under God?
It would be most fitting if every Christian had this perspective. Indeed, we could become the most blessed among nations if collectively we had this common perspective. We do need it. The secular State might see it as a difficult ascent into religion, and find every excuse to buck it; but that would be a very poor understanding of the constitutional separation of Church and State. The separation bars the Church from running the affairs of the State, and the State from pronouncing moral doctrine and administering the sacraments. But it does not exclude the State from God’s edicts. God is the ultimate sovereign of both Church and State.
This idea of the citizen or the State being “under God” has caused so much controversy and conflict in our day. It may be said that we now live in an age of non-belief. Many find it so much easier to believe in everything else but God. Atheism, not mere apostasy or agnosticism, is on the rise. The atheist Richard Dawkins, with his best-selling The God Delusion, is being hailed as the new prophet of our age. Science, which can never be divorced from God, is being used to question God’s very existence. Aquinas’s “five ways” to prove that God exists have lost all their flavor among scientists who are out to prove that man is no more than “a lost atom in a random universe,” contrary to what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has so ably demonstrated.
But there are some small mercies from the most unexpected sources. In “God is not Dead,” a straight-talking film by Harold Cronk, a philosophy professor at Hadleigh University opens his Philo 150 class by asking his students what Michel Foucault, Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Feuerbach, Bertolt Brecht, David Hume, Albert Camus, Sigmund Freud, Richard Dawkins and Noam Chomsky have in common.
“They’re all dead,” says one student.
Incorrect, says Professor Radisson. Anyone else? Nobody comes forward, so he supplies it himself. They’re all atheists, he says; they don’t believe in God. “God is dead,” he doesn’t exist, as far as they are concerned.
Guided by the superior impiety of these atheists, he asks each one of his students to write “God is dead”on a piece of paper and to sign it. This will put them in good standing in his class. He gives extra credit to one student who writes “god” using the lower case.
Everyone complies, except for one brash young man named Josh Wheaton, who says, “I can’t do this, I am a Christian.” Radisson tries to bully the young man, saying science has supplanted superstition, and that the student could go to the backroom and pray there–“that would be your business, but what you do in this class is mine.” The student refuses to cave in. So Radisson says he should defend from the podium the antithesis, which says, “God is not dead.”
“And who will judge whether I’ve won or lost?” the student asks.
“I will,” says the professor, “it’s my class, it’s my rules.”
“What about them?” the student asks, referring to the students who have all written, “God is dead.”
“Why should I empower them?” Radisson asks.
“You’ve already won them over,” the student points out. “I’ll have to unconvince them.”
Radisson yields, and gives Wheaton three sessions to make his case.
The first session turns out to be a disaster when Wheaton fails to respond to a quote from Stephen Hawking, the English theoretical physicist, cosmologist, author and director of Research at the Center for Theoretical Cosmology at Cambridge University, on the Origin of the Universe. It is about “spontaneous creation,” which says it is not necessary for God to set the universe in motion. Wheaton’s own girl friend dumps him for this.
But Wheaton comes back in the next round by discussing free will, moral absolutes and quoting Dostoevsky who says, “if God does not exist, then everything is permissible.” He quotes Hawking back to Radisson as saying “philosophy is dead,” and chides him by saying that there’s no need for the professor’s philo 150 class after all. Wheaton seizes the initiative by saying that Radisson is not interested in teaching philosophy but only in spreading anti-theism. And only because he “hates God.”
“Why do you hate God?” Wheaton asks the final question. The professor breaks down. “I hate God because he’s taken everything from me. All I have for him is hate.”
But he insists, “you have proven nothing.”
“Maybe not,” the student says, “but they’ve got to choose,” meaning the class.
And one by one the students rise to say, “God is not dead.”
It isn’t much of a movie or apologetics, either. But it shows us the troubles believers face. We have heard of at least one similar case of a professor in one Catholic or previously Catholic university in Manila who asked at the beginning of his class how many were Catholic, and after the Catholic students had raised their hands, he said that he would not like to see the same hands again, when he asks the same question at the end of the term.
The world is seething with intellectual conceit from non-believers who think humanity can exist without morality, without religion, and without God. But Scripture assures us that what God has revealed to the little ones, he has hidden from the wise. For instance, Descartes is usually called the father of modern philosophy for his phenomenal “cogito ergo sum,” (I think, therefore, I am). Yet it took only a minor retouching of the first word in that formulation for the great Swiss Protestant theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968) to transform its entire meaning. “Cogitor, ergo sum” means, “I am thought of/loved, therefore I am,” as the erudite Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, points out in one of his luminous meditations.
In an old story by Anatole France, an ailing monarch dies fulfilled, believing he has found, condensed in one short sentence, the greatest wisdom of the ages, after the wisest of his counselors delivers it to him from his distant travels for many years. But the king dies deceived, for the sentence merely says, “Man lives, suffers and dies,” whereas the whole truth we learned from our Lord is that “man is born, suffers, dies, and is reborn to eternal life.”
At the Nativity, God’s humility inspires the same response from the Blessed Mother whose “fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum” has led the Son of God to be born among shepherds and sheep, and from the three Magi who came from the East bearing gifts of frankincense, myrrh and gold to pay homage to the lowly born Child. Don’t you think the time has come for us, Filipinos, to unite as a nation, in the same humility, and adopt as our own the words of Mary’s Magnificat?
Enjoy the love, peace and joy of Christmas!