Among my parents best friends when I was growing up were the Jewish family across the street.
One might wonder what Christmas means in a secular society? And, what did it mean to our friends who weren’t Christians?
In western society, there is a common bond that is best expressed and best celebrated at this time of year. Responding to a blog post titled “How Non-Christians Deal with Christmas”, a reader named Safiq Ali Patel said, “I come from a mixed Muslim, Christian and Jewish family. I celebrate Christmas because I like the theme of love, peace, joy and goodwill to ALL men. God didn't come to earth just for Christians...”
Mr. Patel expresses the best of the western Christian tradition, a tradition expressed in terms of “humanism”, a philosophy that emphasizes the value of people both individually and collectively. The tenets of humanism can be traced to the ancient Greek philosophers and they re-emerge throughout history.
Many associate humanist philosophy with atheism but it might better be associated with separation of church and state. Persecution of those who do not embrace the religion sponsored by the state has resulted in the death and torture of thousands throughout history. During the Spanish Inquisition, Tomas de Torquemada, the inquisitor-general, is said to have executed over 2000 Spaniards. Ironically, this was done in the name of Christianity.
The modern interpretation of humanism is “human rights”, a set of principles outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. These concepts are powerfully attractive, not only to us in the West but also, to people the world over. The concept of self-rule, championed by Jefferson and Voltaire, is fundamental to the Arab Spring. Although European in concept, these ideas now form the basis on which the international community judges nations.
The Christian values of tolerance and love for our fellow man are powerfully attractive to Christians and non-Christians alike. People of all faiths can embrace the annual celebration of Christmas. People respond to the sense of charity, love and forgiveness espoused by Jesus Christ because those values and the emotion we attach to them are fundamental to us as human beings.
The angel who announced the birth of Christ to the world said, “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people….”