Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Why Christians Celebrate Christmas

In this season of shopping and feasting it's easy to lose sight of why Christians celebrate Christmas. The following allegory, which we've run on Viewpoint several times in the past, is a modest attempt to put the season into perspective. Apologies in advance to those who may be a little squeamish:

Michael, a member of a top-secret anti-terrorism task force, was the father of a teenage daughter named Jennifer, and his duties had caused him to be away from home much of the time Jen was growing up. He was serving his country in a very important, very dangerous capacity that required his absence and a great deal of personal sacrifice. As a result, his daughter grew into her late teens pretty much without him. Indeed, his wife Judith had decided to leave him a couple of years previous and took the girl with her.

Finally, after several years abroad, Mike was able to return home. He longed to hold his princess in his arms and to spend every possible moment with her to try to make up for lost time, but when he knocked on the door of his ex-wife's house the girl who greeted him was almost unrecognizable. Jen had grown up physically and along the way she had rejected everything Michael valued. Her appearance shocked him and her words cut him like a razor. She told him coldly and bluntly that she really didn't want to see him, that he wasn't a father as far as she was concerned, that he hadn't been a part of her life before and he wouldn't be in the future.

Michael, a man who had faced numerous hazards and threats in the course of his work and had been secretly cited for great heroism by the government, was staggered by her words. The loathing in her voice and in her eyes crushed his heart. He started to speak, but the door was slammed in his face. Heartbroken and devastated he wandered the streets of the city wondering how, or if, he could ever regain the love his little girl once had for him.

Weeks went by during which he tried to contact both his ex-wife and his daughter, but they refused to return his calls. Then one night his cell phone rang. It was Judith, and from her voice Mike could tell something was very wrong. Jennifer had apparently run off with some unsavory characters several days before and hadn't been heard from since. Judy had called the police, but she felt Mike should know, too. She told him that she thought the guys Jen had gone out with that night were heavily into drugs and she was worried sick about her.

She had good reason to be. Jen thought when she left the house that she was just going for a joy ride, but that's not what her "friends" had in mind. Once they had Jen back at their apartment they tied her to a bed, abused her, filmed the whole thing, and when she resisted they beat her until she submitted. She overheard them debating whether they should sell her to a man they knew sold girls into slavery in South America or whether they should just kill her now and dump her body in the bay. For three days her life was a living hell. She cried herself to sleep late every night after being forced into the most degrading conduct imaginable.

Finally her abductors sold her to a street gang in exchange for drugs. Bound and gagged, she was raped repeatedly and beaten savagely. For the first time in her life she prayed that God would help her, and for the first time in many years she missed her father. But as the days wore on she began to think she'd rather be dead than be forced to endure what she was being put through.

Mike knew some of the officers in the police force and was able to get a couple of leads from them as to who the guys she originally left with might be. He set out, not knowing Jennifer's peril, but determined to find her no matter what the cost. His search led him to another city and took days - days in which he scarcely ate or slept. Each hour that passed Jennifer's condition grew worse and her danger more severe. She was by now in a cocaine-induced haze in which she almost didn't know or care what was happening to her.

Somehow, Michael, weary and weak from his lack of sleep and food, managed to find the seedy, run down tenement building where Jennifer was imprisoned. Breaking through a flimsy door he saw his daughter laying on a filthy bed surrounded by three startled kidnappers. Enraged by the scene before his eyes he launched himself at them with a terrible, vengeful fury. Two of the thugs went down quickly, but the third escaped. With tears flowing down his cheeks, Mike unfastened the bonds that held Jen's wrists to the bed posts. She was weak but alert enough to cooperate as Michael helped her to her feet and led her to the doorway.

As she passed into the hall with Michael behind her the third abductor appeared in her way with a gun. Michael quickly stepped in front and yelled to Jennifer to run back into the apartment and out the fire escape. The assailant tried to shoot her as she stumbled toward the escape, but Michael shielded her from the bullet, taking the round in his side. The thug fired twice more into Michael's body, but Mike was able to seize the gun and turn it on the shooter.

Finally, it was all over, finished.

Slumped against the wall, Mike lay bleeding and bruised, the life draining out of him. Jennifer saw from the fire escape landing what had happened and ran back to Michael. Cradling him in her arms she wept and told him over and over that she loved him and that she was so sorry for what she had said to him and for what she had done.

With the last bit of life left in him he gazed up at her, pursed his lips in a kiss, smiled and died. Jennifer wept hysterically. How could she ever forgive herself for how she had treated him? How could she ever overcome the guilt and the loss she felt? How could she ever repay the tremendous love and sacrifice of her father?

Years passed. Jennifer eventually had a family of her own. She raised her children to revere the memory of her father even though they had never known him. She resolved to live her own life in such a way that Michael, if he knew, would be enormously proud of her. Everything she did, she did out of gratitude to him for what he had done for her, and every year on his birthday she went to the cemetery alone and sat for a couple of hours at his graveside, talking to him and sharing her love and her life with him. Her father had given everything for her despite the cruel way she had treated him. He had given his life to save hers, and his love for her, his sacrifice, had changed her life forever.

And that's why Christians celebrate Christmas.

May all our readers have a wonderful and meaningful Christmas this year.

Bill and Dick Cleary

Naturalism = Nihilism

Like Marc Hauser, whose essay we critiqued earlier this week (see here for links), Alex Rosenberg is a naturalist. That is to say he's a philosopher who believes that the natural universe, matter and energy, is all that is. There's nothing else.

Rosenberg believes that everything that exists can, in principle, be explained in terms of the laws of physics, and he's written an essay in which he faces squarely the consequences of the naturalistic worldview. Rosenberg admits that they're not pretty. Indeed, he argues - correctly, I think - that naturalism leads him to deny the existence of meaning in life, morality, consciousness, the self, and free will.

Unlike Hauser's, Rosenberg's conclusions are logically consistent with his starting point. Naturalism does lead to the denial of much of what makes us human. It leads, in fact, to nihilism, the view that nothing has meaning, nothing has value, nothing matters. That we recoil from these consequences, that we have deep-seated yearnings for meaning, morality, significance, etc., should suggest that naturalism itself is not true. Why, after all, would nature shape us in such a way that our deepest longings are unfulfillable and incompatible with the way reality is?

The unpleasant consequences of naturalism (which may be considered a synonym for atheism) should lead us to wonder whether nature really is all there is. They should lead us to wonder whether our deepest yearnings really are capable of being fulfilled, and if so what must reality be like in order to be able to satisfy them?

Read the essay as well as the comments which follow, and then reflect on the astonishing fact that atheists like Dawkins and Hitchens argue vociferously that it's Christianity which is harmful to human flourishing and that their nihilistic naturalism is what we should all eagerly embrace. It certainly is one of the peculiarities of modern intellectual life that a belief system that exalts humanity, offers meaning and purpose, a ground for morality, an explanation for beauty, and a hope for eternal life is considered harmful while a worldview that leads to nihilism and hopelessness is thought to be liberating.

If nothing matters why is it so crucially important to these men that we embrace such a depressing view of life? Why take away people's hope, even if it's a false hope, if in the end it makes no difference what one has believed? Perhaps the answer is no more complicated than that misery loves company.



Millions of people rely on aspirin to keep their blood thin to prevent heart attacks and strokes, but aspirin often causes stomach problems. It turns out that a natural blood thinner has been found in the gel that surrounds tomato seeds. In Britain a product called Fruitflow is made from an extract of this gel and has none of the side effects of aspirin.

Check it out here.

Here's the crux of the article:

10 studies -- two of which were published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition -- reported that three grams of Fruitflow were effective just three hours after consumption, making platelets smoother while leaving the rest of the blood able to clot normally in the case of injury. Regular tomato juice is subjected to multiple processing methods that degrade the gel ingredient, rendering it far less effective than its concentrated form. Plain tomatoes are also less effective because the body must slowly digest all parts of the fruit.

The article doesn't say how long it will be before this product is available in the U.S.


Silent Monks

To help you get into the spirit of Christmas, sort of, a group of "silent monks" perform one of the greatest pieces of music ever written - Handel's Hallelujah chorus. Enjoy.