About this time a year or two ago, a group of militant atheists paid to setup a billboard with a Nativity scene and the phrase: “You know it’s a myth. This season, celebrate reason.” There is something I find amusing about these kinds of billboards, which, by the way, are becoming ever more frequent. As it turns out, this group of atheists is right. However, they are not right in the way they think they are.
Indeed, we Christians accept the Christmas narrative as a myth, not in the sense of being a fantasy or a fairytale but as a true myth. In the past, myths were invented as explanations of certain aspects of reality. However, they are not meant to explain things scientifically or even logically. That is not their purpose. Myths seek Truth through art and through beauty. That is why myths have always been presented as stories, as poems or as drama. There is always an element of the epic in myths and this element is also present in the drama of Christmas. Ancient prophecies finally fulfilled, great signs in heaven, the order of the universe inverted, are all a part of our Christmas tradition. Nowhere is this epic sentiment more present than in the proclamation of the birth of Christ that is recited during the Christmas Mass:
Today, the twenty-fifth day of December, unknown ages from the time when God created the heavens and the earth and then formed man and woman in his own image.
Several thousand years after the flood, when God made the rainbow shine forth as a sign of the covenant.
Twenty-one centuries from the time of Abraham and Sarah; thirteen centuries after Moses led the people of Israel out of Egypt.
Eleven hundred years from the time of Ruth and the Judges; one thousand years from the anointing of David as king; in the sixty-fifth week according to the prophecy of Daniel.
In the one hundred and ninety-fourth Olympiad; the seven hundred and fifty-second year from the foundation of the city of Rome.
The forty-second year of the reign of Octavian Augustus; the whole world being at peace, Jesus Christ, eternal God and Son of the eternal Father, desiring to sanctify the world by his most merciful coming, being conceived by the Holy Spirit, and nine months having passed since his conception, was born in Bethlehem of Judea of the Virgin Mary.
Today is the nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ according to the flesh.
The difference with all previous myths is that the myth of Christmas is, in the words of Chesterton, “too good to be true, except that it is true.” It is too good to be true because it satisfies the craving that myths failed to satisfy. Those wonderful stories that were created by the poetical instinct of men were not enough to satisfy our yearning for Truth. They were insufficient because human words were insufficient. And so, where human words failed, the Word made flesh succeeded. This new mythological poem was not written by any man but by God Himself. The Logos, Truth itself, became the guarantor that this new myth was to be not only a beautiful explanation of all reality, but a true explanation as well.
This group of atheists was also right in saying that this should be a season to celebrate reason. They were wrong in assuming we do not already. Christmas is the celebration of rationality because it is the celebration of the Incarnate Word, of the Logos made flesh. We celebrate the Intelligence behind the order of the universe, the Reason from which our own reason is derived. While this group seeks to celebrate the limited reason of man, Christians celebrate the Reason without which our reason would not even exist. The reason which these atheists are so eager to celebrate is limited, mainly, because it is the reason of man, which, as experience has shown us repeatedly, is quite prone to error. Furthermore, their vision of human reason is even narrower because they only consider as rational that which is “scientific.” This leaves out so many facets of human reason that one can only laugh at the irrationality of this belief.
Just like the poetic side of Man sought satisfaction in mythology, the intellectual side of Man sought comfort in philosophy. Philosophy tried to reach Truth through reason and logic. Yet even philosophy at its finest was insufficient to answer the most pressing questions of human existence. Science has not been capable of explaining the physical order of the world, let alone will it explain the many questions that philosophy raises. If philosophy could not satisfy that intellectual desire of mankind, science will not achieve it either. In the same way in which the Divine Word was needed to write that perfect mythical poem, the Divine Logic was needed to show us the true order of the world. The Logos guarantees the existence of this order; His Incarnation makes it accessible to us.
Both mythology and philosophy represent different ways of approaching Truth. One is made manifest in the intuition of the artist, the other in the logic of the thinker. They represent two of the deeply rooted desires of the human soul: the desire for Beauty and the desire for a rational order. Yet, where mythology failed artistically, philosophy failed intellectually. Human reason was proven to be insufficient. Both these desires were left unsatisfied. Perhaps due to the frustration caused by this, both found themselves in conflict with each other. Philosophers were attacked because of their impiety; myths were discarded as mere superstition. The fact was that they seemed irreconcilable. In the end, men were left with nothing. And then, when all seemed lost; when people no longer believed in the myths of the pagan religion; when philosophy was giving way to skepticism; when the evidence of the failure of these two in leading men to Truth was leading men into the despair that characterized the end of the ancient world, Christ was born. It was in the Logos, in the Word made flesh, that both were finally united. In the Logos, Beauty and Logic found repose in Truth. It is in the mystery of the Incarnation that these two desires were finally fulfilled. The two yearnings of mankind find their satisfaction in Bethlehem. In the manger are knelt before the Logos the shepherds, makers of myths, and the Wise men, philosophers of Orient. Before the Logos are prostrate both mythology and philosophy.
This is what we Christians believe about Christmas. (It seems that atheists believe the same thing.)atheism, christmas
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