The Potency of Christmas

Warning: if you’re looking for political commentary on Christmas, this isn’t it. But this is far more important.

Most of us have already (or will on Christmas Eve) sat through a reading of the powerful prediction of Isaiah 9:6-7. Or we’ve heard it in song in some classic or modern rendition of Handel’s epic Messiah.

For unto us a child is born.

Unto us a Son is given.

The government will rest upon His shoulders.

His names? Wonderful Counselor. Mighty God. Everlasting Father. Prince of Peace.

His government and its peace will never end. He will rule with fairness and justice.[1]

Polite and cute fireside stories aside, even of those of the baby Christ in the stable hay, this is the story of Christmas. If history has a pinnacle, it was this: his coming, his death and his resurrection. If it has a climax, this was the start of that chapter. And if it has a culmination, it will be His return.

Yes, its depth and meaning are often best captured in childlike imagination, for Christ scolded his disciples, warning the adults present—those too smart for their own good—that true faith carried a certain innocence and childlike dependency.[2]

But it is, in the end, not a story for the faint of heart. And how we embrace the tale it would begin is the difference between life and death.

And for Christians in the current political climate, it is a higher call than we often make it. To embrace it is far more potent, demanding and rewarding than the cheeky refusal to say “happy holidays” and our swell of pride as we walk away from the cashier register having proudly boasted a “Merry Christmas” in defiance of the cultural trends.

I’m boldly standing up for my faith, we congratulate ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong; any aptitude in this description is the result of personal experience.

But is that extent of our public and verbal boldness?

The story of Christ’s coming into the world is the very cornerstone of history. The colloquial quaintness of his birth story—deeply inspiring though it is—is only the beginning of a life that demands a response. To truly embrace the child in the manger is to also embrace the sobering words he would later speak: “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.[3]

Publically. Boldly. Under the sobering reality that “everyone who acknowledges me here on earth, the Son of Man will also acknowledge in the presence of God’s angels,” but “anyone who denies me here on earth will also be denied before God’s angels.”[4]

The politically incorrect response to the political correctness around Christmas lies in these little rebellions against culture—the “merry Christmas” reply to “happy holidays,” the refusal to write Xmas[5] and spell out Christ’s name fully (see endnote for the beautiful irony in this!). These are fine—and often very important! Bowing to the culturally correct language is in and of itself worthy of critique and appropriate warning. But the call of Christ goes far beyond. It goes to a boldness that will lead us into scorn, ridicule, possible loss of employment, court, and perhaps even prison and death if we are called (and obey) to places where these are likely outcomes.

Are we committed enough for that? Or will we keep our heads down and try to smother that level of dedication, seeking a delicate balance between being a cheeky Christian, but not so unacceptable as to risk our reputation and careers?

Let’s remember the child, meek and mild, and then move on and remember also to “be thankful and please God by worshipping him with holy fear and awe. For our God is a devouring fire.”[6] The child born was the “visible image” of this awesome, powerful “invisible God.” He was the one through whom “God created everything.”[7] He is the “one who mediates the new covenant between God and people.”[8] The one who, in the end, “will turn the Kingdom over to God the Father, having destroyed every ruler and authority and power,” and having reigned “until he humbles all his enemies beneath his feet.”[9]

The one for whom Mary cried out, “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord! … He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who fear him. His mighty arm has done tremendous things! He has scattered the proud and haughty ones. He has brought down princes from their thrones and exalted the humble.”[10]

The one who will “rule with fairness and justice” and whose government’s “peace will never end.”[11]

The one who we who believe and obey will worship for eternity: “worth is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and praise!”[12]

At Christmas—and then throughout the year—, are we going to take half-hearted measures to find a nice balance between our affiliation with this King of kings and cultural respectability? Or will we, as necessary, proclaim boldly, as his cousin John did, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” …?[13]

This is the only true and lasting government. This is the true King we serve, and the incredible, powerful, challenging, potent, awesome, no-middle-ground message of Christmas.


[1] Taken from Isaiah 9:6-7

[2] Matthew 18:2-4

[3] Luke 9:23 (italics mine)

[4] Luke 12:8-9

[5] Ironically, for those who think they are cleverly eliminating Christ from the word Christmas with the shortened X-mas, X is the Greek symbol for the name of Christ. So the joke’s on them.

[6] Hebrews 12:28b-29

[7] Colossians 1:15-16

[8] Hebrews 12:24

[9] 1 Corinthians 15:23-25

[10] Luke 1:46-52

[11] Ibid endnote 1.

[12] Revelation 5:12

[13] John 1:29

Bake the Cake…?! Property & Discrimination

“It’s a violation of religious freedom!”

“How dare you discriminate against gay people; that’s a violation of their civil rights!”

So which is it? Is forcing the cake baker to bake a cake for a gay wedding a violation of their religious rights? Or is refusing to serve a gay couple a violation of their civil rights? Which is the real issue?

Neither.

I’m speaking, of course, of the recent case, Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, a class action suit challenging business discrimination of services for gay events (or gay people more generally).

Let me break this down as concisely as I can in a series of points that will, I hope, give a clear picture of what the real issue is here, and the implications.

  1. First, is this a religious liberties issue? Yes and no. The first amendment of the Constitution contains five major protections: speech, religion, press, assembly and petition. Regarding religion, there are two clauses. The first states that government may not infringe on the “free exercise of religion,” and the second bars the government from “establishing” a religion. So it is my contention that the first amendment alone is not enough to argue this case. The real argument carries far more leverage. The 9th amendment alone does a better job.

 

  1. Is this a civil rights issue? Well, again, I will refrain from answering this directly; stick with me to the end as I make my case. Still, what would be the constitutional argument for this position? The argument for this would be premised on the 14th Amendment, an often misinterpreted amendment that protects peoples’ rights to the “equal protection of the laws.” This has been the Amendment used to argue for an end to discrimination based on race, gender, et cetera. The ACLU will certainly disagree, but I find it hard to make the connection between ensuring that all people are treated equally under the law (ie, the law cannot make different provisions for different classes of people) and give the government the power to force an individual to serve another individual against their wishes.

 

  1. So if the real issue isn’t either of these, what is the real issue? This is an issue of property rights. Who owns you and your labor? A Facebook critic and debater claimed that, while I own my own labor, the government can force me to use that labor equally for those they believe I should serve, effectively preventing me from discriminating. But if I can be forced to use my labor to serve someone I choose not to—for whatever reason—is that not, in so far as it goes—government owning my labor?

 

  1. Or you can look at it another way. To force a person to sell their labor to another is to say that the customer owns the labor of the other. Do you really own your own labor? To the extent that someone must use their time, resources and labor to serve you, is that not a violation of their property—themselves and their labor? In most places, we’d call that servitude.

 

  1. If someone says they refuse to serve balding red-heads, I may be upset and offended. But I am not entitled to their labor. On what moral basis can my demand that they serve me overrule their right to their own time, labor and resources? They may be foolish, petty and even morally stunted, but that does not give me title to force them to serve me or quit work altogether.

 

  1. But what about the argument: “You’re not forced to offer that labor; you can go out of business instead.” Yes, this is a frequently-used argument, though it’s put in more humanitarian terms: “We only ask [demand] that if you choose to sell your labor, you sell it equally to everyone [who we chose].” Okay, okay, so I put in my interpretation. Well, isn’t it re-assuring that our labor is only owned by the government (or the person being served) if we choose to … work? Catch the sarcasm.

 

  1. And the other argument. “It’s only servitude if it’s uncompensated. The cake-baker would still have been compensated, so it’s not actually servitude if we tell him how to use his labor and resources.” So we can choose to work or not. If we choose to work, we are forced to use our resources and labor to serve whoever the government says we should. But not to worry; we’ll get paid for it. Argument settled, they say. Really?

 

  1. “But discrimination is terrible! We must use the power of the state to end it!” Well, discrimination can be terrible. It can be morally reprehensible. It can be immature. It can be rather benign and inconsequential. And many times, it can be quite prudent. Not serve someone because of the pigment in their skin? Not serve someone because you’re supporting a lifestyle you believe is immoral? Not serve someone because you think they’re dangerous? Not serve someone because you don’t like them? The rationale for discrimination can run from idiotic to prudent, to a mere question of moral belief.

 

  1. We all discriminate all the time. Discrimination has become a deeply negative word due to its historical association with racial discrimination. But discrimination is simply freedom of association: there are people we would rather associate with and there are those we don’t. As I said, unfortunately, some people have foolish and morally decrepit rational for their choices of association. Sometimes its quite prudent (I won’t employ a child molester to babysit). Sometimes, it’s a question of moral belief, such as the case with the cake baker refusing to use their time, money and labor to make a cake for a gay wedding.

 

  1. Exchanging your goods and services with others (ie, starting a business) does not suddenly remove your property rights and give control over your labor to the government or society at large. This point addressed again a bit later.

 

  1. Consider my response to a Facebook debater who spouted many of these arguments I’ve discussed: “Are you okay with the logical extension of that argument? On that line of reasoning, anyone who exchanges goods or services with anyone else may no longer choose who to exchange those goods or services with… I presume here that you wouldn’t make exceptions [in order to remain consistent]. For example, you must also offer your services to pedophiles, Nazis, child porn marketers, et cetera, according to your argument, if the government saw fit. Either that or quit offering goods or services to anyone. … My point is that it doesn’t really matter what the reasoning is for discrimination. If you force someone to offer their (even compensated) labor to someone they disagree with, you have to equalize it everywhere and to EVERYONE. Unless, of course, using the power of the state to force people to offer their services to people they would rather not is really just subjective and based on whoever the state (and their constituents) want to.” I later reiterated my question: “So, you’re okay with the government forcing you to sell your labor to Nazis, pedophiles, people who sell child porn (so long as you’re not assisting them in something illegal, as you said), et cetera, fill-in-the-blank? You never and would never discriminate for any reason, and if you did, you’d be okay with the government using force to stop you?” He never answered.

 

  1. I was finally able to get my debater to cede something: After claiming multiple times that we do own our labor, but not offering for a justification on why we could be forced to use that labor against our wishes, he finally admitted that we really don’t own our labor 100% because we are in “contract” with society, and thereby have already agreed to give up full power over our labor because of this. In his words, “entering that contract [offering services for sale] does give the government some say in how you distribute and sell your labor. “ What I couldn’t get from him was how, in fact, we agree to any such “contract” simply by exchanging goods or services with others.

 

  1. Besides, do we really want to equip the government with the subjective power of determining who has a right to your time, labor and resources?

 

  1. If you haven’t, yet, there are two other key posts you have to read related to this: “Negative v. Positive Rights” and “The Tale of the Slave.”

 

  1. A couple of closing points. First, it is the trademark of progressivism to use the power of the state to force whatever change on society that its adherents see fit. This was true during the French Revolution, during which Robespierre and others thought anyone who did not actively (even beyond passively) support “the civil state” were guilty of treason and ought to face capital punishment. It is still seen today when Progressives destroy property in their attempt to silence speech that they do not like. Or try to create “safe spaces” on college campuses where “offensive” things cannot be said.

 

  1. On that last point and as my final point, that is why arguing a case like Masterpiece on religion alone is insufficient. If your religious views do not align with the vision of progressivism, there is no moral or religious argument that can satisfy. But when it is understood correctly that the real issue is the violation of property rights (which is the basis of religious liberty, anyway), then the argument in favor of refusing the gay couple the services of the cake-maker are property bolstered and understood.

Thumbnail photo credit goes to bustle.com. 

 

The Tale of the Slave

At what point are you no longer a slave?

Admittedly, I have not read Robert Nozick. But the following is an adaptation of a portion of his 1974 book titled, Anarchy, State and Utopia. I have here no further commentary to offer, but simply wish to relay a series of scenarios which, if nothing else, are a teacher’s delightful avenue to thoughtful provocation for those who overcome any aversion to the thistle-strewn road of challenging questions.

Nozick begins with, “Consider the following sequence of cases, which we shall call the tale of the slave, and imagine that it is about you.” He proceeds, and I summarize:

  1. There is a slave completely at the mercy of his brutal master’s whims. He often is cruelly beaten, called out in the middle of the night, and so on.
  2. The master is kindlier and beats the slave only for stated infractions of his rules. He gives the slave some free time.
  3. The master has a group of slaves, and he decides how things are to be allocated among them on cordial grounds, taking into account their needs, merit and so on.
  4. The master allows his slaves four days on their own and requires them to work only three days a week on his land. The rest of the time is their own.
  5. The master allows his slave to go work in the city or wherever they want for wages. He only requires them to send back 3/7ths of their wages. He also retains the power to recall them to the plantation if there is some emergency on his land, or he can raise the amount required of them. He also retains the right to restrict the slaves from participating in certain dangerous activities that threaten his financial return (ie, mountain climbing, smoking, et cetera).
  6. The master allows all of his 10,000 slaves to vote, except you, and the joint decision is made by all of them. There is open discussion, and so forth, among them, and they have the power to determine to what uses to put whatever percentage of your (and their) earnings they decide to take; what activities legitimately may be forbidden to you, and so on.
  7. Though still not having the vote, you are at liberty (and are given the right) to enter into the discussion of the 10,000 to try and persuade them to adopt various policies and to treat you and themselves in a certain way. They then go off to vote to decide upon policies covering the vast range of their powers.
  8. In appreciation of your useful contributions to discussion, the 10,000 allow you to vote if they are deadlocked (5,000 for and 5,000 against). This is has never happened, yet.
  9. They throw your vote in with theirs. If they are exactly tied, your vote carries the issue. Otherwise, it makes no difference to the electoral outcome.

Nozick concludes with the deeply provocative question:

“Which transition from case one to case nine made it no longer the tale of a slave?”

What are your thoughts? Comment below, or head over to the LCKeagy Facebook page.

Added comment 12/13/17: See Andrew Brewer’s comment below for the important spiritual application of the question.