Christmas Reflections for Ordinary Folk

Emotional Power for Ordinary Folk

Perhaps it’s just a sign of age, but every year I find the Christmas story more emotionally power-packed than the year before.  Christmas is decidedly poignant for ordinary folk when reflecting on the event. Perhaps our post Christmas reflections reveal more about what is important than all the hype leading up to Christmas. The emotions stirred up inside us by the Christmas event speak louder than the jingling registers at the checkout.

Sure, the celebrations are grossly commercialized, cheapened by over-decoration. Christmas is slickly packaged for movies and TV, and even declared illegal in government buildings.  And it’s partly eclipsed by the charming 19th century fairy story a New England father wrote for his children. But – so far at least – it hasn’t been completely stifled. Just when it seems about to be replaced by its own trappings, the real story shines through again. I hear a section of the Messiah on the radio, the words of a carol in a shopping mall, a picture on a greeting card, or Linus’ moving recital of Luke 2 in Charley Brown’s Christmas. (see the video here)

This year, this is different

What hit me this year harder than ever before was how the central characters of that story are such absolutely ordinary folk going about their everyday lives. And then I realize how its message is still for ordinary folk going about their everyday lives.  We now think of Mary and Joseph as famous. But, actually, to their friends and relatives they were no different from thousands of other pious Jews awaiting the coming of the Messiah.  The baby Jesus looked and behaved like any other newborn. The business about their having to use a manger for a crib shows how far they were from being celebrities.

To be sure, Jesus’ birth itself was a miracle.  But at the time only Mary and Joseph knew that.  The only other thing that was out of the ordinary was the appearance of angels to announce it.  And look where they went to do it! They didn’t go to Rome to talk with the Emperor. The angels did not go to Jerusalem to discuss theology with the Chief Priest.  They didn’t appear to the loyal Jewish underground seeking to overthrow oppressive Roman rule. Nor did they go to historians to make sure all was recorded properly.  Instead they went a few Joe Average blue-collar workers who’d pulled the night shift on a Judean hillside – men who are not even named in the story!

What God thinks of Ordinary Folk….

By having the angels declare the Great Gift from Heaven in this way God shows us just what he thinks of human power, fame, wealth, pomp, and wisdom.  He says, in effect, that since his gift is to all people it just won’t matter which ones he picks to be the representative recipients of his birth announcement.

Every year I feel more like a shepherd.

Roy Clouser

God Is Real: A Philosophical Approach

The subject of this entire blog is whether  we can know God is real;  we will be taking a philosophical approach to the question of God and his existence. When we are surrounded with cultural agnosticism, we debate the question of God while having no real personal knowledge to enlighten our conversations. The answer this blog will give to the question of God is, “Yes., we CAN know God is real!”

How many questions can we answer?

Questions Questions

It is intended for those who believe in God but are confused about their intellectual right to that belief.  And this blog is for those who do not believe in God but are willing to inquire as to whether there is more to it than blind faith. It will also be of interest to anyone who is simply curious about the subject.

Is This Acceptable In Polite Conversation?

Neither the question posed nor the answer that will be defended is considered a topic for polite conversation these days. Religion seems to have changed places with sex as a taboo subject in public. It’s all right to acknowledge that there are such things as religious beliefs, but only so long as we don’t go into any further detail. The least acceptable form of going into further detail would be a discussion such as the one that will take place here. Which discussion is that?  A consideration of how to tell which, if any, of those beliefs are true and which are false.

In fact, many people nowadays even regard the thought that some beliefs may be true and others false as reprehensible.  Unfortunately, too many people know very little about the tradition they personally are most familiar with, and absolutely nothing about other traditions. These same people are, nevertheless, certain that all religious beliefs may be true at once. They’re also quite sure that “faith” means accepting a belief without knowing it’s true. As a result, they see a Berlin Wall between faith and all we can truly be said to know – such as science. ( For a description of the actual Berlin Wall which has become a literary metaphor, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Berlin_Wall )

Is Religious Belief a Mere Invention to Frighten Others?

Another thing a great many people are sure of is that religious belief was invented as a scare story to reinforce ethics. The ethic found in the Bible is OK; who would disagree with the Ten Commandments that murder, theft, dishonesty, and so on, are wrong? But on the other hand, who needs the scare story? Why do we often suppose people won’t be ethical unless they’re told that there’s a big Umpire in the sky? Will this Umpire  penalize them in the next life even if they escape retribution for their wrongdoing in this life? After all, the reasoning goes, we know firsthand that we are ethical without repeatedly hearing the scare story. As a result these indiviuals consider that scare story to be irrational and useless. It is then advocated that what we really need to do is keep on enforcing that Berlin Wall.  The hope is that one day the advance of science will cause religious beliefs – all of them – to fade away and relieve the world of a needless source of tension. (For John Lennon’s hymn which gives the underlying “scriptural” text for this belief and has been viewed nearly 100 million times, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkgkThdzX-8)

The only trouble with these gems of popular wisdom is that they are all wholly false.

Our discussions on this site will show how clarifying the nature of religious belief can a llow us to see that, under the right circumstances, religious belief can have the same kind of justification that is enjoyed by beliefs that have long been considered to be the most certain we have. Thus if justified certainty warrants us in saying we have knowledge, then belief in God can also be knowledge. In that case it is not merely wishful thinking, blind trust, or a scare story invented to promote ethics. (A discussion of this concept and its resulting affirmations can be found at https://www.iep.utm.edu/epistemo/ )

The Need for Clarification

What is more, clarifying what counts as a religious belief makes it plausible that no one can really avoid it, though this fact goes unrecognized for two reasons. The first is that such beliefs can be unconscious assumptions. The second is that many people call their religious belief by another name. In both cases people think they have no religious belief when actually they do.

The clarification of the nature of religious belief also makes it possible to see why it cannot successfully be walled off from the rest of knowledge. The fact is, religious belief is one of the most influential beliefs people hold. This belief effects not only their conceptions of human nature and destiny, but also their ideas of society, justice, ethics, and even how they do science.

Looking forward to discussing this with many readers,

Roy Clouser

Prof. Emeritus

The College of New Jersey

Blog Philosopher-in-residence