Guest Post: Ravi Zacharias on “Evicting the Sacred” at Christmas

I’d like to feature more guest posts at Philosophical Fragments, and here on the eve of Christmas I get to start that off with a bang.  Chuck Colson has called Dr. Zacharias “the great evangelist of our time.”  He’s the founder and CEO of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries; he has preached the gospel and lectured on apologetics before millions of listeners around the world; he hosts the radio programs Let My People Think and Just Thinking, and he’s visiting professor at Wycliffe Hall of Oxford.  The author of many books, his latest effort, Why Jesus?: Rediscovering His Truth in an Age of Mass Marketed Spirituality, hits bookshelves in January.  Many thanks to Dr. Zacharias for this original piece:

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Evicting The Sacred

by Dr. Ravi Zacharias, founder and CEO of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries

To repress worship is to repress the irrepressible.

Everyone is a worshipper. Every person has his or her God: The only difference is that some can defend what they believe with sound reasons while others do so in a vacuum. Not only individuals but nations have their gods.

I am an Indian, born and raised in India. Before I moved to the West I readily accepted the fact that during Hindu festivals the nation would be celebrating the occasion. This was understood, even though technically India is a secular democracy. But there is an underlying worldview behind the culture. Whether it was Ganesh puja or Diwali, India celebrates its festivals based in a Hindu worldview.

I am not a Hindu, but I respect the Hindu’s right to express the foundational ideas of the nation. The same applies to a Buddhist nation or to an Islamic nation. I am neither a Buddhist nor a Muslim. But I respect the right of those in these countries to express their faith during their festivals and am not offended by them.

I am a Christian. When I came to America decades ago, I was thrilled to see Christmas celebrated and the reason for the season so obvious: the birth of Jesus Christ. Did I assume that every American was thus a Christian? Certainly not. But I expected the charitable heart of even the dissenter to allow that which has been practiced in this country historically and traditionally to continue.

But alas, it is not so. In Thailand and Indonesia Christmas carols are sung in shopping centers and Christmas trees adorn airports. But in America the anti-Christian bias of silly advertisements like Bloomingdales’ “Merry, Happy, Love, Peace” reflect ideas firmly planted in midair and proclaim no reason for the season.

Who is offended by a public celebration of Christmas?  The anti-Christian secularist who lives under the illusion that values are cradled in a vacuum. Peace and love for what? What do these terms really mean? Are they self-evident? Not by any means.

America may not be a Christian nation per se, but only the Judeo-Christian worldview could have framed such a nation’s ideas and values: “All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.” No other religion or secular assumption can affirm such a statement except the Judeo-Christian worldview. But today that very worldview, on which our systems of government and law are based, is expelled from the marketplace.

Democracies that are unhinged from all sacred moorings ultimately sink under the brute weight of conflicting egos.  Freedom is destroyed not just by its retraction, but more often by its abuse.

Is it not odd that whenever it has power, liberalism is anything but liberal, both in the area of religion and politics? We now have something called “spirituality” because people don’t like the word “religion.” What does spirituality mean?  It means you may believe anything you wish to believe but regarding ultimate things, “No absolutes, please.” The relativism and spirituality with which our society lives have one thing in common: they are both sophisticated ways of self-worship.

It is not accidental that even as Christian values have been jettisoned, the world is economically and morally on the verge of bankruptcy. Oh, but Jesus’ name still surfaces in the West. Maybe more often than any other name. Why? Because profanity still reigns. Oh yes, and God still figures in our philosophy: even when “Mother Earth” quakes and thousands die, we still blame “Father God.” The banishment of Christmas may be the anti-theists’ great longing. But they still want the gifts of Christmas—love, joy, peace and reason. Malcolm Muggeridge once opined that we have educated ourselves into imbecility.

What are we celebrating at Christmas? What is the message of Christmas? It is the birth of the One who promised peace, joy and love. Try as we will, we cannot realize such values without acknowledging the point of reference for these absolutes: the very person of God and his gift to us of a changed heart and will. That message needs to be heard around our world that is reeling with problems and rife with hate. For we have proven we are not fit to be God.

G.K. Chesterton was right: “The problem with Christianity is not that it has been tried and found wanting, but that it has been found difficult and left untried.”

Some years ago, I walked into the Forbidden City in Beijing. It was a cold and grey January.  I paused as I saw deep inside its walls a shop with the banner still fluttering, “Merry Christmas.” That which was happily displayed in the Forbidden City is now all but forbidden in our cities.  A Chinese professor once remarked to me, “You Christians need to thank God for Communism, because we left the souls of our people empty, making room for the gospel.”

Maybe someday we will thank the rabid secularists as well, when Merry Christmas will no longer be forbidden in our cities. Exhausted and disappointed in self-worship, we may turn to God again and hear his story afresh.

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Dr. Ravi Zacharias is the president and CEO of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, a speaker and author of the upcoming book Why Jesus?

About Timothy Dalrymple

Timothy Dalrymple was raised in non-denominational evangelical congregations in California. The son and grandson of ministers, as a young boy he spent far too many hours each night staring at the ceiling and pondering the afterlife.
 
In all his work he seeks a better understanding of why people do, and do not, come to faith, and researches and teaches in religion and science, faith and reason, theology and philosophy, the origins of atheism, Christology, and the religious transformations of suffering

  • John Haas

    Personally–and precisely because I am a Christian–I couldn’t care less about the cultural phenomenon of “Christmas.” It’s not Biblical. Furthermore, nowhere do I find in the Bible any mandate to get out there and police the cultural festivities of my neighbors.

    But, you know, you don’t really have to chapter and verse it: If anyone can make a good argument that God cares whether the pieces of paper we hand to each other say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays,” or whether we have camels and mangers on the courthouse lawn once a year, or armadillos and bath-tubs, go for it. I’ve got an open mind.

    Now, if anyone’s up for dumping it, and replacing it with a Feast of the Incarnation, that I’m up for. Let’s however, divest it of all the props–the day off from work, the presents, the red-nosed reindeer–and let’s have an evening service after work.

    And let’s see how many Christians actually show up.

    Meanwhile, here’s another perspective, via Jason Peters at Front Porch Republic:

    “There is a problem with this campaign [to 'keep Christ in Christmas']: what exactly does one do to keep Christ in Christmas? Is it just a matter of putting manger scenes in public places? Does it boil down to defiantly wishing everyone (even your Jewish neighbors) a “Merry Christmas”? Is that honestly going to do anything to roll back the commercialization of the season?

    “After all, the conversion of Christmas from a religious observance to a materialistic spending spree began long before political correctness, long before anyone thought of leaving Christ out of Christmas. Experience teaches that people will gladly mention the name of Christ whenever there’s money to be made off of it. If the secularization of the season is the sickness, then emphatically calling it “Christmas” again isn’t the remedy.

    “For that matter… which Christ should we keep in Christmas? My fear is that the Christ that most people want in their Christmas is the little baby Jesus–cute and cuddly, “no crying he makes” –in other words, the Christ who asks nothing of anybody and makes us feel good about spending money at the store. As long as we keep that Christ in Christmas, I suppose everyone can still be happy and no one is offended.

    “But what about the Christ who said, “Whoever does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33)? Or the one who said, “Beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15). When you are opening gifts with your family, is that the Christ people want to keep in their Christmas?

    “If you keep the Christ of the Gospels in your Christmas, you’re likely to wind up without a Christmas at all . . .”

    http://detroit.goarch.org/pastoral-help/articles/saints-feasts/keeping-the-mass-in-christmas

    • John Larson

      My own view is that everyone should wish everyone else a “Merry, Happy, Joyous, Blessed…….WHATEVER…”, whatever holiday or festival their own traditions are currently celebrating. Some years ago, (I was driving a gasoline truck at the time), I became friends with the Paletinian man who was shift manager at one of my stops. He was devout Muslim and I a christian. We freely discussed our respective faiths, regularly prayed for each other (NOT for conversion but for God’s blessings!), talked about attending each others’ church and mosque and wished each other “Merry Christmas” and “Happy Eid.” If more people could set aside politics and the like and actuallt just wish each other well, we’d all be a lot better off, Christian, Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or atheist. Drop the agenda and ramp up the blessing, I say!

  • Kubrick’s Rube

    Merry Christmas Tim, Dr Zacaharias, everyone. And if I’m not the only Jewish reader here, Happy Hannukah. And to anyone else observing any other of the myriad holidays this season, I wish you a joyous celebration. And whether you celebrated anything (religiously or not) or nothing at all, I hope you had a lovely and peaceful weekend. May we all live out and encourage peace and love and joy and reason in the new year.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Amen to that.

  • Concerned Citizen

    Everyone is a worshipper. Every person has his or her God: The only difference is that some can defend what they believe with sound reasons while others do so in a vacuum. Not only individuals but nations have their gods.

    Bollocks. I do not worship any god. I have no gods. I am an atheist. Please do not try to speak for me and I will try not to speak for you.

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      Of course, Dr Zacharias is aware that there are atheists. He would say that they inevitably worship something, even if it is themselves — that every person has an object of ultimate concern, an absolute good that stands above all of our relative goods.

      You may still disagree, and I’m not going to defend the point; I just wanted to make sure it was clear.

      • Concerned Citizen

        Then he is a liar. I do not worship anything. But this is in a column in which “Merry, Happy, Love, Peace” is cited as ant-Christian bias and in which he claims that saying Merry Christmas is forbidden, so I dont know why I would expect anything this idiot says to actually make sense.

        • David Davies

          C.C. What is the object of ultimate concern for you?

          • Concerned Citizen

            What does that nonsense phrase even mean?

          • http://sotonohitoblogs.blogspot.com sotonohito

            I have no “object of ultimate concern”.

            Please try to understand, I am an atheist. Don’t worship anything. If you do worship things than that means you and I have very different mental processes.

            It does not mean that I’m lying and secretly worship something, it means that I genuinely think differently from you and that worship is not part of my life.

            I realize this is hard to really accept. I had a very difficult time really accepting that religious people honestly believed what they claimed to.

            To me the whole concept of worship, faith, religion, gods, etc is so utterly and completely preposterous I have a very difficult time accepting the fact that people genuinely believe it.

            It would be much easier, were I intellectually lazy and dishonest, to imagine that all believers are lying (at least to themselves) and that they don’t really believe that stuff but only pretend to.

            However, being neither intellectually lazy or dishonest, I accept that reality even though I’m baffled and mystified by it. I’d urge you to try the same, and I realize that means you’ll have to acknowledge that my mindset is quite alien to yours and vice versa.

            And yet, despite neither of us thinking in much the same way, I’ll observe that we’re both most likely decent people (I know I am, and I’m betting you are anyway) and I’ll argue that we can probably get along despite our vast difference in modes of thought.

          • Timothy Dalrymple

            It may be the case that you don’t worship anything, sotonohito. I really don’t find that a difficult concept to understand. As I stated, I was just clarifying the author’s claim.

            And yes, I’ve never had any problem getting along with atheists.

      • http://sotonohitoblogs.blogspot.com sotonohito

        And here we are back at the point we reached in prior discussions. People, whether Christian or atheist, often find it difficult or even impossible to accept that others really do think differently from them.

        You and Zacharias seem unable to accept that atheism really exists. In your efforts to make atheism fit your worldview, you’ve decided that since everyone **MUST** worship something, atheists are lying and in denial about their secret worship, and probably such arrogant idiots that they worship themselves.

        This is exactly the same thing seen in some atheists who simply can’t accept that Christians really do think differently from them and tie themselves into mental knots in order to fit Christian thinking into their worldview. Of course Christians can’t really believe in a god, the very concept is so preposterous no one can honestly take it seriously. They must be lying, to themselves if nothing else, and know on some level that they’re just playing a silly game.

        It is hard to really, truly, accept that some people are different from you.

        For my part, I’m an atheist. I do not worship anything, which I’ll point out is a very different thing from saying I worship nothing, or that I worship myself.

        Worship is simply not a part of my life. I find the whole concept confusing, and I’m quite baffled and puzzled by people who do worship things.

        However, unlike Zacharias, I feel no need to deny the existance of people who think differently from me. I find god belief in any form to be baffling and confusing. But I do not deny that it exists. While I’m sure that some people don’t truly believe but rather just go along and claim they do for cultural reasons, I’m sure that there are plenty of actual, genuine, believers out there.

        I do not pretend to comprehend how an otherwise sane person can believe in gods. But I feel no pathological need to deny that such people exist.

        I think both you and Zacharias would be well served if you tried to understand that atheists really do exist and really do not believe in anything or worship anything.

        Trying to imagine us as mere self-worshipers is simply an example of self delusion and a mind incapiable of really accepting reality.

        I often say the same thing to atheists who, as you and Zacharias do, insist that other people can’t really and truly think differently.

  • Jason

    When did evangelicalism become filled with such whiny, sniveling ressentiment?

    • Concerned Citizen

      When other people, who are not Christians started to say so in public.

  • Jason

    Incidentally, I wouldn’t object to the idea that everyone pursues an ultimate good. To describe that as being “a worshipper” is to use self-serving, question-begging language. One could just as easily say that everyone is an atheist and then come up with a gloss to show how somehow that’s really the case.

    • Derrick

      The idea is that you cannot live life without declaring the worth of something. This is worship. Whatever you pursue you declare to be worthy of pursuit. Even if you pursue nothing. Then you declare nothing worthy.

      It is a bit of a loose and secondary definition for the word, but it’s also a fairly accepted one that I, personally, have heard often.

      • Concerned Citizen

        So, when I go to the shop in pursuit of a new coat, I am “worshipping” that coat? If that is the sort of level people want to reduce their worship of thei eternal, life giving god, then I suppose that is up to them.

      • John Haas

        “It is a bit of a loose and secondary definition for the word, but it’s also a fairly accepted one that I, personally, have heard often.”

        I’d like to believe you, Derrick. Can you be more specific about how many times you’ve heard that, where and when it was, and from whom?

        Also, are you willing to swear to that under oath?

    • Timothy Dalrymple

      I actually agree. Just clarifying the author’s claim.

  • http://www.humblewonderful.com tony

    “That which was happily displayed in the forbidden city is all but forbidden in our cities.”
    Please tell me in what city in America (north or south) can you not put up a banner saying Merry Christmas? This would be a joke except that such a whingeing siege mentality is not so rare as it should be.

    • cowalker

      Of course you can put up Christian Christmas decorations on private property. You just can’t post a “Merry Christmas” banner on public property unless you also put up icons for Hannukah and Kwanzaa and Solstice. I often marvel that so few people in the predominantly Christian U.S.A. put up creches in their own front yards and instead expend their energy in whining that they can’t have one on the courthouse lawn. And of course some retailers forbade a Christian greeting by their employees in the store in an attempt to avoid offending anyone. So many Christians were offended by this that I think most have stopped doing it.

      Don’t forget that not having your religious beliefs represented on government property is exactly like being thrown to the lions. Exactly like suffering a horrible, gory death.

  • http://sentimentsassuch.wordpress.com Brendan P. Burnett

    I wish Christians would still celebrate the Passover. I never see it anymore.

  • Frank

    Well said Ravi! And I love the responses which only serve your point. Of course they are so clueless as to miss that simple truth. Their arrogance is laughable.


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