Sunday, 21 December 2014

Christmas: the one thing that can be all things to all people

I never liked Christmas much. It is a season of disappointments; a season of darkness, literally and figuratively. No amount of contrived gaudy gaiety can redeem such jet-black night.

As a believer in the Christ as my Lord Savior I see no contradiction, no lack of generosity, no crippling pessimism: it is said that it is darkest before dawn, and what fitting metaphor:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (John 1: 1-5)

Hanukkah is encapsulated by an acronym that says: A great miracle happened there.

I am no saint. This meditation is what stirs and animates my love—for my kids, my family, those that have touched my life both positively and negatively.

I recently came across Isaiah Berlin (6 June 1909 – 5 November 1997). I think I've always sought out those thinkers who have a sense of irony, and what exquisite irony this man weld. If Christ-like irony be the measure of a humble man, Berlin is worthy of our attention:

Certainly no politics are more real than those of academic life, no loves deeper, no hatreds more burning, no principles more sacred. (To Freya Stark, 12 June 1944)

Nobody is so fiercely bureaucratic, or so stern with soldiers and regular civil servants, as the don disguised as temporary government official armed with an indestructible superiority complex. (ibid)

Doesn't that one describe the dullard, Harper, to the tee? (actually, for someone who described his own writings as having so little politics, Berlin cuts rather deeply to the quick and counts certainty a great evil to be rightly and promptly ridiculed)

Here is a personal lesson for me (someone so obviously prone to easy intellectual pride and vanity):

I am a hopeless dilettante about matters of fact really and only good for a column of gossip, if that. (To Walter Turner, 12 June 1945)

Pluralism, which he advocated for mightily and so capably, was often criticized as merely a form of relativism. Rather than pulling a conniption or walking away in disbelief and disappointment, he responded thusly:

Injustice, poverty, slavery, ignorance – these may be cured by reform or revolution. But men do not live only by fighting evils. They live by positive goals, individual and collective, a vast variety of them, seldom predictable, at times incompatible. (‘Political Ideas in the Twentieth Century’ (1950), L 93 [FEL 40])

Unless there is some point at which you are prepared to fight against whatever odds, and whatever the threat may be, not merely to yourself but to anybody, all principles become flexible, all codes melt, and all ends-in-themselves for which we live disappear ... (To Philip Toynbee, 24 January 1958)

What the historian says will, however careful he may be to use purely descriptive language, sooner or later convey his attitude. Detachment is itself a moral position. The use of neutral language (‘Himmler caused many persons to be asphyxiated’) conveys its own ethical tone. (Introduction to ‘Five Essays on Liberty’ (1969) , L 22–3 [FEL xxix])

This final quote in defense of pluralism is what originally caught my eye:

Those, no doubt, are in some way fortunate who have brought themselves, or have been brought by others, to obey some ultimate principle before the bar of which all problems can be brought. Single-minded monists, ruthless fanatics, men possessed by an all-embracing coherent vision do not know the doubts and agonies of those who cannot wholly blind themselves to reality. (ibid. 47 [lv])

I cannot honestly bring myself to believe that the dark hours of the winter solstice as marking the birth of our Savior though I can honestly say that giving gifts to my loved ones brings me sincere joy. This season, however, is full of metaphorical meaning for me. And I am of the belief that no one can sincerely account for one's years to one's self without some measure of objective standard no matter how amorphous, dynamic and vague its resolution.

These nuggets just quoted contrast and gauge how I'd like to measure myself up to the Gospel of my Lord.

Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New Year,


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