During a television interview recently a well known prime time commentator made the statement that Christmas is a holiday that Christians and others celebrate to mark the birth of a philosopher named Jesus. This commentator has been known for some time for his defense of Christianity and Judeo-Christian culture against what he terms progressive secularists.
This article is not to criticize the commentator or his worthy cause. Rather it is to point out how terms and definitions matter; and how in this instance the subject at hand is not done justice by the terms the commentator chose to use.
Ideas matter. Being humans we express and learn ideas by words. This cannot be separated. Thus when we undertake to defend or propose a great truth we must be careful what words we choose because the listener will take our ideas only as well as we can express them.
I understand fully why in a forum charged with political catch-phrases and correctness the commentator may have chosen to frame Jesus Christ as a philosopher.
Indeed in the arena of human morality and relations to our neighbor the words of Christ seem to resonate well with Socrates, Cicero, Buddha, and Confucius. Their core messages of human respect and love for oneís neighbor as the highest ideals can be readily seen as a common theme among all great historical philosophers. Taken in that light the commentator and those who share that view are quite right. If you are looking for a philosophical code that defines the best human conditions and relations then would do well to choose from any of those great men and place them right alongside Jesus as teachers.
The problem is that Jesus made no claim and apparently had no intent to be considered one of the great teaching philosophers. He largely restated what the Hebrews had already heard from the Prophets. No, His greatness was not in the message, which men knew then and now in their hearts to be true, it was in His position. He stated that He was, was believed to be, and in fact is the Son of God. This is going far beyond philosophy. This is changing the way humans understand existence itself. The moral code He set forth was not largely different from what others before had said. The difference was in the deliverer. He said do this because it was the will of the Father, and as He did the Fatherís will so should all who love Him. It was authority clothed in love. It had then and does now have a power beyond any philosophy even though it may be similar in some respects to them. In the message and person of Christ are bound up both a moral(philosophical) code for this life but also redemption and the promise of eternal life to come. This is something no earth bound set of ideals could ever match.
It is also the point on which I believe that the well intentioned commentator is mistaken. If we treat Christianity as a philosophy, and Christ as a philosopher we stand in great danger of losing the core of the faith and its beliefs. This is because at its center the faith is that, faith. It is bound up in the supernatural and the authority of an all-powerful, all-knowing and loving Father when sent His Son from beyond this world into it to redeem all who would love and accept Him. It is further defined by a belief that the Spirit of the Father indwells in those who believe and accept. This is as far removed from earth bound philosophy as you can get.
To label Christianity as a philosophy for political reasons is equally dangerous. This equality with other systems makes the faith just one of many competing sets of ideals. When you strip it from its claims for being The Way, you strip it of its ability to hold itself as it should, above and beyond earthly systems. Unless we can accept the supernatural uniqueness of Christianity and fight on those terms, we reduce our faith to something barely worth defending. Socrates was a great man with great ideas, but hardly worth dying for. Do we equate Jesus Christ with that? Heaven forbid.
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