It is Christmas, and I am fortunate that my weekly Friday article coincides with Christmas Day itself. Christmas is many things to many people, and meaningful to me in more ways than one. The universal message of love is primordial, the love of the almighty for humanity, of the perfect for the flawed, Related to that yet of special importance to me is the way Christmas flips the pyramid.
From all knowledge about man and human society, either recorded or passed on traditionally, a fixed hierarchy had always been followed. Divinity was the source of power and exercised directly or through chosen ones—until Christmas Day, that is. Christmas changed the meaning of power and rearranged the pecking order of societies.
When an all-powerful father sends his son to save an erring people instead of simply and easily punishing them, there is nothing more radical. And when the son saves the guilty by sacrificing his own life, the whole human value system is reinvented.
The story of Christmas is religious, and it is. But the religious cannot be divorced from other aspects of life, especially if it is sincere and profound. What people believe is what underlies their understanding and actions. The belief in God, or in no God, is a fundamental basis for other beliefs. And in my own personal perusal of history, those who may not believe in a god still follow a hierarchy of values, the sum total of which usually refers to the virtues we attribute to God or society’s highest human leader.
The virtuous always hold a high position before the eyes of God, and the sinful the lowest. But the story of Christmas disturbs all that as God sends an only son to save the sinful, the lowest, through the greatest sacrifice of all—life. The Father does not give up on those who turn against him, and the Son chooses to be one among the poor who represent the lowest of society. Flipping the pyramid of values, no less.
The holiest, the most virtuous, the most powerful, the wealthiest, the most learned, the most beautiful, the most accomplished—these comprise the elite. And the elite everywhere comprise the top 1 percent or less. They are at the top of the heap, the first and highest class.
Opposite them are the poor, the weak, the ignorant who also happen to represent the vast majority of society. On the religious side of things, they are the most sinful. Yet, for them, for the lowest, for the most sinful, the Father sends the only son to save them, to exchange his life for their freedom and salvation. The beautiful story of love, a Father’s love, a savior’s love.
Most human struggle is political. It is not just the individual rebellion of a person against his or her patron, but the impact of all personal struggles or rebellions on the state of collective life. Individual partisanship triggers the many contests and conflicts that afflict mankind yet become obvious in society only and mostly in the exercise of political dynamics.
Christmas, then, may be seen by most as a religious story when it is actually very political as well. When the pyramid of values was flipped, the value system of politics was an immediate victim as well. Christmas might as well have been the birth of democracy.
The shift of the center of power from one or a few to the majority, most of whom come from the lowest or the ordinary, is the story of democracy that was triggered by the story of Christmas. Democracy honors the many as having more importance than the elite, the collective decision over the power of the few. This is the miracle of democracy, its greatest strength and also its hardest struggle. Going against what mankind has been used to over all its existence is impossible except with the greatest of courage and perseverance.
Democracy remains an infant human endeavor. What goes for it is its nobility and the prime example of a divine son sacrificing all for the poor, for the ordinary, for the sinful. Because he did it, he showed it can be done. He may have started alone, and maybe only a few still can do it by now, but every convert to that new value system, every successful attempt to subordinate one’s wishes or preferences to the collective good, proves that the impossible is not as it seems.
We cannot take democracy for granted; we can never take democracy for granted. We may always have an opportunity for democracy but that opportunity becomes reality only when we transcend our weaknesses in favor of higher dreams. Definitely, democracy can never be when there is massive poverty because that kind of a poverty is the clearest evidence that the ordinary or the majority is NOT the fulcrum of power.
Just as when the most ordinary, when the lowest and most sinful, cannot find extraordinary love, forgiveness and opportunity for salvation, then the pyramid of values has not really been transformed, that heaven remains only for a few.
The story of Christmas is not only about God and man but serves as a template for man’s relationship with man. The religious can set the most powerful tone for the secular as Christmas has set it for democracy. Christianity, then, is a wonderful model for democratic governance, and vice versa. Christianity can show how the lowly can be first, just as democracy can give priority to the ordinary.
It now turns out that the best of Christianity and the best of democracy are anchored on the best in us, that being good in one can lead to being good in the other. The world remains in turmoil and seeks an operating system that offers the most to all, regardless of differences. The need is for relief, for peace, for joy. Christmas is that gift. All we have to do is embrace it.