No doubt the writers and editors at Slate—created by Michael Kinsley, owned by the Washington Post Company, edited by David Plotz and Jacob Weisberg, and home to such JournoListers as Dave Weigel—consider themselves educated and even enlightened thinkers who’d be happy to correct your mispronunciation of jejune and dour at a cocktail party.
But these smartest kids in the room are often dumb as posts about matters religious. Even Plotz’s admirable reading and blogging of the Old Testament a few years ago missed the primary role of ethical monotheism in transforming the ancient world and laying the foundations for the time when reasonableness seems self-evident.
Thus we come to yesterday’s claptrap from Slate writer Amanda Marcotte: Relax Parents: There’s No Need to Put the Christ in Christmas.
What the context-free kids grasp that we adults may not understand is this: The myths and legends of a desert-dwelling people from 2,000 ago don’t have much symbolic or cultural relationship to the Christmas of our imagining, with its snow-laden landscapes punctuated with mistletoe and jolly, gift-bearing elves. The story of Ebenezer Scrooge evokes Christmas more readily than the tale of the Christ child born in Bethlehem, which most Americans probably can’t find on a map. Frankly, if you want to instill more relevant modern values into your children, you’d be better off sticking with the Dickens tale, which emphasizes the importance of love and generosity. The story of Christ’s birth, on the other hand, is about how virgins are better than non-virgins, with a side dose of arguing that babies who haven’t done anything yet can still be superior to everyone else by accident of birth.
That may be worth an A in most colleges today, but it reflects historical ignorance deserving of an F.
In Marcotte/Slate think, “relevant modern values” of “love and generosity” are not the byproducts of Judeo-Christianity but rather sprang fully developed despite religion—the children of immaculate births. Ironic, no?
History tells a different story. Let’s see Marcotte explain the bewilderment with which we now view human (virgin!) sacrifice as the act of a barbaric age without crediting the Genesis story of Abraham’s hand being stayed by an angel from slaying Isaac.
Neither the Enlightenment nor ethical humanism could have developed without being preceded by widespread acceptance of Judeo-Christian precepts.
Indeed, in citing A Christmas Carol, Marcotte entirely misses that Dickens purveyed an idealistically Christian worldview—“love and generosity” and charity and kindness—unknown and unthinkable in the ancient world. The wretched of Carthage, for example, led lives of desperation and misery unleavened by the notion that things might, could, or should be different. Dickens’s point was that, in practice, the Anglican Church of his day was falling far short of Christ’s teachings and not imbuing English society with Christ’s values.
Marcotte would, I suspect, be appalled to find that she had inadvertently verified the thoughts of a great Christian thinker. But in warning against creeping secularism, Chesterton may as well have had her in mind.
“When people stop believing in God,” he said, “they don’t believe in nothing. They believe in anything.”
UPDATE: From today’s excellent (per usual) Thomas Sowell column (h/t Althouse): “The more I study the history of intellectuals, the more they seem like a wrecking crew, dismantling civilization bit by bit — replacing what works with what sounds good.”