- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 23, 2004

Christmas is a time of traditions. If you have found time in the rush before Christmas to decorate a tree, you are sharing in a relatively new tradition. Although the Christmas tree has ancient roots, at the beginning of the 20th century only 1 in 5 American families put up a tree. It was 1920 before the Christmas tree became the hallmark of the season. Calvin Coolidge was the first President to light a national Christmas tree on the White House lawn.

Gift-giving is another shared custom. This tradition comes from the Wise Men or Three Kings who brought gifts to Baby Jesus. When I was a kid, gifts were more modest than now, but even then people complained about the commercialization of Christmas. We have grown accustomed to the commercialism. Christmas sales are the backbone of many businesses. Gift-giving causes us to to take time from our harried lives and remember others.

Christmas decorations and gifts are among our connections to a Christian culture that has held Western civilization together for 2,000 years.

In our culture the individual counts. This permits an individual person to put his or her foot down, to take a stand on principle, to become a reformer and to take on injustice.

This empowerment of the individual is unique to Western civilization. It has made the individual a citizen equal in rights to all other citizens, protected from tyrannical government by the rule of law and free speech. These achievements are the products of centuries of struggle, but they all flow from the teaching God so values the individual’s soul He sent His Son to die so we might live. By so elevating the individual, Christianity gave him a voice.

Formerly only those with power had a voice. But in Western civilization, people with integrity have a voice. So do people with a sense of justice, of honor, of duty, of fair play. Reformers can reform, investors can invest, and entrepreneurs can create commercial enterprises, new products and new occupations. The result is a land of opportunity. The United States attracted immigrants who shared our values and reflected them in their own lives. Our culture was absorbed by diverse peoples who became one.

In recent decades, we have begun losing sight of the historic achievement that empowered the individual. The religious, legal and political roots of this great achievement are no longer reverently taught in high schools, colleges and universities. The voices that reach us through the millennia and connect us to our culture are being silenced by “political correctness.” Prayer has been driven from schools and religious symbols from public life. Georgetown University, a Jesuit institution, is too fearful of offending diversity to display the crucifix.

There is plenty of room for cultural diversity in the world, but not within a single country. A Tower of Babel has no culture. A person cannot be a Christian one day, a pagan the next and a Muslim the day after. A hodgepodge of cultural and religious values provides no basis for law — except the raw power of the pre-Christian past.

All Americans have a huge stake in Christianity. Whether or not we individually believe in Christ, we benefit from the moral doctrine that curbs power and protects the weak.

Power is the horse ridden by evil. In the 20th century, the horse was ridden hard. One hundred million people were exterminated by German National Socialists and by Soviet and Chinese communists simply because they belonged to a race or class demonized by intellectuals and political authority.

Secularized power cut free of civilizing traditions is not limited by moral and religious scruples. V.I. Lenin made this clear when he defined his dictatorship as “unlimited power, resting directly on force, not limited by anything.”

Christianity’s emphasis on the individual’s worth renders unthinkable such power as Lenin claimed. Whether or not we are religious, our celebration of Christ’s birth honors a religion that made us masters of our souls and of our political life on Earth. Such a faith is worth holding on to even for atheists.

Paul Craig Roberts is a columnist for The Washington Times and is nationally syndicated.

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