Christmas and Liberty (my articles in Forbes.com)
"The Nativity, and the way we celebrate it, is a story that balances national or regional traditions and a more universal message. I do not know if its message can help find a middle ground between the globalists and the nationalists of today. I do know, however, that banning its display, or circumscribing it to private houses will do little to find a right balance and will exacerbate divisions."
Pope Francis rightly concludes that “Each of us can discover in Joseph – the man who goes unnoticed, a daily, discreet and hidden presence – an intercessor, a support and a guide in times of trouble. Saint Joseph reminds us that those who appear hidden or in the shadows can play an incomparable role in the history of salvation. A word of recognition and of gratitude is due to them all.” I say amen. And I go beyond the spiritual realm to the material one as well. All organizations, especially those which I know the best - those that work to promote and establish a free economy - have many “hidden” Josephs who help them to fulfill their mission, just as St. Joseph did for Jesus and Mary. This Christmas I pay special tribute to them and their hidden work.
"Christmas is an ideal day to reflect about liberty. Frederic Bastiat (1801-1850), the author of “The Law,” one of the most widely read and translated books about liberty, is acclaimed by lovers of free enterprise. Awards and associations across the United States and the world, such as the Bastiat Society, are named after him. Christmas is also an important day to highlight a major aspect, usually neglected, of the philosophy of this French writer and political economist: his grounding on God."
"John Locke spent his life trying to understand the human person and several decades, especially the last one, to better understand Christianity. He did not just studied religion he also lived it. When he was no longer able to go to church, he thought proper to receive the sacrament at home. His biographers state that he spent his time in ‘acts of piety and devotion' exhorting those at his bed-side that this life should only be regarded as a preparation for a better."
"St. Boniface's efforts to Christianize Europe are seldom celebrated, but each Christmas season brings his story back to life. Christians see the lighted tree as symbol of peace between God and human beings; of immortality; of the light that Jesus brought to the world; with its triangular shape it reminds them of a trinity pointing up to heaven. From a pure human perspective, the Christmas tree is a reminder that nature is for humans, and can be used for good or bad. As its use is to celebrate the good, most of us will continue to rejoice to its sight."
"Rosmini was a strong critic of the socialists of his time (Saint-Simon and Robert Owen) and anticipated many of the ills that would follow from the adoption of socialism. For him, socialist policies violate basic rights such as being able to choose one’s own way of life, the rights of ownership, of free competition and work. He went further, socialism annihilates the incentives for individual initiative, family love, care of property and free association. All these were fundamental principles in Rosmini’s own economic philosophy. He wrote “The economic and social impact of socialism would be devastating, but the worse impact would be the ‘complete destruction of human freedom,’ which leads to the destruction of man’s moral and economic capacity because freedom ‘is the root of all duties and, thus, of all human rights (…) the source of all individual and social goods’”
"No other saint is more identified with the ecology than St. Francis of Assisi (1182-1226). The stories about how he approached and communicated with animals, from wolves miraculously brought under his control, to harmless little birds, are abundant and bewildering. For Francis contemplating the sun and fire, should lead us to God: "as with its brightness he illuminates our sight during dark darkness … The Lord gives light to our eyes through these two brethren … for this reason, consider them and other creatures that we use every day, we should glorify and bless their Creator."
There are many scholarly disputes about when Jesus of Nazareth was really born. Was it March 25th or December 25th? Or was it a complete different date? There are disputes also about the correct year. Historians have traced the origin of December 25th to the year 354 after Christ. It was then when a publication of a calendar included a list of martyrs. In its text the calendar stated that Christ, the first martyr listed, was born seven days before January 1. Many of us who are aware of these discrepancies care little about them. We focus more on the meaning and impact of Christ and his birth and celebrate it with appropriate joy.
For those who claim that our western civilization owes its success to the Christian contributions a question should always come to mind: how does the vision of the human person that comes out of the Christmas traditions and celebrations influence our views about freedom?
The question for those who focus and work to promote the free economy is more focused. A free economy is nothing more, and nothing less, than the free movement of goods, people, and money (including financial instruments) across a region. The trip of Mary and Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem likely involved all three: people, money and goods. In a mostly free economy, one can move to another region, state or province, with little restrictions, even with “sensitive” goods such as a donkey. But have you ever tried to cross a national boundary with a horse or donkey? Not easy. In a way, the birth of Jesus of Nazareth was made possible by parents who exercised their rights of free movement and also trying to obey the law.
These political and economic considerations have much less relevance for the impact of Christmas than its essential message: the liberating sign of God, the Creator, becoming one of us. By “us” I mean one like you and me, who is reading, writing about Christmas, or just enjoying the season.
The first thing that comes to my mind in Christmas, apart from an immense awe, is that of hierarchy and equality. Hierarchy regarding God and his creatures. Equality in the dignity of His higher creatures, created in His image. Christ birth is for me, a powerful example of equality before the law.
As my field of study is more economics than religion, I asked a select group of Roman Catholic priests, who also help society as intellectual entrepreneurs and value the free economy, to share their views.
Father Robert Sirico, the President and co-founder of the Acton Institute, a think tank based in Grand Rapids that works across the globe tells me: “Christmas is fundamentally about God’s embrace of the material world in the coming of his son as man through the agency of the Virgin Mary.” The human person, the drama of life and birth appear in each scene of the Christmas story. How can those who have been close to a loved one, wife daughter, giving birth not sympathize with young Mary about to deliver the Son of God, Sirico adds: “this, and the more ancient belief that the material world itself was formed by God at the dawn of creation, work together to form the foundation of the economic inquiry itself.” He sees the gift of Christmas as opening a path to abundance in heaven and in earth: “think of it: in a free economy, scarcity gives way to abundance; so too, in the Incarnation of God’s son, the corporal points toward transcendence.”
For more go to the Forbes piece
Father Robert Sirico (in the middle), President of the Acton Institute, led the celebration of a Mass in the Church where Frederic Bastiat is buried. Pictured to his right William Conquer, who delivered the homily. Nov 28, 2017