December 14th 2019


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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY A myriad transformations effected by one birth

VICTORIAN POLITICS Andrews hacks away at another way of life and source of jobs

CANBERRA OBSERVED Labor must own up to why it took the thrashing it got

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Hong Kong voters reject Beijing and its proxies

LIFE AND FAMILY On the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, how are we doing?

INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS Brexit: Quintessentially British party politics

OBITUARY Fr Paul Stenhouse: The thoughtful editor for the 'ordinary' reader

OBITUARY Vale David Milne, paragon of loyalty and perseverance

ASIAN AFFAIRS Taiwan and Hong Kong: Pawns in a bigger game

U.S.-CHINA RELATIONS How and why the U.S. should stop financing China's bad actors

HUMOUR You can't stop the music, Paddy

MUSIC 2020 foresight: A musical odyssey

CLASSIC CINEMA North by Northwest: The immaculately produced nightmare

BOOK REVIEW Truncated truths for post-truth times

BOOK REVIEW Food for a summer immersion program

POETRY

LETTERS

THE QUEEN V PELL: A blight on the whole of the criminal justice system

FOREIGN AFFAIRS Johnson to take UK out of the EU on January 31

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COVER STORY A
myriad transformations effected by one birth


by Peter Westmore

News Weekly, December 14, 2019

It is easy to be overwhelmed by the sense that the problems faced by our society, our country and even our world are so overwhelming that there is no solution.

Stained-glass window in the Church of the Nativity
of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the town of
Minsk Mazowieski in central Poland.

As we approach Christmas, it is good to reflect on the events that occurred just over 2,000 years ago, as they cast light on our current predicament.

The birth of Jesus Christ in a stable in Judea, a remote corner of the Roman Empire, seemed at the time an utterly insignificant event. It passed unnoticed by the historians of the day.

The fullest record we have of it comes from St Luke, one of the Evangelists who decades later documented Jesus’ life and teachings. It would appear that his account is based on conversations with Jesus’ mother Mary.

A separate account comes from St Matthew, clearly based on information from the other side of the family, Mary’s husband Joseph. Matthew narrates not only Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, just south of Jerusalem, but uniquely, the visit of the magi, the massacre of the innocents on the order of King Herod the Great, and the flight of the family into Egypt.

A little over 30 years later, Jesus was executed as a subversive by the then Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, who apparently thought that was the end of the matter.

Yet today, around 40 per cent of the world’s population affirm their adherence to Jesus and his teachings.

It is instructive to look at how this transformation came about.

Jesus’ disciples, following the injunction he had given them, set about building a religious movement, which soon became known as Christianity. After three centuries of persecution, they were legalised and, within a century, had become the dominant force in the Roman Empire.

When the Roman Empire collapsed, it seemed that Christianity would die with it.

However, the Christians set about the task of building a new civilisation based on Christian principles, and those principles provided the cultural, ethical and legal foundations on which Western civilisation is based. Over the course of time, Christianity spread throughout the world.

Twenty years ago, the flagship magazine of American evangelicalism, Christianity Today, devoted a cover story to the subject: Where would civilisation be today without Christianity?

Let’s set aside for a moment the question whether civilisation would exist without Christianity.

A number of prominent American writers turned their attention to the matter, and from their thoughts, these comments have been distilled.

Michael Novak, an American author and commentator, wrote: “Is there anyone who changed secular history more than Christ? Consider this: the followers of Jesus Christ introduced Gentiles to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Today, two out of five people in the world are Christians.

“Likewise, where would civilisation be today without Christian notions of compassion and solidarity? As atheists such as Bertrand Russell and Richard Rorty have noted, these ideas spring from the legacy of Christ. You do not have to be a Christian to appreciate parts of the legacy of Christ.”

Novak argued that five concepts worked out by Christian thinkers have especially affected modern ideas of politics and economics: human dignity, liberty, truth, conscience, and the notion of the person.

Professor David Jeffrey, Professor of Literature and the Humanities at Baylor University, examined the contribution of Christianity to literacy.

He wrote: “It would hardly be too much to say that literary culture in Europe, much of Africa and the Americas is inseparable from the culturally transformative power of Christianity.

“Two thousand years ago, textually preserved literacy and literature were substantially unknown beyond certain Mediterranean and Oriental cultures. Learning spread slowly.

“Chinese textual culture of the first century BC was largely restricted to matters of bureaucracy (politics and economics) and ancestral legend. Only a tiny elite, the chu-tzu, mastered and recapitulated fragments of pertinent oral tradition in textual form.

“In the Mediterranean and contiguous Middle East, this pattern was varied and enriched by the appearance of epic narrative (Homer), philosophical reflection (Plato, Aristotle), and religious drama (Euripides, Aeschylus, Sophocles) of the Greeks …

“Then came the Christians.

“What marks the emergence of Christian influence in literature is the appearance and dissemination of the Gospels themselves – not as an elite but as a popular and vernacular body of texts.

“In the eventful koine reportage of the Gospels, the breathless countercultural story in Acts, and the multicultural apostolic letters of the New Testament there emerges a counter literature: it was no longer ethnocentric and was concerned not with statecraft or elite entertainment, but with the transformation of ordinary lives.

“It is to the Great Commission itself that we owe the myriad cultural transformations effected by the Bible.”

On December 25, we celebrate not just the birth of Jesus Christ, but the transformation He has effected on our world – not once, but time and time again.




























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