First of all, Bethlehem–the Bethlehem in the “Gift of Bethlehem”–is not even in the West.
That then, is a pretty strange title having to do with the foundation of Western liberty.
And what is this “Gift”?
To explain, let me retreat ten years about this same time, the Christmas season of 2007. As a student of history (B.A. Cornell) and a student of the Bible since my undergraduate years, I penned a three-part editorial series for two local papers focusing on The Gift of Bethlehem. I drew the title from ancient writing of a Judean named Micah who wrote of the birth of a child to be born in that obscure village of Bethlehem. Writing hundreds of years before that birth would take place, Micah prophesied of one whose “goings forth are from long ago from the days of eternity” but who would become the ruler of Israel. Looking back, we know that birth, that gift as Yeshua Messiah, or Jesus the Christ.
And indeed, looking back we have traditionally dated our calendars relative to the birth of that baby in a manger in that obscure village. With that birth, we date time either B.C. – before Christ or A.D. Latin for anno domini, or “in the year of our Lord.” Even secularists who are attempting to write out the significance of Jesus Christ, change the abbreviations to B.C.E. “before the common era” and C.E. “common era” but retain that shift as taking place at the time of Christ’s birth!
Fast forward 2100 years from that birth and we have Chinese scholars, Eastern scholars, with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences spending more than twenty years under Communist rule trying to determine the basis of success of the West. Yes, they said success of Western civilization. While professors on American campuses were denouncing Western civilization, is it strange their Chinese counterparts were magnifying its success?
Indeed, they were.
As I did in one of those columns a decade ago, let’s review how in 2002 one of those Chinese scholars recounted their mission as captured by David Aikman, former Beijing Bureau Chief for Time Magazine.
What were they directed to study?
“One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world.”
What was their approach?
“We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system.”
What did they determine?
“But in the past twenty years, we have realized that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West has been so powerful. The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics.”
How convinced were they?
“We don’t have any doubt about this.”
Western liberty–a liberty that has served as an example for the rest of the world–has its roots in the Gift of Bethlehem.
Stay tuned as I invite you to join me in this 2017 series for the Keating Center for Capitalism, Free Enterprise and Constitutional Liberty documenting the constructive contributions Christ and Christians have made to economic, political, and social liberty throughout the centuries.
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