The Gift of Bethlehem: Part Two

Drawing upon the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, this series by Chesapeake Energy School of Business Scholar in Residence, Peter Johnston, documents the constructive contributions Christ and Christians have made to economic, political, and social liberty throughout the centuries.

Western civilization is under attack. Indeed, there have been and are scandalous things that have taken place and are taking place in Western civilization both among individuals and in nations.

It, like every other civilization throughout history, bears witness to the statement as cited by Chuck Colson and Nancy Pearcey in How Now Shall We Live, that “the doctrine of original sin is the only philosophy empirically validated by thirty-five centuries of recorded human history.”

But, in the midst of the trials and scandals and tendencies for certain social and economic and political issues to run amok, let us not forget what the Chinese scholars quoted in the previous post concluded after having exhaustively sought out for decades what made Western civilization so successful:

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. We don’t have any doubt about this.

We in the West may need to be refreshed on what underlies the success of Western civilization – or suffer great consequences. As George Santayana has wisely stated, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

So having said that, allow me to introduce or remind you of two insights attesting to the constructive impact of the Gift of Bethlehem and American liberty as illuminated by Templeton Award winning writer and social philosopher, Michael Novak. Two seminal works of his provide ample backdrop to the impact of the Gift and Western liberty. One is entitled On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding and the other The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism.

In On Two Wings, Novak critically reminds American minds of “the forgotten – if not deliberately ignored – role of faith” in crafting American liberty. Modern historians magnify one wing of reason or common sense that illumined our founders and indeed that was significant. But rarely do you see a one winged bird fly, let alone fly well. The American eagle, as Novak carefully and thoroughly conveys soared on two wings, the second “humble faith,” faith rooted in Jewish metaphysics. As he puts it, “on two wings the American eagle rose into the sky. On plain reason and humble faith.” Not to demean reason, also a necessary wing, but liberty could not have risen, liberty could not be sustained, liberty cannot be sustained without the wing of faith. This our founding fathers understood and put into practice in the political realm. Revelation from God as revealed in the Bible and reason were, and are, essential to genuine, sustained liberty.

Portions of Novak’s other book, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, are foundational reading for a graduate course I developed and instruct for Oklahoma Wesleyan University on American Framework for Free Enterprise. The book documents Novak’s journey from being a socialist to recognizing the inherent flaws and historic reality of socialistic failure to becoming an ardent advocate for capitalism. The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism postulates that liberty has three required components that are like a three-legged stool. One leg is the political realm, a second leg is the economic realm and third essential leg is the moral realm. Sacrifice one leg and the stool, the system, falls.

Testing Novak’s theory in current light, morals infuse a much broader spectrum than just sexual issues, but it should not be difficult to see how the compartmentalization of public versus private lives in the past generations has sown destructive seeds coming into glaring perspective today whether in Hollywood, the church, or politics. As George Washington instructed in his Farewell Address, “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”

So, what to take away from this article?

First, The Gift of Bethlehem provided supernatural light to the world to inspire humble faith and a desire to live honorable, sacrificial, moral lives based first and foremost on a faith in Him who was and is the Gift. At our founding, faith,along with reason, were the two necessary wings to enable the American eagle to fly. Second, for society to flourish it is like a three-legged stool: one leg represents the political system, another leg the economic system, and the third essential leg, a vibrant, active, day by day moral system. The three legs work together to support a stool reflecting the spirit of democratic capitalism.




The Gift of Bethlehem: Foundation for Western Liberty, Part 1

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