The other day I was talking about the election with some friends. One of my most-trusted insiders, Michael Cage (a first rate marketing genius – at 28 years old he has yet to show the world what he is fully capable of) commented, “One of the things that defines the generation that elected Barack Obama is we just don’t relate to an us-vs-them mentality when we look out at the rest of the world. Everyone in the world is just an email away.”
Ten years ago someone commented, “These days you may not even know your next door neighbor, but you exchange emails with your buddy in South Africa twice a week.” I looked out the window at the house next to mine – barely knew the neighbors – and yes I was sitting there sending emails to someone in some far-off country.
Every week I get on conference calls and say hi to everyone and barely think twice about the fact that I’ve got 17 people from Texas, four from Perth, one from Amsterdam, one in Alaska, one in Lebanon.
Ever heard Thomas Friedman’s “McDonalds theory of world peace”? He observes that with only one exception, no two countries with a McDonalds have ever gone to war with each other.
Can you imagine, say, the US going to war with Australia? Think of all the emails the senators and congressmen would get: “Hey, stop trying to kill my customers! And by the way, here’s a list of 115 blogs from people who are trapped in the Siege of Sydney right now!”
The world of 2008 is truly a strange and wonderful place. Just before we took off for Nebraska to go see relatives, I loaded the first season of The Dukes of Hazzard on my video iPod so my 10 year old son would have something to watch while we trucked down Interstate 80.
That TV show ran in 1979 – the year that *I* was 10 years old. I said to Laura, “Who would’ve thought that 25 years later you’d be able to download an entire season of the Dukes of Hazzard onto a device that’s half the size of a pack of cigarettes, and our kids would watch it in the car with headphones and a 2″ screen?” We shake our heads in amazement.
OK, so what does all this have to do with Christmas?
Equality and technology… They have everything to do with Christmas.
Let’s start with equality.
The United States Declaration of Independence makes a world-shattering declaration that transformed the modern world:
“We hold these things to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, among which are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
In his book “Democracy in America” (1835) Alexis de Tocqueville carefully traces this statement and its idea of equality backward through history and lands at Galatians 3:28, the words of St. Paul:
“In Christ there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free. All are equal in Christ Jesus.”
Before Paul said this, no one had ever made such a bold and sweeping statement. No one. Not the Jews or Babylonians, not the Egyptians, not the Greeks, not the Chinese. The concept of equality came first from Paul.
This idea got planted in western civilization and began to grow and develop, little by little dismantling slave trade, sowing the seeds for democracy and spurring technological and political progress. He says that from 1100 AD to the present, every major development led to more equality, not less. The Magna Carta. The invention of the horseshoe. The invention of the gun and the post office and the printing press and democracy.
If you live in a democracy and you’re thankful for the ability to vote, if you’re thankful that people generally consider you and themselves to be just as good as anybody else, then thank Paul. And his Rabbi, Jesus.
Because – despite what the Declaration says – equality really is NOT self evident. At least it wasn’t to any of the ancient world prior to 2000 years ago. On the surface, we’re all different. Some are stronger. Some are smarter. Some have more money. Some are politically connected. Some are more savvy.
And some people get the scraps.
You have no principle to guide you but the 80/20 rule. Which, divorced from any overriding sense of equality or individual dignity, is a cruel master.
But when Paul said this, he was declaring that there is an underlying *spiritual* reality, that yours and my true identity doesn’t come from accomplishments or money or power but from our Heavenly Father. That once we know that true identity we’re no longer slaves to money and power and accomplishments and the ‘natural’ order of things.
If you’re thankful that Western Civilization today considers all people to be intrinsically equal, be thankful that a young couple in Bethlehem gave birth to a baby who was to become the most loved, most hated, most argued about, most written about, most influential person in the history of the world. One who taught that the greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. One in whom there is no male or female, no Jew nor Greek, no slave nor free.
So then how about technology?
Science itself is, at its core, a presumption of discoverable underlying order. A belief, an assumption (which cannot be proven in advance BTW) that when an apple falls from a tree it does so because of some law of nature that caused it to do so. That there was a string of cause and effect that can be traced back to explain why this happened.
The apple did not fall from the tree because, say, Zeus was having a snit with Apollo and that’s why there was the lightning storm which is why there was a wind that caused the apple to swing back and forth and fall from the tree…. no, it happened for rational discoverable reasons. That God made a world which could operate consistently on its own without Him constantly making corrections from the outside.
So far as I can tell, the inspiration for this belief first came from Wisdom of Solomon 11:21: “Thou hast ordered all things in measure and number and weight.”
(The Protestants omitted that book, but our Catholic friends thankfully left it in.)
If a scientist does not presume that there is a rational reason for what he is about to investigate, there is nothing for him to investigate at all. Belief in rationality comes from belief in a rational God. A God who wants us to discover His universe. For whom such discovery is an act of worship.
If you read the history of science over the last 500 years, the only reason science succeeded in the West – after getting started but failing in Greece, Rome, China and in the Arab world – is that Christian theology understood God to have created the universe to operate according to fixed discoverable laws. Theology made that prediction, then people had a philosophical basis for having a scientific method.
In his fascinating book “The Victory of Reason” historian Rodney Stark further explains that the forward march of technology began after the fall of the Roman Empire and has marched steadily forward ever since. Equality implied that slavery was wrong, so people had to develop technology in order to free their slaves and still get the work done. So… part of the inspiration for inventions like water wheels was a belief in dignity and freedom and the rights of the individual.
Technology is supposed to empower people, not enslave them. Because, as Paul said, in Christ, all are equal.
If you trace these ideas back through history, equality and technology and even iPods and Democracy have everything to do with our very beliefs about the universe and about God. And yes, even Jesus. Case in point: it’s politically incorrect to say “Merry Christmas” cuz it’s too religious. Instead you get a tepid, watered down “Happy Holidays.”
It’s because Christ is offensive. When a guy smashes his thumb with a hammer, he doesn’t say “Krishna” or “Buddha,” he says Jesus Christ. Because that’s the most loaded, most powerful word in the English language. There’s no name you can invoke that’s more powerful than the Son of God.
Do you know what the most important invention in the history of the world was?
It wasn’t the computer. And it sure wasn’t the light bulb or the telephone. (Or even the electronic voting machine.)
It was the printing press.
In 1445, Johannes Gutenberg invented the world’s first movable type printing press. He didn’t know it, but he was unleashing a revolution that continues to this day. Even the mighty Internet in the 21st century is just an extension of Gutenberg’s original, revolutionary machine.
The first book he printed was the Bible. And that led to controversy, too, because Luther translated it into German, the people’s language, instead of Latin, the lingo of the religious elite.
Suddenly, ordinary folks could not only afford a copy, but they could read it for themselves instead of getting some guy’s slanted interpretation. Soon the cat was out of the bag–there were copies scattered all over Europe.
When people started to read it, they were alarmed at what they saw, because between the covers of this book was an amazing story that had seemingly little to do with the politics and shell games they saw in some corners of organized religion.
Luther wrote a list of 95 accusations against the church — priests taking bribes and granting ‘indulgences’, an institution setting itself up as a ‘middleman’ between man and God.
He argued that God didn’t need a middleman, or a distributor, or an agent, or a bureaucracy. People could go direct to the source.
This little ‘schism’ in Worms Germany unleashed a firestorm of protest and permanently changed the way people approached education. No longer was a big, faceless institution responsible for your spiritual progress — YOU were. Now that you had the knowledge in your hands, you were accountable before God to do something about it.
I’m not trying to attack the Catholic church, by the way. The problem is not institutions per se; it’s just that it’s easier for most of us to mindlessly follow some guru than to listen to God’s still small voice, and use the minds He gave us.
It’s no coincidence that the scientific enlightenment and industrial revolution began in earnest within 50 years of this. Not that it wasn’t already underway (it had already gathered considerable momentum) but now that ordinary folks had access to knowledge and the freedom to pursue it, the possibilities were limitless.
The printing press took the handcuffs off of knowledge and spirituality, and the world has never been the same. Equal access to knowledge empowered people everywhere, and it was only natural that the Renaissance, and in time, democracy too would follow.
So on Christmas we celebrate the person who inspired these revolutions. Jesus’ teachings were radical and scandalous. He claimed to be the Son of God. He said he would rise from the dead, and according to the historical accounts, he did. He stepped into the world and split time in half: BC and AD. And his words still resonate throughout the earth in 2008.
Still rolls the stone from the grave.
Today I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a happy new year. And in the spirit of what Jesus taught us, I hope that in 2009 you’ll use the 21st century printing press, the Internet, to not enslave but empower individuals. To bring more equality, to make the world a better place for your fellow man.
Thanks for reading.
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