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Betsy Kneepkens: Society should at least recognize Jesus as a great man

Editor’s note: Betsy Kneepkens wrote this column intending it for the December issue of The Northern Cross.

Our Wisconsin neighbors are debating the name of the tree they cut down, placed in front of the capitol, and decorated with a science theme. Years ago, it was called a Holiday Tree, then a Christmas Tree, and now it is going back to a Holiday Tree.

Betsy Kneepkens
Betsy Kneepkens
Faith and Family

The news media is careful to cover this matter. I can only conclude Wisconsin is doing well, since it appears they don’t have another newsworthy event to cover. As best as I could find, the decorated fir outside the Minnesota capitol is still called a Christmas Tree. I wonder if the lack of debate in Minnesota has more to do with the home of the Mall of American than being politically correct. It doesn’t take colossal intelligence to know that people tend to spend more money on something called Christmas rather than an event called a holiday. I am sure some wise Minnesota politicians are aware of that fact as well.

I find the time and energy that governments and corporations spend on distancing themselves from the words or symbols of Christmas intriguing. If the big concern of the tree is that this item points to Christ, I am even more perplexed. The Christmas Tree does not have a super significant religious meaning to Christianity; Christ never talked about a tree, and nowhere in the New Testament is a decorated tree even mentioned. The tree has become a ceremonial tradition over time because evergreens are unique, since they seem to look alive when other trees appear dead. People who believe in resurrection can easily make this connection, but I don’t think nonbelievers would get that connection too readily.

What is more concerning to me is the way governments and corporations have increasingly banished Christ from everything, as if Christ were an evil person. Now, as Christians, we know that Christ was both God and man, but for those that don’t believe in Christ’s divinity, why do they get so tied up in knots when Christ is given any attention?

Imagine the backlash if established powers tried to distance themselves from people like Maya Angelo, Gandhi, Ben Franklin, or Rosa Parks, or even more historical people like Leonardo da Vinci, Galileo, Alexander the Great, Sir Isaac Newton, or Queen Victoria.

Pictures of these historical figures are hung in public school classrooms and libraries throughout the country, and even in government buildings. Corporations are willing to use their quotes or images to sell their products. If these notable figures have written books or articles, their works have been assigned as book reports, and government leaders have cited their significant contributions during congressional debates. Public museums proudly display their works and ideas as pieces of innovation and brilliance. As a culture, we see the value and need of holding up individuals’ greatness as models to emulate.

Every generation and every era has remarkable individuals that continue to inspire the people who come after them. Any student of history would know that societal progress was born out of a small group of individuals who lived boldly to progress the common good. As a nation, we should celebrate the useful contributions of others.

As historians know, where you find greatness, you typically find flaws, because people of prominence do not live outside the wounds of the human condition. And since everyone has shortcomings, their brokenness generally is masked or minimized because their positive impact overshadows any sinfulness.

According to nearly every scholarly historian, no one has impacted human history more than the person of Jesus Christ. His existence in time is indisputable, his influence is rarely understated, and nearly everything that is written about him affirms his virtuous lifestyle. Jesus Christ was an exceptional man in human history.

As persons of faith, we know of Christ’s divinity. We, therefore, know of his intentions walking this earth, his purpose for humankind, and his nature as the supreme holiness. We know that his nature is perfect and could only impact the world positively because he is “the way, the truth, and the life.”

For those who don’t know or who reject Christ’s divinity, why then are they so unwilling to acknowledge the incredible contributions that are a result of his life and what he professed?

What is so wrong with sharing and celebrating the news that Christ elevated women more than any other person in history? Or Christ’s insistence that marriage ought to be held up with the highest regard as the most profound visible sign of commitment of two people both complementary and unrelated. Furthermore, Christ’s impact on economics was undeniable. His progressive teachings developed the theory of the dignity of work, which when implemented is the foundation of healthy economic prosperity. If that is not enough, how about his notion to establish a worldwide church and obligate that institution to improve the common good for the entire human race?

December is the month I feel that secular organization and sadly some faith-based institutions work the hardest to distance themselves from Christ. This month ought to be the time of year that Catholics repropose all the great things Christ did for humankind. The man Jesus Christ had an unarguably positive impact that far exceeds any other individual in human history.

Sadly, too many Catholics, in the name of tolerance, politeness, or simple lack of courage, decide to go along with diminishing the importance Christ plays in this Christmas season, not to mention all of history. Christ was a great man, and we should be shouting this from the rooftops, putting his picture up in libraries, and quoting him whenever appropriate.

When nonbelievers finally acknowledge and accept his impact on the course of history, we can then share the good news of his divinity. However, the news that he came so our lives will be full, so that we may be saved and enjoy the blessing of eternity, becomes much harder if some Catholics continue to keep silent when organizations banish Christ from this Christmas season.

Speak politely but boldly about our Savior Jesus this Christmas season, and I would encourage you to maintain every day going forward. May you have a merry and blessed Christmas!

Betsy Kneepkens is director of the Office of Marriage and Family Life for the Diocese of Duluth and a mother of six.