More than two decades ago, when I proudly proclaimed myself a “militant atheist”, the idea of celebrating Christmas seemed to me the most naive of nonsense. I used to think that human beings are always afraid of the unknown, and because of that fear we had started to invent religions. “Actually”, I thought, “no matter what I do with my life: I will always be sinning against some dogma, precept or tradition… Why, then, go to the trouble of choosing a single faith, a single path to transcendence or Salvation, if it exists and can be earned?”
Now, since my morose conversion began, it is increasingly clear to me that it is impossible to transgress against something important that is not, in essence, true, and that if something can be called “error” it is our inveterate habit of thinking that “truths” ” that we build excuse us from going after that unique truth. The abundance of religions and sects is not, in short, an excuse for disbelief, but proof of a human search that obviously has innumerable aspects, miseries and whims. The truth does not depend on the paths chosen to reach it; that’s why it’s true.
The most difficult thing for me was to dismantle, one by one, the arguments with which I had disguised my deepest fears. I began to realize that I couldn’t fight something I didn’t know. The much philosophy that I had read gave me excuses for not believing in Jesus Christ, but in no way could I make sense of Sartre’s ethical pessimism, Nietzsche’s desperate arrogance, or Schopenhauer’s exacerbated voluntarism. With all their intelligence, none of these thinkers had done for humanity anything similar to what Mother Teresa of Calcutta, for example, did, an insignificant little Albanian nun who had turned love for others into a vital and tangible mission.
Paradoxically, the message of Jesus was getting into my heart through my head, without emotions. I understood that faith could be reasoned and not just be reasonable. Later, of course, I read Clement of Alexandria, Augustine of Hippo, Thomas Aquinas, John Chrysostom, Blaise Pascal, Jaime Luciano Balmes, John Henry Newman, Gilbert Keith Chesterton, Joseph Ratzinger, Alasdair MacIntyre, Peter Kreeft, Lee Patrick Strobel and J Budziszewski, among many others. And the rest is history.
When one accepts, even reluctantly, that it is attainable for Truth to have a form, a doctrine, a concrete proposal -it is actually clumsy to deny it that possibility-, one’s own philosophical constructions reveal themselves to be insubstantial, prejudiced and arrogant, just the defects that are perceived in the books of Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris, to mention four famous atheists of our time. They simply do not refute anything, because what they are trying to refute is obviously unattainable.
Therefore, and especially on these dates, I stop to contemplate the mystery of the birth of Jesus with a joy that comes from faith, but also from the overwhelming memory of my former pride. I know from experience that human beings are free to reject the option of believing in a supernatural truth as anachronistic, medieval, obscurantist, or naive; but I also know that we would do ourselves a great favor if we avoid thinking that this incredulity, whatever its nature, turns into nonsense the core of the Christian message.
Nor should we feel entitled to question the profound and life-changing message of the Gospel. It is not for nothing that this newborn from Bethlehem, so fragile and so poor, radiates joy and optimism to millions of people around the world. The criticisms of the skeptics, on the other hand, rather than succeed in explaining something, only serve to amplify the contrasts, since this is how the black dots of bitterness become noticeable in the midst of the hopeful whiteness of Christmas.
I prefer to kneel before the manger and thank this child for having saved me from myself.