December 27, 2011

Christmas, Atheism, and Power

Reflecting on Christmas, and especially our Holy Father's Christmas homily in which St. Francis plays such a part, I've been thinking about contemporary disbelief in God and how maybe it relates to our wrong ideas of power.

Perhaps part of what makes it so hard for folks to believe in God--and even for us religious folks, sometimes, to act as if he exists--is that we are confused about power. God is the Almighty; he is the infinite creative power that made the heavens and the earth and sustains all things in being. And yet, when the Almighty God is revealed to us, what do we get? First, a baby born not only in an obscure place but away from home, to plain parents, and into an ethnic group that was--at least at that time--historically important by no accepted standard. Second, a tortured and convicted criminal being executed on the cross. Christ crucified could not even move his hands and feet, much less control anything or make anybody do anything. And yet these are the privileged revelations of the all-powerful, Almighty God.

Perhaps when we talk about power we are too often talking about what is really the abuse of power, the leverage or ability to manipulate and coerce, to make others conform to our will, to co-opt others into the disorders of our hearts and the futility of our sins.

In Jesus Christ the highest power is revealed as self-emptying humility. If we were to come to really understand and practice our own wills to power in this way, maybe it would be easier to believe in God. Indeed, perhaps God would become as self-evident as he necessarily must be.

Not that it's easy. To embrace the true power revealed in humility is hard on the flesh, which has lusted for the violent domination of others ever since Cain killed his own brother. The crown of thorns cuts and digs when we put it on. But is the crown of the true royalty of this world, of those who bear the real power that is the only source of peace.


Brendan said...

I believe that you are onto something. Thanks.

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

Well said. On a purely secular level, as a senior level manager/leader, I constantly tell the junior managers that power grows as one gives it away (i.e. as one practices leadership as the opportunity to serve others) and dissipates as one tries to hang onto it (i.e. to manipulate and dominate). Those who listen, find this is true, and they are my best managers; everyone wants to work for them. One of the most effective leadership books I have ever read is "Jesus As Servant Leader." We have been given many examples of how to handle power, but, as you say, we don't recognize real power when we see it; we see only a pure substitute, which would better be labeled domination and unwarranted self-importance. Interesting how little we have learned in 2000+ years.