A Christmas Message by the Asian Human Rights Commission
By BASIL FERNANDO
December 23, 2017
Thinking purely in symbolic terms, Christmas celebrates a fascinating event. Jesus was born in a cattle shed. This was where sheep slept. From a power point of view, it was so completely different from the way other religious or political leaders are presented to the world. Links to royalty or nobility, or at least some affluence, and education, were considered qualities of leaders. But here, none of those symbols of power was present.
From the point of view of value systems, this symbolic birth presents very different appreciation of values than what we see in many other models. A human being is born the midst of cattle. Human beings are part of nature, and that is more important than any symbols of status and wealth.
This is a message that has been largely lost. Perhaps, at the heart of the moral crisis in the world is this problem of being unable to consider that human beings are a part of nature. As St Francis wanted, genuine relationships should be established with ‘Brother Sheep and Sister Bees’.
This symbolism is even more important for the new world, which began with the first testing of the atom bomb in New Mexico in 1941, a test which was nicknamed, quite inappropriately, Trinity. The success of the explosion that happened on that day posed a moral crisis which baffled the most talented scientists, and changed their own views on their achievements. Robert Oppenheimer and, later, his counterparts in other countries, like the Russian Andrei Sakharov and others like them, all lived to regret what they initially thought was the highest achievement of their lives. The plea to end this experiment was their final message.
The dilemmas posed on that day by Trinity remain not only unresolved, but appear to be unresolvable. The creative capacity of human beings resulted in a situation where they became their own annihilators.
In terms of political civilization, this “achievement” of Trinity also posed the greatest threat to liberal democracy itself. The value of the political was diminished, creating a higher place for those who manage security apparatuses. This is now reflected everywhere, including those places that were considered the most developed democracies in the Western world.
Now, on the one hand, security agencies, including intelligence agencies, have truly become the final arbiters of human destinies. On the other hand, this has become an unacceptable situation for everyone, including the persons in these agencies. Yet there is no way out to be seen. Human intelligence is trapped within this great contradiction.
In creating the atom bomb, the argument in the United States was that this was essential in order to save western civilization. However, the achievement of the dream has posed not only a threat to western civilization, but to human civilization as a whole. Yet, to those who are most powerful in the world, the crisis of human civilization as a whole has not been taken as seriously as it should be.
The Christmas symbolism must be treated a powerful reminder of humanity’s link to the totality of the world. That realization should transcend all considerations of wealth and power. This is no longer a sentimental aspiration. The practical survival of the world depends on the capacity to bring back the natural link between human beings and the rest of creation. This has become the challenge of ‘to be or not to be’ for everyone.