So it may be said both that Christmas is impossible, and that even if it were possible, we could never know it occurred. Why? Christmas is impossible because it violates the laws of nature — a being cannot have existed for all time and have been born at a specific point in time, for example. But even if the laws of nature were somehow violated, we could never know, because it is irrational to believe that the violation is more likely than the evangelist being wrong.
This explains, I think, the attitude of my friend. Jesus can’t feed thousands with just a few loaves and fish — the laws of nature don’t allow it. Jesus couldn’t have walked on water. Gravity doesn’t work that way.
And then there is Christmas. We celebrate it as a society, but do we really believe it happened? Many profess belief in the Christmas story, but do they really believe its claims could be true? Put simply, is Christmas possible?
What are the most important things you know? I’d guess that they include the love you share with your family and friends. But how do you know that they love you and that you love them?
Is Macbeth correct that life is a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing? Are some things worthy of great sacrifice? If so, then what are they? You may have strong answers to these questions, but how do you know that you’re right?
Scientific imperialism would seek to test these in the same way that you would test the value of the gravitational constant. Enlightenment reductionism (in its extreme form) would boil them down to their material elements — you know that you love your wife because special neurons fire and chemicals are released when you are around her.
But there are better ways to know.
Use reason and empirics to know, sure. But embrace your full ability to know by embracing your full humanity. Learn from the movements of your heart. Take seriously the knowledge you acquire from personal experience — even from mystical experience. Don’t reduce your experiences to their constituent elements — anyone who has seen Mr. Springsteen in concert knows that what happens there is more than drums plus melody plus lyrics plus vocals plus audience; anyone who has held his wife knows that there is more in that experience than brain chemistry. Sometimes two plus two really does equal six.
Is Christmas possible? This question has no easy answer. It is so difficult that more than reason is required in its service. But then more than reason is required to answer most questions that truly matter.
— Michael R. Strain is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. This was first printed in The American magazine in 2012 and is reprinted with permission.