The Corner

Christmas and Manchester by the Sea

So I’m asked: Why haven’t you said anything (like I used to) about Christmas or the films of the season?.

On Christmas: I was having lunch with my hugely competent and admirable student assistant. He blurted out out of nowhere: Why did God have to become man to save us from our sins? Now, that’s a question every Christian should be able to answer. But I admit I pivoted, rather than confront the relevant issues directly.

But a beginning of an answer: God could become man because he made us in his image. God is able to care that much for each of us because he is a personal and relational being. That’s the point of the doctrine of the Trinity — which is always at the heart of Christmas. The personal God is creative (willful), loving, and rational, as each of us is. Even reason, contrary to what Socrates or Aristotle says, is deeply personal. It exists, as far as we can tell, only as a personal quality, which means that being itself is personal all the way down.

So a person is not most deeply part of some whole greater than himself or herself. Not part of nature or some species, as the Darwinians teach. Not part of “the city” or a country. Sure, we really are supposed to do our duty as relational beings to our species and our country. But we’re more than that.

Even in love with God, we don’t lose ourselves, but retain our personal identities as beings with names. And our freedom is reconciled for our longing for personal significance in a reliable way only through love.

So this Christmas: Spend a lot of time thinking about what it means to be a free and relational person, by thinking about why God could and would become man.

On to movies! What did I think of the new Star Wars? Not much. I think those movies are, at best, really good comic books that resonate best with nerds.

I was really moved by Manchester by the Sea. It gives us men and women in full — free and relational persons who know, love, and take care of their own. But, you say, most of the characters in the movie aren’t so Christian, and the two who are aren’t very admirable! Well, that’s true, but it’s also part of the tragedy. The central character needs forgiveness he can’t possibly provide for himself. In the absence of forgiveness, he still does his duty as a guardian, but without the compensation of love. And before a catastrophe for which he was just responsible enough, he reveled joyfully in being a loving husband, devoted parent, and friend and in worthwhile work and active, relational leisure (boating, hunting, fishing, hockey). Without forgiveness, he’s stuck with a life sentence of living as a stranger, not living off or for anyone else.

I don’t want to return to the swamp of politics in the era of Trump: But if you live in an elitist bubble, you might go to Manchester by the Sea just to see what it means to be part our country’s “skilled labor,” to be competent enough to secure your own needs and not rely on “the guy” or the government, even when things go horribly wrong.

Peter Augustine LawlerPeter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College. He is executive editor of the acclaimed scholarly quarterly Perspectives on Political Science and served on President George ...

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