Postmodernism, the Naughty List, and Just Desserts
Have you been naughty or nice in 2009? That is the ubiquitous question of the season but is it just a lyrical, whimsical, childish query or does the question and its answer define much more about us than we usually acknowledge? After all there are some weighty philosophical presuppositions within the naughty and nice dichotomy. First of all, the dichotomy requires a standard by which naughtiness or niceness can be measured, and secondly, the dichotomy suggests that gifts are merit-based. Yet these assumptions are rarely recognized or discussed.
Is a Standard Even Possible?
Postmodern thought says there is no objective standard, that we can only determine our own values based on our own experiences. In other words, we can all have our own lists, but that there couldn’t possibly be a list. Yet postmodernism defeats its own “no absolutes” argument by claiming absolutely the nonexistence of absolutes. That may take some of us, including me, a few minutes to think through, but when we flex that logic muscle, the reality of it sinks in. Furthermore, we all have an undeniable sense that some behaviors are better than others. Few would attempt to equate the morality of a Nazi prison guard and a humanitarian worker helping flood victims in the Philippines. Yet as C.S. Lewis wrote in Mere Christianity, “The moment you say that one set of moral ideas can be better than another, you are, in fact, measuring them both by a standard, saying that one of them conforms to that standard more nearly than the other.” So when we use the naughty/nice dichotomy we are also making an implicit statement about postmodernism. Perhaps it’s just as Lewis suggested, in our heart of hearts we know there is indeed a standard somewhere out there.
Merit-Based Gift Giving
But there is also the issue of merit. How often do we hear and see the “you deserve it” lingo. It’s everywhere and we even tell our children that they better watch out and they better not cry. The message is that poorly behaved children don’t get gifts, while good little boys and girls earn them. They deserve them. Yet there couldn’t be anything more antithetical to the Christmas story told in the Bible. Because the real gift of Christmas is freely given, not to those who deserve it, not to those who are good, not to those who do well in school, not to those who are charitable or well-mannered, not to those who are religiously observant. The precious babe born on Christmas, the one and only child who never did make the naughty list, is the true gift and the true meaning of Christmas. His love, his peace and his sacrifice are freely given to all. To all, not just to the kindhearted and humble, but to the proud, the rude, the arrogant, the selfish, the impatient, the cruel, the backstabbing, the jealous, the unforgiving, and the irreverent. The greatest gift ever given was given to all.
This year may we discard the ridiculous mentality that anyone is earning or deserving anything. Instead may we hearken back to the original story by wishing unwarranted love, joy and peace to all.