Anyway I decided I couldn't let it pass and wrote the following:
Sir, I suppose I should thank Matthew Parris for being kind to us woolly-minded Christians and our sweet story (Comment, 24 December). However it really does matter whether that story is true or not. The manger at Bethlehem marks the dividing line between two radically opposed visions of humanity. In one, we are objects of and vehicles for the divine love. We are all therefore of infinite value, glorious destiny and enormous potential. In the other, we are no more than other animals, here by accident in a random universe in which it is pointless to seek the meaning of our own lives or of anything else. However compromised it has become over the centuries, it was the first vision that gave us the Renaissance and inspired most of our great thinkers, artists, writers and humanitarians. Our abandonment of it is likely to lead to a new dark ages.
Hope you enjoyed that. Someone wrote to the Times later to say that I am wrong about the Renaissance because it really came from Greek sources which were re-discovered through contact with the Islamic world. However this simplistic secularising view covers the "how" of the Renaissance but not the "why". It overlooks the influence of Christian scholars like Erasmus, the personal faith of leading lights such as Michelangelo and Raphael, and above all the massive degree to which the whole thing was sponsored by the Church. Why did the new learning lead to a cultural transformation in the West and not in Islam? Because the West was ready to receive it. The Christian view that we are made in God's image and are objects of His love is what inspired humanism - it's actually part of our Christian heritage and a great shame that secularists have stolen the word. The vision they have brought to us, as I argue in my letter, actually degrades the value of human beings and is not worthy of the term humanist.
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