In the Biblical account of the first Christmas, angels filling the sky with news of a “Savior, born this day in the City of David” tore the darkness. And then a choral blast descended from heaven: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”
In the midst of our current struggles in America today, sometimes it can be hard to see, but the peace that broke through that holy night remains with us. The same is true of goodwill toward men. This breakthrough changed the world, and in 2015 America we have only to open our eyes, look around, and soak it in. Despite the trials of our times, we live in the glow of the “peace” and “goodwill” inaugurated that night. We see it especially at Christmas, but it shines all year.
Talk to workers at assisted living homes and veterans’ hospitals. They will describe a joyous flood of families with children who come to distribute cards, gifts, smiles, and hugs. And when the season ends, the flood doesn’t dry up. Many of these angels return to bless the vulnerable week after week throughout the year.
Witness the bell-ringers collecting millions of dollars for a charity that transforms lives. See the “angel trees” set up by churches and organizations that allow willing Americans to bless disadvantaged children they don’t even know. Notice your mail and email boxes overflowing with catalogs—not only filled with consumer goods, but opportunities for Americans to provide blessings: water wells for villages where kids die from drinking contaminated water; livestock for micro-businesses to lift people from poverty; child sponsorships that make the difference between achievement and misery.
And Americans respond. Some charities receive 30 to 40 percent of their annual donations and volunteerism during the holidays. But this is merely a peak in a year-long mountain range of “peace” and “goodwill” that speaks to a greater reality: because of the faith-based generosity of America, Christmas reigns the entire year.
Just my optimism? Hardly. Year-round Christmas goodwill is a well-studied fact.
A few years ago, Syracuse University economist Arthur C. Brooks was stunned by research which found that Americans are effusively giving, caring people. But what really shocked him was that on average, “culturally traditional people”—mostly religious and conservative—were by far more charitable than those with a secular worldview.
Similarly, noted social historian Dr. Rodney Stark of Baylor University, undertook a comprehensive analysis published in his book, America’s Blessings: How Religion Benefits Everyone, Including Atheists. Like Brooks, Stark found that religious Americans—and especially those of the Christian tradition—benefit America and the world more than their non-religious counterparts through giving and volunteering. Not only religious causes, but all charities benefit from this generosity.
Counting our blessings doesn’t stop with charity. Stark calculated that Christianity makes a positive impact in reducing crime while improving education, mental and physical health, and employment. He conservatively estimated the benefit to be at least $2.67 trillion per year.
I could go on, and many scholars have: Dr. Pat Fagan documented the blessings of faith resulting in more stable families, better education, health, and other categories. And the late scholar and theologian D. James Kennedy compiled documented blessings in 12 major areas of society—including arts, music, medicine, and science—that trace back to that cold night in Bethlehem when “peace, goodwill toward men” changed the course of history.
As a religious liberties attorney, I’ve won my share of legal cases in the so-called “War on Christmas.” I can make the Constitutional arguments. But I would rather declare a “Peace on Christmas” by reminding my fellow countrymen about the peace and goodwill we gain, and should cherish, through the faith-driven blessings on which our nation depends at Christmas and always.
Kelly Shackelford is President, CEO & Chief Counsel for Liberty Institute, a national non-profit legal organization protecting religious freedom for all Americans.