Why “The Word Became Flesh” Matters

Michael Metzger

More than 110 armed conflicts are currently taking place in the world. They remind us of why “The Word became flesh,” celebrated at Christmas, matters more than ever.

While Ukraine and Gaza occupy most of the headlines, more than 110 armed conflicts are actually taking place, some of them 50 years old. Karol Wojtyla had some harsh experience in conflicts. At the age of 19, the Nazis invaded his homeland, Poland, slaughtering millions. The USSR did likewise as the Nazis retreated, occupying Poland until 1989.

From these events, Wojtyla recognized how most conflicts are based on an incorrect view of human nature, often stated as “might makes right.” This notion originated with Thucydides.[1] But it gained currency in the 1800s, especially in the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche. Hitler dedicated his 1925 autobiographical manifesto, Mein Kampf, to Nietzsche. Thus, Wojtyla would live under the Nietzschean regimes of the Nazis, then the Soviets.

He carried all of this with him into the papacy in October 1978. As Pope John Paul II, Wojtyla’s first encyclical was Redemptor Hominis, or “Redeemer of Man” (1979). I hadn’t read this until recently. It widened how I imagined Christ’s revelation of himself as “The Word made flesh.” This revelation also “fully reveals man to himself,” John Paul II wrote, that is, us to ourselves. It reveals how we understand human nature. “The Word made flesh,” as John Paul II would later write, reveals that our bodies tell God’s story.

He was prescient. In Redemptor Hominis, Sections 15 and 16, John Paul II notes how man’s advances in technology are dramatic and rapid. Thus, our desire for control over nature can lead by subtle steps to our becoming the victims of technology. Technologies always have unintended consequences. One consequence is how the amount of time that most Americans spend on their mobile technologies shallows their neural pathways.

American Christianity is often described as shallow, an inch deep and a mile wide. But it’s closer to the truth to say American Christianity’s anthropology is an inch deep. It’s a mile wide because it attractive to 95 percent of the population, those who bias the left hemisphere of the brain, the half that’s narrowly focused. These folks don’t take seriously the amount of time they spend on their mobile technologies. Their neural pathways have been shallowed out, so they cannot plumb the depths of mystery, “The Word made flesh.”

Which is why, in American culture, words have acquired the highest status, writes Iain McGilchrist. The result is “the cardinal tenet of Christianity—the Word is made Flesh—becomes reversed, and the Flesh is made Word.” We no longer understand human nature.

This has accelerated in the years since Redemptor Hominis. Genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, and a dozen other high-impact technologies are transforming the way we live. But they also augur the abolition of our humanity. Thus, the key challenge now facing American Christianity is anthropological—i.e., who and what a human being is. “The Word became flesh,” celebrated at Christmas, is a good place to start recovering it.


[1] Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, Book V.


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