Christians like their Redemption Stories

The gospels are loaded with redemption Stories. Christ’s big message in his teachings and his stories is “forgive yourself, forgive others, and move on to spiritual salvation.”

The prodigal son is a story of redemption. The healing of the paralytic at the top of Matthew 9 is a story of redemption. Paul’s description of himself and the nature of his faith in his epistles seems to be “in finding Christ we are redeemed, and made ready for the kingdom of heaven.” So, the idea of ‘a life redeemed through spiritual truth’ is the crust of the Christian pie.

Where I’m going with this is: “Do other faiths have a similar structure in ‘people need redemption’, or is this uniquely Christian?”

And the examples I actually want to get to are secular: provided by non-Christians (Jews in both cases) to celebrate Christmas as a secular holiday. And both are widely loved in the wider culture.

Example 1: It’s a Wonderful life.

It’s a Wonderful Life is a Christmas movie released in 1946, starring Jimmy Stewart.

It’s a… really dark story premise: A father (George Bailey) of a young family, in the shadow of WW2 is suicidal on Christmas eve because the business he inherited from his father is failing… the business that stopped him from ever leaving the small town he never wanted to stay in. An angel interferes in this choice and literally shows him the world is a significantly better place because he was born, and exists… and he returns to his family.

It’s a redemption story. George Bailey forgives himself for the errors he has made, and in accepting his mistake as part of his life story, he is able to see that it’s a fractional part of the good life he has lived to date, and in no way limits the good life he can continue to live.

It’s based on a short story by the Jewish author Philip van Doren Stern. And, although the plot points of “Angels,” “Heaven,” and “Christmas” are very heavy in the universe it depicts… I don’t think any Christian ideas are actually referenced outside of Christmas Carols. I don’t think there’s a priest, or a mention of Jesus, at all in the movie. It’s a very secular movie about a Christian holiday (so secular that Christian filmmakers have chosen to remake it to be more explicitly Christian).

Example 2: How the Grinch Stole Christmas

How the Grinch Stole Christmas was published as an illustrated children’s book, written in verse, by Theodore “Dr. Seuss” Geisel in 1956. It was famously made into an animated Christmas Special in 1966 by Chuck Jones, consulting with Geisel. (And… that’s it… I’m quite certain there’s been no meaningful other versions made)

It involves a monster (the Grinch) literally committing a massive burglary against the town of Whoville to prevent Christmas from coming by taking all their stuff, and destroying it. But in the end, when he hears the joyful singing of the stuff-less Whos, the Grinch has a change of heart, and returns with the stuff to share Christmas with them.

It’s a redemption story. The Grinch spontaneously sees the error in his ways, and acts to redeem himself against those he has wronged.

And it’s a story written by a Jewish author. And although “Santa Claus” and “Christmas Trees” feature heavily in the tale… there’s no reference to more explicitly Christian themes, or even God. In fact, it’s not particularly clear any of the characters are human.


So… questions…

  1. Do you agree that Christianity features a lot of redemption stories in its mythology and apocrypha? Is this unique to Christianity, or does it appeal to the human spirit generally?
  2. Do you agree that ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and ‘How the Grinch stole Christmas’ are secular Christmas stories, featuring a theme of redemption. If they are… why? Why make secular cultural material featuring a theme of ‘redemption’ and a very thin veneer of a Christian holiday?
  3. Are there other examples of Secular-Christmas cultural material featuring this theme, or explicitly not featuring this theme?

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