History II

History; well, that’s a tough thing.


First, because many people didn’t have my good experience with history classes in school. For them, history is boorrrrinnngggg – a real snoozer and anytime history is brought up, their lights go out. If you ever tried to pay attention, your likely response was: “What-ever.”

Second, history is, well, old. In our modernistic culture new is good and old is bad. Progress is the goal and “history is bunk.” We have lots of clichés for that attitude: “That was then, this is now;” “What have you done for me lately?,” "What's next?," “Let’s not dwell on the past,” “Forget the past, look to the future,” and so on. Really, our culture truly, viscerally, and with extreme prejudice believes with all its heart that history is, well, evil. I don't think I'm overstating here. People these days have an allergic reaction to history.

Third, history, …. "Dude, there’s just so much of it!" Humans have been around for a long time and even within ‘recorded’ history there’s just a lot of stuff to know. History can be overwhelming and it can be really difficult to place events, people, eras, movements, and cultures in coherent context.

Fourth, history is depressing. Face it, there’s not a lot of happy news in history. A lot of it is about meglomaniacal warlords in love with their own legends; wars, battles, killing, plagues, famines, dying, and a constant theme of trajedy, injustice, and oppression. History is frequently not a happy place. Here's something from Brennan Manning: "How does one dare to propose the way of trust in the face of raw, undifferentiated heartache, cosmic disorder and the terror of history?" Followers of Jesus see that matter differently, by the way.

Fifth, Yes - history can be prey to ‘perspectivalism.’ Yes, many historians wrote with almost comically transparent agendas and biases. Even those part of the ‘modern’ historical movement have been shown to be unconsciously influenced by their times, societies, and mores.

Yet, badly told history should be a motivation to demand well-told history.
  • As to boring; even in our narcissistic culture, if we want to know ourselves even better, we should want to know where we came from, how we came to be, and what shaped us. History is our own story - it is interesting.

  • And, yes, there’s a lot of history! But there have been a lot of people who have come before us and we owe it to them to try and capture their times and a small sliver of their lives.

  • For Christians, who are deeply wounded by the injustices done in the name of their savior Jesus, we see history as a painful, yet needed, reminder that people are broken and have needed Jesus all this time.

  • Lastly, that even noting the failings of historians, we still are motivated by a sense of objective truth. Those laughable ancient writers may have been engaging in covert sarcasm. Ever consider that? We become sympathetic with those who have struggled hard to get a handle on their times and occasionally came short. We applaud their efforts and ourselves take up the banner to even better understand the times.
We do history because humanity is a historical species. It is deeply ingrained in our overly large cerebral cortex.

No comments: