A Christian Approach to History
- Tuesday, July 26, 2011
“He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Micah 6:8)
Since last spring I have been up to my eyeballs in curriculum, planning for the Logic Stage, our second time through a four-year history cycle since we started homeschooling in 2005. In these years we have seen a lot of change, from the births of siblings to the loss of grandparents. Our curriculum has endured changes, too, from Saxon to Miquon, First Language Lessons to Michael Clay Thompson Language Arts Curriculum. The one thing that has remained a constant in our lives has been Story of the World, and seeing the horizon of its end for us scared me into a state of frantic planning. It was that planning that landed me on the minefield that is history.
The telling of a story has always been a tug-of-war between conqueror and vanquished, between husband and wife, between siblings, even between friends. As long as we believe that in this postmodern era, it is the truth, at least, that we are all after, we can discuss these different points of view in pleasant conversations over coffee or in university classrooms, but mention the American Civil War, and this Utopia dissolves faster than the packet of sugar you just tapped over your bitter black drink.
So there are different points of view regarding the causes and consequences of historical events, but if the men and women who fought over those differences are long since dead and buried, why would we who live after them care about these differences more deeply than is warranted by a lively conversation between friends? This is as difficult to explain as race relations, liberty, slavery, and love for another man’s wife, though the gods themselves make a gift of her to a Trojan prince. History is human, and it provokes us to pity, to pathos, to rage because it is not merely the past—history is also our very real present.
Academic fact can be poked and prodded without much consequence. While there are a few who will fume over the more delicate uses of punctuation, wars have never been fought over commas, and the greatest social outcry of an apostrophe is vandalism. What are we to do, then, with this thing that is at once academic and deeply human? I believe the only justice that can be done in history is to liberate the voices that populate our past so that they can tell their own stories. Their own passions and prejudices and fears are enough without our lens of explanation to try to pin them down like bugs on a tag board, as if their stories were not still wriggling and alive in our own breasts.
We have another responsibility in the telling of history. As Christians, our approach to history should reflect our faith, and that has specific implications for us as Christian homeschoolers. A Christian approach to history should be intrinsically just, rational, and hopeful.
First, if a Christian approach to history would be just, then the story must not be left to the victor alone to tell. We must be honest here: history is a courtroom where there is no double jeopardy. The accused are tried again and again by each new generation of students. We cannot equitably execute and re-execute history’s villains without fair trials. Neither can we continue to dismiss history’s victims to fall before the historians’ pens again and again, like an execution squad or a nightmare.
The testimony of witnesses in history is known as a primary source document. These include diaries, minutes of meetings, letters, newspaper articles—anything that was written down by someone who was there is a firsthand account, a primary source document. Age alone does not make a text a primary source: if it is one hundred years old, but it is referring to history two hundred years before, it is a secondary source.
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