A Christian Approach to History
- Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Secondary sources are not always bad. These include history texts, which can be helpful for compiling and interpreting data, but even the best of these will have a film over them, the lens through which the historian sees the world. That film separates us, though sometimes only by a little, from the men and women whose stories we are trying to understand.
For a good historian, these lenses are almost invisible. Like a house of mirrors, though, these lenses can be used to capture and redirect light, obscuring sources, reinterpreting history, and shaping a population’s opinion of the present. The act of revising history, or revisionism, can be either positive or negative. Looking again at the data that exists in order to find strong female figures or minorities simply shows new facets of old information. These types of revision broaden our body of knowledge and our understanding of a culture.
By contrast, before World War II, revisionism was one of Hitler’s most powerful weapons as he rewrote the German people’s understanding of their Jewish neighbors by rewriting the history of those Jews in Germany. Instead of shopkeepers, teachers, and citizens, Jews became something from Hitler’s nightmarish imagination—thieves, criminals, the constant source of all of Germany’s struggles. By capturing the history classroom, Hitler was almost able to capture the world.
Justice in history asks that we be the judges, dismissing hearsay and improperly cited information. Where the defense has no counsel, we must assign counsel, we must ask questions, and we must find the truth. “These are the things that ye shall do; Speak ye every man the truth to his neighbor; execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates: And let none of you imagine evil in your hearts against his neighbor; and love no false oath: for all these are things that I hate, saith the Lord.” (Zechariah 8:16–17) We must make a sincere effort to hear both sides of a story, to let the witnesses speak and drop the gavel on historians who speak out of turn, who drowned the very voices they are supposed to represent, the voices they are supposed to help us clearly hear.
Besides being just, history must also be rational. History must be told in a way that is clear and logical, a way that can be understood and appreciated by a wide audience. If justice asks that we judge the sources upon which we depend for history, rationality demands that we don’t play lawyer tricks to get our clients a plea bargain. We must follow and demand academic standards, citations, and honest context to quotations.
Jesus is the Logos and the Truth. As such, the very core of Christian curricula ought always to be logical and true. Christian history should be unbiased, a story fairly told without racism or favoritism. I believe that it is the moral obligation of Christian historians to write reasonable history and of Christians to embrace the same even when it does not promote or prefer Christianity.
This is difficult for many of us to accept. It often seems to us, I think, that Christian curricula should be an evangelical tool or perhaps a faith-building exercise. But imagine a story twisted, even just a little, with terms such as savage or blanket judgments about a group based on racism or poor research. These errors are examples of carelessness at best, but what kind of testimony is offered to people whose stories and histories are thus maligned? To them, these errors often feel much more malicious than witless historians realize. History that is biased cannot win souls.
As a faith-building exercise, history that is biased in favor of Christianity also fails. When we accept a distorted view of history as a support for our faith, we are trusting in something other than the Truth, and we are setting ourselves and our children up for crises of faith in the future. If there is archaeological evidence that runs contrary to Creationism or a people group who has suffered at the hands of the Church, it is better that our children grapple with these questions in the safety of our care. For them to do this, they need us to honestly state the perspectives they will hear when they leave us, lest they go out in to the world and end up thinking us fools.
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