Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Revisionist History

It’s been alleged that for the last fifty years or more there’s been a concerted effort among left-leaning academics to re-write the history books and teach our children a much more politically liberal version of our nations history. This is referred to pejoratively as “revisionist history”.

In the past several years there’s been a backlash of sorts by those known unaffectionately as right-wing Christians. These people want a much more conservative (in general) and Christian based (in particular) version of history taught in school. These people are also called revisionists, and also in a negative way.

Those who are more liberal tend to bemoan the perceived encroachment of religion into what they think should be government affairs (schools), while the more conservative make the argument that the faith of the founders is both important and more accurately represented by their version of history. All the while they’re both flinging the poison dart of “revisionist” at each other.

So who’s right? Who’s telling the truth and who’s revising history? And is revising history wrong?

To answer the last question first, I believe that revising history books, in the simplest sense of the term, is necessary. As newfound documents come to light, and new facts displace previously accepted traditions, truth demands a revision. So I have a problem labeling the revising of history wrong - as long as it’s done honestly.

What’s wrong is agendized history - history being taught in a way that specifically forwards a given agenda - and I’m not sure either side has a lock on that.

Of course we all think our agenda is valid because we all see things through the filter of our own world view, and it’s sometimes quite difficult to see things in a truly objective manner - especially if they challenge our chosen agenda/world view.

So it’s not so much the facts that determine who’s telling the truth, because, to a degree, they’re all telling the truth - just not the whole truth. At this point we need to decide whether truth is universal or subjective. I suggest it’s both.

Truth, in its purest form, is absolute and universal. However, our understanding of it is not. Only God can see absolute truth in its entirety. We mortals can only see a small part of it and, in our ignorance, decide that truth is subjective. Therefore, for those who refuse to acknowledge God, the idea that truth is subjective becomes the truth.

It’s the old problem of three blind mice trying to describe an elephant. There’s far more information than any one person can process; we see a small fraction of it and base our opinions on how those facts fit in with our world view.

Probably the best current case in point is the “he said, she said” going on between David Barton and Chris Rodda. I preface what follows by saying, no matter how diligently I strive to be objective, I, too, am not immune to my world view affecting my perception of the truth.

I’ve listened to both parties and this is what I come away with: Barton, for the most part, is saying that America is a Christian nation whose founding fathers were mostly Christian, and that the academics have falsely been teaching otherwise. He does not malign Chris Rodda (which Rodda, herself, acknowledges), but stays focused on the broad strokes of presenting the facts as he sees them (of course getting specific as needed).

Conversely, Chris Rodda seems to have made it her mission to attack Christians, with a particular disdain for David Barton, stating, of course, that he’s attempting to re-write history.

When Barton refutes an anti-religious statement or claim, he usually says something like, “That’s simply not true”, and proceeds to make his case. “Not true” could be a lie or a mistake.

Anyone who disagrees with Rodda is summarily labeled a liar. No benefit of the doubt that they might be mistaken. Just a liar. In fact, she has a web site called liarsforjesus.com, which can only be meant in a purposely offensive way.

Yes, Barton does have a book out about the lies told about Thomas Jefferson, but these charges are aimed at the education system, in general. Rodda attacks Barton as a liar personally.

Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I’m absolutely not saying that she’s stupid - she’s obviously intelligent and well read. I’m saying, in my opinion, she has no class. She’s also an elitist, academic snob, implying that anyone without specific credentials can not be taken seriously as an historian.

In one of her videos, Rodda claims that Barton lied about more than half the signers of the Declaration of Independence having been ministers. I won’t get too deeply into this specific argument because, frankly, I’m of the opinion that they both took liberties. Rodda misrepresented what Barton actually said (she lied), and for his part, Barton worded it in a way reminiscent of, “It depends on what the definition of ‘is’ is.”

However, using that as a starting place, Rodda makes the claim in that video that the word “seminary” simply meant school, and that our modern association of that word with religion allows Barton to trick his listeners into thinking the men studied religion when they didn’t.

We’re talking about specific semantics here, and I’m sure, based on that, she could argue against me. But it’s not possible to believably imply that they did not study religion (which is what any reasonable person would infer from what she says).

The learning institutions in question were ALL religiously affiliated at that time. Rather than making the glib analogy of a student of computer science at a Christian college being called a minister, maybe Rodda should instead understand that, regardless of course of study, at such a school EVERYTHING would be taught, comprehended, acknowledged, and believed through the filter of the Christian world view!

It’s quite likely that the average student at one of the colonial colleges would understand religion much better in his mind, and believe much stronger in his heart than an average student today.

So, were the 29 signers of the Declaration in question ministers? No. But then, Barton never said they were. Using her own standard, Chris Rodda is a liar. Were they “trained for the ministry”? I don’t know. It depends on what your definition of “is” is. Did they attend a religious seminary? Absolutely!

Anyone who’s intellectually honest knows, and the University of Pennsylvania publicly acknowledges: “The four colleges then in existence in the English colonies - Harvard, William and Mary, Yale, and Princeton - were all schools for educating the clergy, rather than preparing their students for lives of business and public service.”

Some would counter that they only studied religion because the only providers of education at that time were religious institutions - they then went on to non-religious careers. That’s partly right. Many went on to secular careers, which is not the same as non-religious. The distinction lies in the fact that the career may have been secular, but again, their religious beliefs were inseparable from who they were. They did not compartmentalize their beliefs separately like we do today.

Also, that counter proves another point of mine, if you’ll forgive the brief digression. School is not meant to be a government affair. The only reason schools came into existence here was because religious entities created them - and the only reason they’re public (influenced by government) is because when they were created, the government served the religiously-led community. (That’s an over-simplification, but essentially correct). I would argue that education is the sole responsibility of churches, not government. The state should stay out of it completely.

Getting back to school/seminary question: because of a similar argument revolving specifically around Thomas Jefferson, I looked up the royal charter which started William and Mary - the college he attended. It says, in part:
“...to the end that the Church of Virginia may be furnished with a seminary of ministers of the gospel, and that the youth may be piously educated in good letters and manners, and that the Christian faith may be propagated amongst the Western Indians, to the glory of Almighty God; to make, found and establish a certain place of universal study, or perpetual college of Divinity, Philosophy, Languages, and other good Arts and Sciences.”

The phrase “seminary of ministers of the gospel” seems pretty clear to me.

Rodda recognizes that William and Mary was religious “when he went there”, but claims he “unreligiousized” and “secularized” it after, when he was governor. Perhaps. Let’s investigate.

Secularists, like Rodda, like to paint a picture of Jefferson as being antagonistic toward religion. To help their case, they usually use the fact that he “secularized” W&M; that he started the University of Virginia as a specifically secular school; and that he wrote the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom to create and maintain a separation of church and state.

Well, W&M was made a university in 1779 and discontinued the grammar and Divinity schools. That’s true. I wonder if we might use a little perspective of the times here, though.

1779 was right in the middle of the Revolution. We were in the process of throwing off the shackles of a repressive king. No small part of that was state religion. William and Mary, in particular, was Anglican - the state religion of the enemy. This may be conjecture, but I think it’s reasonable to suggest that this may have played into secularizing that school.

In addition to disassociating with the Anglican hierarchy, Jefferson (and others) felt, rightly, that any state sponsored religion would be dangerous. So it naturally follows that a new college (or university) would necessarily be secular. It wasn’t that he was irreligious, it was that he knew firsthand what was wrong with state sponsored religion.

Regarding the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, the second sentence begins: “Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free;...” (hardly the words of a secularist). It then goes on to proclaim why religion should not be FORCED upon people.

But it also says, “...all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same SHALL IN NO WISE DIMINISH, ENLARGE OR AFFECT THEIR CIVIL CAPACITIES.” (emphasis mine)

It goes on to recognize that because future Assemblies will have “powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare that the rights hereby asserted, are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.”

So, where are we? Pretty much back at the beginning. The WHOLE truth has yet to be understood, much less put forward, by anybody. Partly because we can’t comprehend it in its pure state, and partly because our personal world view disallows it.

Anyone on either side of any historical issue can easily pick and choose documents, or excerpts of documents, to prove whichever side he wants to prove. So it’s unlikely that these battles will ever be settled - we all are more in love with our agenda than we are with the truth.

I close with Proverbs 18:17 -- “The first to present his case seems right, till another comes forward and questions him.”

No comments:

Post a Comment