The Goal: “The first and only irrevocable commitment of men who write history is to find out what happened in the past and to render it intelligible.”—J. H. Hexter 1
The Controversy: “Let us free ourselves from the deception of the senses, from becoming, from history, from lies; history is nothing but faith in the senses, faith in lies.”—Friederich Wilhelm Nietzsche 2
“History is a pack of lies we play on the dead.”—Voltaire (1694–1778)
Politically correct revision has done much damage to the study of history. Postmodernists claim that history is unknowable. They claim all firsthand reports of events have been given to us by biased individuals who really didn’t want us to know the objective facts. Instead, postmodernists view historical records as mere subjective feelings or viewpoints.
Although there is some validity to the claim that few journalists and historians are ever completely without an opinion, this postmodern claim attempts to downplay the ability of rational human beings to sort through objective data and construct a relatively accurate account of an event.
As with all journalism, historians must weigh many factors in their recounting of events. Consider how to evaluate an author writing accounts of the US Civil War.
- We must determine any inherent biases of the author—for example, did he support the North or the South during the War Between the States?
- We must evaluate the person’s firsthand knowledge of the subject, as opposed to hearsay or speculation.
- We should weigh the various accounts of writers from diverse backgrounds and see what adds up. For example, if both Robert E. Lee’s and Ulysses S. Grant’s accounts of a certain event corroborate, we can assume it is pretty reliable.
The best way to get to the true facts of any event is to find the testimony of eyewitnesses and have them collaborated by the testimony of other eyewitnesses. This is where utilizing primary original documents and writings is so valuable.
Another distortion of the traditional view of history is in the area of interpretation. Many leading secular historians argue that the most important aspect of history is not what actually happened, or even what the original writers meant, but instead how we, in our contemporary society, choose to view it. Secularists claim that the real rights or wrongs of an issue are determined by modern sociologists. This view claims that history is only meaningful as a story or metaphor that is applied and understood in a contemporary context. This is how most legal theorists view our US Constitution. They see it as an “evolving document,” not a fixed reference point in history.
In the past couple of decades, there have been efforts to prove that the Nazi Holocaust never happened. For sociopolitical reasons, certain authors and college professors are attempting to deny the reality of the most verifiable event of the twentieth century. Such a blatant distortion of facts is the paragon of a relativistic revisionist’s view of history. “What really happened isn’t as important as what I wish had happened.” Such tampering with historical evidence is inexcusable and needs to be exposed at every opportunity.
The Subjective Collection of “History”
Another point of contention lies in the definition of what constitutes history in the first place. “It should be obvious that the writing of history requires the omission of facts. There must be some criteria by which facts are selected by the historian. Empirical history—just the facts, ma’am—is impossible.”3
The historian, by necessity, will omit certain facts and events from his writings. This leaves room for multiculturalists, homosexuals, environmentalists, feminists, and others to lobby for revisions of textbooks that include narratives related to their special interest group. The traditional view of history has been to emphasize major events and downplay the personal, emotional effects of those events.
The new historians demand that equal time be given to their causes and movements, even if those movements were marginal footnotes in the grand scheme of events. A special interest group’s history may be worth considering, but where do we draw the line? If history includes every act of human existence since the beginning of time, we should not only teach the life of Alexander the Great, but also of every obscure tribesman ever to eat a grub.
“Genuine historical interest acknowledges an importance to all ages, even though a historian must, by reason of human limitations, restrict his scholarly investigations to a small field.”4 Since a major purpose of historical study is to learn how we should improve our lives and future, we should evaluate the “ignored” aspects of history to see what could be gained by their study. For example, if we can be equipped for our future by the oft-omitted study of Christian martyrs, then we should welcome such information. On the other hand, if the purpose of certain information is to be used for liberal propagation or selfish profiteering, we should wholeheartedly oppose any such revisions or additions to the history curriculum.
Christian Revision is Just as Inaccurate as Liberal Revisionism
As Christians, we should never encourage revisions of historical fact by any group, pagan or Christian. I know many believers who get up in arms about schools taking our Christian heritage out of textbooks, but they turn a blind eye when Christian publishers “Christianize” unsaved individuals simply to generate role models for youth.
History should be ruthlessly honest. We don’t need to make heroes out of ungodly men any more than we should tear down or diminish the genuine faith of our nation’s founding fathers. We simply need to know what actually happened. There is a fine line we must walk. When our country, or our heroes, exhibited Christian principles, we must say so. When they missed the mark, this also must be shared.
History is only beneficial when all of the facts are known and presented accurately. History is a window to the past and a roadmap for the future. Children should learn about the significant influencers of the past who helped to shape our present and future.
Christian vs. Secular
A Christian view of history is the antithesis of a secular humanist’s view. They view it as the history of man and man’s accomplishments; we view it as the history of God and His interaction with man. R.J. Rushdoony has stated, “[E]ither God is God, or man is God, and history is either basically God’s work or it is man’s work. The Christian teaching of history cannot halt between these opinions. History is not a social science; it is a theological science, because it is an aspect of God’s creation.”5
A secular humanist’s approach to history seeks to eliminate any positive reference to Christianity. A Christian’s approach is not to try to Christianize history. Rather, it is to recognize that all history belongs to God. History is “God’s story;” it all belongs to Him. Our goal is to tell both the good and the bad, the lovely and the hideous, in a way that reflects the sovereign working of God in the midst of a fallen and broken humankind.
The Purpose of History
When we view the lives of those who have lived before us, we are able to connect with our current cultural situation, insight into human nature, and a vision for what is ahead. It has been said, “If you don’t know where you have been, you won’t know where you are going.” This is certainly true for those of us who base our future on the history of humankind as revealed in the Bible. We know where we are going because of Jesus Christ and events that took place at a verifiable point in history.
The Bible instructs us at least five times not to move the old landmarks (Proverbs 22:28). I know this was technically about private property, but I believe it speaks to the study of history as well. The old landmarks were ties to the past. They were a reminder of the struggles and sacrifices made by one’s forefathers. Such monuments firmly etch a sense of duty on the minds of young people.
In Bible times, these altars served as a reminder that the present culture is not the only age or civilization of importance. God moved in the past, and He plans to be involved in the future. For us, history serves the same purpose.
Psalm 78:4–8 outlines a Christian’s goals in teaching history: “We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done. For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children: that the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children: that they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments: and might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not stedfast with God.”
In Deuteronomy 6:10–12, God told His people that someday they would live in cities and comfortable houses they did not build, drink from wells they did not dig, eat food they did not plant, and be continually filled with all the food they could eat. I don’t know about you, but this description fits me pretty well. He then cautions us to beware, lest we forget the Lord, who brought us out of bondage in Egypt.
I can’t think of a passage more apropos for American culture. Forgetting is a sin, and we are reminded of that truth by the way God disciplined the Israelites every time they became forgetful. We need history lest we believe we are an autonomous culture and forget the Lord.
1 Reappraisals in History: New Views on History and Society in Early Modern Europe, Longmans, St. Louis, 1961, p. 190
2 (“Reason” in Philosophy, The Twilight of Idols, 1888), http://www.inp.uw.edu.pl/mdsie/Political_Thought/twilight-of-the-idols-friedrich-neitzsche.pdf
3 John W. Robbins, Forward to Historiography, Secular and Religious—by Gordon Clark, (Hobbs, New Mexico: Trinity Foundation, 1994) ix.
4 Gordon Clark, ibid., p.2.
5 Rousas John Rushdoony, The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum, (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1981) p.40.
Israel Wayne is an author and conference speaker. He is a cofounder of Family Renewal (www.FamilyRenewal.org) and is site editor for www.ChristianWorldview.net. He is the author of the books Homeschooling from a Biblical Worldview, Full-Time Parenting: A Guide to Family-Based Discipleship, Questions God Asks, Questions Jesus Asks, and Pitchin’ a Fit: Overcoming Angry and Stressed-Out Parenting. He and his wife Brook are both homeschool graduates, and they are homeschooling their nine children in SW Michigan.