Is History really important? Why is it important to attempt to understand and reinterpret our past, to sift through dusty old documents, to dig up ancient graves? Why can't we just leave history's skeletons to safely moulder away in their peaceful closets? Isn't it dangerous to become obsessive about the past, to become a stick in the mud. Isn't it dangerous to hero-worship excessively, to build up false idols? Isn't the life of Lincoln hopelessly irrelevant in the age of Trump? Civil War Tourism in the USA is way down from the 1970s (www.wsj.com/articles/civil-war-battlefields-lose-ground-as-tourist-draws-11558776600).
|Snapchat: The Cult of Here & Now|
Should we not live in the moment and focus on the bright shiny future rather than the dim and dusty past? Our new world of social media focuses almost entirely on the immediate. Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter are the new cult of the Here and Now. Is it hip? Is it fast? Will it make me feel good? How many stars in the review? Should I like it or loathe it? Do I friend or delete? Will it be delivered for free, tomorrow, by drone? If there is no immediate gratification, we hurriedly move on. And so on.
|Commander K says: "Shalom"!|
Well, Judaism is an ancient religion. At the core of Judaism lies, not merely certain theological doctrines, but rather the conviction that the customs of one's forefathers are important. Judaism is a practice and not just a belief system. It is a practice that affirms the importance of remembering our history.
The dark chapters of anti-semitism that have blackened the pages of human history are important to remember. Jews and Gentiles alike have much to learn from the history of pogroms, persecution and the Holocaust. This history must never be forgotten so that it can never be repeated. Even non observant Jews fervently believe this. And if the sufferings of the Jews must be remembered, then so too must those of countless other ethnic and religious groups (Armenians, Native Americans, Ancient Gauls, Rwandans, etc.).
Against this cult of the Here and Now there is...Christianity.
Lincoln Museum, Springfield IL
But Christian faith can be embraced or it can be rejected. No one today is forced to be Christian, Jew or, indeed, any religion. All religions are simply dazzling options on the ideological Smörgåsbord of modern life.
So can we make a case for the importance of History form a completely secular perspective? Can we convince an atheist or agnostic that the past is important too?
Well, consider the Historical example of the start of World War I. In August 1914 a world that had been experiencing vast technological and economic improvement erupted into war. A continent that had been largely peaceful since the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 mobilized for war. As a result, around seventeen million people lost their lives. Four of the World's Great Empires (German, Austro-Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman) were shattered. Moreover, the twin scourges of the 20th Century Fascism and Communism were midwifed by the Great War. World War I would lead directly to World War II about twenty years later.
My own great-grandfather, Thomas Tileston Wells, was a witness to the outbreak of World War I who wrote an account of what he saw in An Adventure in 1914 (www.anadventurein1914.com). In a small way I explored the origins of World War I in his memoir.
The puzzle over why the Civilized world degenerated into four years of horrific trench warfare has been endlessly debated by historians. The final verdict may never be established to everyone's satisfaction. But is it not vitally important to examine and re-examine these events in order to give us guidance for the present? President Kennedy read Barbara Tuchman's classic Guns of August around the time of the Cuban Missile crisis. Is it not possible that the world today could once more stumble into war as we did so calamitously in the summer of 1914?
The philosopher George Santayana wrote that "Those Who Do Not Learn History Are Doomed To Repeat It." This is why we must keep eternally grappling with our history.
Even a non-believer must concede the value of trying to understand why World War I broke out.
|MLK made History|
Faith helps to give hope to believers. A knowledge of History helps to temper our hopes with a bracing realism. Ultimately, History helps to keep alive the hopes of believers and non-believers alike. For this reason history will always be important.
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Listen to my interview with Bob Cudmore...http://bobcudmore.com/thehistorians/tracks/ChristopherKelly(August2017)(29)(mp3).mp3
And my interview...www.thebook-club.com/blog/bookshelf-interview-with-christopher-kelly
And my most recent interview...http://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2018/08/17/america-invaded-christopher-kelly