Dealing with history
History has become the hot topic lately. Although I wonder if that’s really new. I don’t think it is actually. People have been fighting over history for a long time.
The book “1984” is a dystopian novel in which history is actively changed to suit the needs of the regime in charge. It was published in 1949. Authoritarian regimes have done this same thing for as long as there have been authoritarian regimes.
There are arguments around the King James Bible translation related to this. There are verses of Scripture that are translated differently (or completely missing) from other translations all because they would have been inconvenient for King James to deal with.
There’s debate among scholars about Scripture itself – how much of parts of the Old Testament could be considered rewrites of history in order to suit whoever was king at the time – a type of holy propaganda. The most famous part being the story about king Josiah “finding” Deuteronomy in the Temple and using it to restore right religious practice. Josiah is remembered as one of the few good kings of Judah. How much of that is accurate is anyone’s guess.
History has been debated throughout American history. Think about all the rewrites and myth that goes along with the founding fathers.
When we get to the Civil War, and especially after, there is plenty of rewriting of history that goes on – mostly around the Lost Cause of the Confederacy.
“…many Southerners set to work to remember the Confederate cause in a positive light. Former Confederate general and one-time commander of the United Confederate Veterans claimed, “If we cannot justify the South in the act of Secession, we will go down in History [sic] solely as a brave, impulsive but rash people who attempted in an illegal manner to overthrow the Union for our Country.” Thus, from the ashes of war, the “Lost Cause” was born.”
The belief of the Lost Cause is pseudohistory and a blatant attempt to rewrite history in order for the Confederacy and those that supported it to wipe away history and look like the victims of tyranny. Reality shows us that the Confederacy was based on enslaving people – something that humans have agreed upon generally as evil.
The Lost Cause claims that the Civil War had nothing or little to do with slavery. That slavery was a positive good. The Confederacy lost only because they were outnumbered and out resourced. That Confederate soldiers were heroic and saintly. That Robert E. Lee embodied the antebellum South and all it stood for. And finally that Southern women supported the cause more than Northern women.
If you ever go to Stone Mountain in Atlanta, you’ll see all this on display. It’s quite sickening actually. And completely propaganda for the Lost Cause of the Confederacy.
Reality shows that all of these arguments are false. But who needs reality when you spin history for your own purposes in order to look good.
Isn’t that what we see happening in the aftermath of the January 6 insurrection after all? Isn’t the insurrection just another Lost Cause spin on history in order to make the perpetrators into heroes rather than what they were.
And so the debate about history will go on. Regardless of whether we call it Critical Race Theory (in which most people really have no clue what it is or where it is actually taught or what it means and why it is used in specific contexts – but gosh it makes for a great boogey-man and scapegoat doesn’t it?), or Lost Causes, or propaganda, or actual history. The challenge of history is complex.
History is used as a weapon all too often. Sometimes that’s because we don’t like what’s there. We’d rather not deal with the evil, abuse, and exploitation that are a part of the histories of our nation, our people, our institutions, or our families. But ignoring actual history doesn’t make it disappear. It doesn’t negate the negative impact of such things. We continue to pay a price for evil, abuse, and exploitation until we are willing to look at it through history, learn from what happened, and finally correct these things so that we don’t commit them again. Should we choose not to, then we’ll pay the price that past generations have paid for doing the same thing. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It never does. As long as we have enough confidence to look at actual history and deal with it. Doing that might be painful on the surface. But it’s the only way to stop the pain and start healing. Isn’t that what we are called to?