While celebrating our 28th wedding anniversary in Boston, MA., history became a topic often discussed. This was due in part to the land and sea Duck Tour we took along with walking the Freedom Trail. And one of the lessons we learned was that those who report the news have something in common with those who write history, both can have agendas.
Two such historical events that illustrate this point are Paul Revere's Ride and the Boston Massacre (its site is pictured on the left). We learned that Paul Revere's Ride was not as dramatic as Longfellow's poem would have us to believe. When challenged on the historical accuracy of his poem, Longfellow replied that he was a poet, not a historian. Similarly, the name "the Boston Massacre" implies that more people were killed than the five who lost their lives. But both events were hyped with the latter being used by some colonists to inflame passions against the British.
But not all of our history has been exaggerated. While walking the Freedom Trail, we visited the U.S.S. Constitution (pictured below). Multiple tour guides were quick to describe the ship as Boston's only undefeated team (33-0). With its sides being made from Georgian oak, cannonballs either bounced off or got stuck in the hull limiting damage to the ship during battle. As the ship's reputation grew, would be opponents would sometimes forfeit, that is surrender before the fight began, in order not to become another victim.
Another piece of history that was more honestly reported was what was said about the Puritans. The Puritans came to this country seeking religious freedom. Unfortunately, they didn't practice the Golden Rule in this manner as evidenced by how they treated Quakers. In fact, the Puritans could also exhibit a high degree of intolerance against their own who were seen as religious slackers.
But there is another kind of history. It consists of under or unreported stories from the past. I noticed on Boston's Duck Tour that little to nothing was said about the plight of the indigenous peoples, who witnessed the landings of the Pilgrims, and for good reason. Our forefathers ethnically cleansed the land of these Indians. The attacks on the native population in New England were often done in the name of God as the Puritans saw themselves as the New Israel who were to take possession of Americas as their own Promised Land while regarding the Indians as the early Israelites did the Canaanites. Neglect in reporting this history also shows an agenda.
But why would those having an agenda use history? It is because history plays a significant role in how people live in community. History can give us reasons for either hanging together during tough times or making joint sacrifices to meet challenges. And history can obligate us to continue what was started by others. In any case, a certain level of conformity and following orders are necessary and history can justify such obedience. This means that a favorable history would be binding on individuals and groups in contrast to a troubled one.
Thus, we see why those who are more patriotic want to idealize our past. For the more exceptional our Founding Fathers are perceived to be and the more we think they have given us, the more obligated we are to follow their lead. We can also see why an honest reporting of facts would be threatening to those who are patriotic. In fact, troubling past actions are rarely acknowledged unless one is under duress. We only need remember how German civilians who lived through WWII never fully admitted what their country had done to the Jews and others until invading armies made them visit the extermination camps. Perhaps this can explain why we still show a serious disconnect with our nation's treatment of the American Indians since we were never forced to face our atrocities against them.
The history of provision is important in the covenants described in the Bible. Adam was told of the Garden of Eden before God commanded him not to eat the forbidden fruit. God told Abraham how he brought him out of the land of Ur and gave land to him and his descendants as the reason for why he should obey God. The Ten Commandments start with God having brought the Israelites out of the land of Egypt and slavery as the reason why they should obey the Commandments. And in Romans 12, Paul tells us that it is the mercies of God that obligates us to offer ourselves as sacrifices.
The question that American Christians must face is whether attributing our freedoms to the Founding Fathers borders on idolatry. For the higher the regard we have for our nation's Founding Fathers, the more their perceived provision obligates us to follow them. And the more we feel indebted to them, the more our loyalty is divided between honoring them and worshiping and following Jesus. Some attempt to resolve this conflict by making the story and message of our Founding Fathers an extension to the Gospel. But in so doing, not only must they depend on a strongly filtered history of our nation's founders, they must change the Gospel message to make it conform to our nation's founding documents.
But there is one more point at which an inflated esteem for the Founding Fathers could conflict with Christianity. The more we admire the Founding Fathers, the greater difficulty we will have in fully acknowledging their sins. And difficulty in recognizing their sins can become a refusal to confess our own. It is here that our admiration for the Founding Fathers and our reluctance to admit sin will allow us to continue doing wrong including those sins that have caused the most destruction.
The inflated self-esteem of those who settled this country gave them permission to visit atrocity after atrocity on America's indigenous peoples. The idea that we are a city on the hill allowed our nation's first European residents to live and grow rich off the backbreaking labor of Black slaves. And when we buy their view of themselves, we continue in committing their atrocities. We invade country after country or overthrow one government after another or install and support harsh dictator after harsh dictator because we feel entitled to exert our will over any country we can. As one friend so callously put it without reflection, it is what America does. So while we rightly condemn governments like Syria's for its deadly attacks on dissidents, we remain silent on the government of Bahrain and its suppression of dissidents because its present government is useful in meeting our strategic goals. And the first reason we assume that we have the right to rule the world is idea that we have a unique history that puts us above all other nations. But the irony is that as our perceived uniqueness moves us to imitate so many examples of history's past empires.
|This Month's Scripture Verse:|
Whoever loves money never has enough;
whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
This too is meaningless -- Ecclesiastes 5:10