A Rant of Historical Proportion

I love history. I enjoy the subject so much that way, way back in college I earned a degree in history – for fun. Chemistry was my real choice of study. Yes, I am fully aware I am a geek on a higher level than most can even imagine.

Though I have that degree, I cannot call myself an historian. I am not even an amateur historian. I just love the discipline – like a baseball fan loves the sport.

I’ve recently seen some posts on social media that lead me to believe a lot of folks may not quite understand some basic historical concepts. Or, perhaps they may ignore them for their own purposes, whether that might be political, social or cultural. Here are a few things I find particularly troublesome:

Judging people from a bygone era by today’s standards. We do not occupy the moral high ground on progress (of any kind) simply because we have seen more of it. Indeed, the groundwork for all we enjoy today is the result of the smallest (yet far braver) steps made in the past. To borrow a phrase, we stand on the shoulders of giants.

Trivializing the mores and folkways of the past by insisting that, had you been born into a previous era, you would have boldly stood up for the causes you find so dear today. The reality is almost every one of us would have desperately tried our best to fit in. It always has taken incredible courage to be a lone voice crying for change, and the truth is most of us do not have that kind of pluck.

Finally, there is a growing hostility toward organized religion, especially the Christian Church. A lot of the animus is justified. I get that. Still, from an historical viewpoint, you have to dance with the one who brung you, even if there are prettier girls at the club. An intellectually honest person understands the freedoms and progress we enjoy today is a result of the survival and advancement of western civilization, of which, since the collapse of the Greco-Roman world, that ornery, off-maligned institution known as the Church has been its guardian. We do not get to pretend otherwise.

A hundred years from now, the world will be a vastly different place. When the inhabitants of the future look back at our place in history, I’m sure they will think of us as archaic and backwards, but hopefully they will also believe we did the best we could, and will judge us only on the standards of our time, and not their own.