Remember a few years ago when Chris Columbus was going through the retroactive wringer? The historians were brutal to the man.
Balthrop’s Three Laws of History:
- Might makes right
- Ends justify the means
- Winners write the history books
Mr. Balthrop, an old crusty ex-hippy engineer at my office, pontificates a lot on his view of the world and I love to hear him talk, even though I can’t agree with everything he says. His antithesis (or nemesis?) is embodied in my Far Religious Right boss. If Mr. Balthrop were Superman, the boss would be Lex Luther. Speaking of heros, a blogging friend of mine is reading Lies My Teacher Told Me, by Dr. James W. Loewen.
The book discusses the “glossiness” of our American history, from tall tales to downright lies. It can be a depressing realization. Remember a few years ago when Chris Columbus was going through the retroactive wringer? The historians were brutal to the man. Then, it all happened again with Thomas Jefferson during one of the many Clinton scandals. The latter was more of an ancient political tactic: make yourself look better by smearing those around you.
In some ways, it’s like the transition from child to adult. Children have, up until about puberty, very little capacity for abstract thinking. For the most part, life is made up of absolute right and wrong. There are clear cut choices. Then adulthood comes along and WHAM, everything turns shades of gray and every opinion has equal validity.
I think the same phenomenon is present with history. When a person wakes up from the dream of air-brushed ancestors, it’s a very jolting experience. The world of politics is very keen to latch onto childlike notions of heroism and valor and patriotism. We’re told that there are distinct enemies in the world that lop off limbs and burn children on pagan altars. They hate everything that we hold dear and must be stopped at all costs.
But is that really the case? Are they trying to tell me that these people don’t love their children like I love mine?
Personally, I feel that if the truth really does set us free, then why hide it? I’m not suggesting planting the seeds of cynicism in a young child. But I am suggesting that a parent could do well by privately encouraging open discussion with their child about how the world really works. It would seem to me that this could only help fend off jadedness.
This concern over the validity of heros has direct impact to Christians whose faith hinges on a Hero. Whether or not Christ and our conception of Him is overblown can be a real concern. I recently read The Case for the Easter by Lee Strobel which is excellent. It not only deals with the Resurrection but also with the historicity of the church.
On the contrary, I would say that the pollution of the Message came much later (2+ generations) with the various apocryphal writings. These are legends that started circulating which the Council of Nicea ruled as outside of the canon. Lost Books of the Bible , a collection of most of the Apocrypha is a fascinating read. But the canon is very verifiable, internally and externally.
I believe it is our nature to want a hero, someone who is better than all of us and makes us proud. But more importantly, someone that belongs to us. Our heros are not our enemy’s heros.
Yet, men (and women) will always fail us. Under the scrutiny of crusading historians, their character will degrade. All the more reason for a Hero whose character doesn’t dim.
That doesn’t mean that the man called Christ was really how the Renaissance fathers painted him. In fact, all those pale white, blue-eyed depictions are probably the epitome of what Patty described — disingenuous, and thereby false! Christ was not a comely man, but a hard man to please, and his Way difficult and unfair. That doesn’t mean that He is no less a hero.