Grounded loyalty is an inescapable part of historical studies, and attempts at academic detachment are simply attempts that reveal misplaced loyalty to a guild of historians (say) instead of to (say) your nation. What I want to do here is offer seven theses that might help us approach this most helpful truth from various angles.
1. The reason we should learn history is so that we will be better equipped to honor our fathers and mothers. The point of learning history is to display an appropriate loyalty to your people. In order to do that, you need to know who they are, and what they have done that is praiseworthy. This is loyalty, not jingoism. This is obedience to the fifth commandment. Jingoism would be when a fist fight breaks out in the card aisle when a man saw some other guy trying to buy the “best Mom in the world” card. A man who rightly honors his mother recognizes a man who is rightly honoring his.
2. But no human authority is absolute, and so when our fathers have sinned, we must repudiate that sin.
“That they might set their hope in God, And not forget the works of God, But keep his commandments: And might not be as their fathers, A stubborn and rebellious generation; A generation that set not their heart aright, And whose spirit was not stedfast with God” (Psalm 78:7–8).
I am stating the principle here, but the practice can be pretty challenging. Your parents in history are slandered by the secularists, more often than not, and so you must not rush to repudiate anything
3. We come to understand the world, including the world of history, through comprehensive and thorough study of God’s law. God’s law is the Rosetta Stone of historical studies.
“O how love I thy law! It is my meditation all the day. Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: For they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers: For thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, Because I keep thy precepts.” (Psalm 119:97–100).
If you want to understand the world, start with the law. If you start with the world, you will import all manner of alien assumptions and unbelieving axioms.
4. We come to understand God’s law through the grace of God as revealed in Christ. Christ is the end of the law for everyone who believes. Christ is the Rosetta Stone of the law (Rom. 10:4). The regenerate heart is necessary to understand the law, and understanding of the law is necessary to understanding the world. The traffic does not run in the other direction.
5. Never accept any debunking account of anyone without getting it clear in your mind who is being “bunked” together with you. Wodehouse famously said that while the man was not disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled. In the same way, every act of debunking is an act of bunking. Somebody is trying to get into your bed, and it had better be your spouse.
6. Historical loyalties cannot be lined up on a shelf. They interact with one another in a complex system of nesting. For example, loyalty to Christ of course outranks loyalty to your nation. But loyalty to your nation might easily outrank your loyalty to a particular congregation of Christians. Your loyalties are not plastic legos, easily stacked, green ones on the bottom. This is not relativism, and it returns us to the earlier point about God’s law.
7. This is why an informed contrarian bias can be healthy. Begin by questioning the received wisdom when it comes to the whipping boys of Christendom — medievals, crusaders, and Puritans, say. Learn to distinguish what everybody knows that is so, like the sun rising in the east, from what everybody knows that ain’t so, like the Puritans being a collection of frenzied witch burners.
The outline of comments I made at Disputatio, April 24, 2015.