History and the Guild

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Objectivity is a false god, and the worship of this idol is particularly pernicious in disciplines like journalism and history. It is not possible to be objective — although of course it is possible to be honest. By pretending to attain to objectivity, a writer’s fundamental faith commitments are not eliminated, but rather submerged — and they then come out in interesting and intellectually dishonest ways.

The study of history is largely a study of sinning, and usually the sinning is on a grand scale involving armies, navies, courtesans, synods, backstabbing, running for Congress, and more. There is the occasional hero, but there is also the hapless character that we might identify as hero fodder. Since everyone likes and admires heroes, sometimes they have to be manufactured for the sake of posterity.

To complicate the picture, the historians doing the study are sinners themselves. Some have embraced the sin, and have gone over to the dark side of the force, and so they tell us lie after lie about what happened before we got here. It makes a difference whether Moses or Jeroboam writes the history curriculum. Other historians are conscientious Christians, and they seek grow in their own personal sanctification as they take on the important task of writing our stories. Some historians sin through hagiography and others sin through debunking. Some strive to be godly while hacking their way through a hagiographic jungle (with the machete of truth) and others strive for godliness as they fight the cynical postmodern debunkers.

The Christian who wants to be faithful here has to be very careful because the boundaries of the acceptable are always vigorously policed. You have heard about political correctness, but after about a hundred years or so, it turns into historical correctness. The guild does a good job (for the most part) in dealing with the occasional crank who offers up the theory that Robert E. Lee was a space alien. But the guild also does a good job in ostracizing anyone who differs from the current orthodoxy, whatever that orthodoxy may happen to be (and there always is one). And so it is that the lunatic and the “heretic” often find themselves sitting side by side on the sidewalk outside after having been, um, escorted out. They were each halfway through their lecture at the historical society when they were grabbed where the pants hang loose and frog-marched to the door.

And of course, the question that is then asked is “why do you associate with the lunatics there on the sidewalk?” Bad testimony. We have to do better. We have to seek the approval of those who run the guild. And they will always give it . . . but there are conditions.

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