Politics Magazine

The Problem with History

Posted on the 04 January 2019 by Steveawiggins @stawiggins

The problem with history is that it shows foundational views are constantly shifting.Let me preface this statement by noting that although I taught Hebrew Bible for many years my training was primarily as an historian of religion.More specifically, the history of a religious idea that shifted over time.My dissertation on the topic of Asherah required specialization in Ugaritic and in the religions of the ancient world that included Israel.I have subsequently been researching the history of ideas, and my current, apparently non-sequiturial books on horror and the Bible are simply a further development of that interest.The focus has shifted more toward the modern period, but the processes of uncovering history remain the same.Many people don’t like horror.I get that.It is, however, part of the larger picture.

History, to get back to my opening assertion, is not fixed.It’s also tied to the dilemma that I often face regarding religion.Since Jesus of Nazareth never wrote anything down, and since Paul of Tarsus was writing to specific groups with their own issues, no systematic theology of Christianity emerged during that crucial first generation.What eventually grew was an evolving set of premises claimed both by Catholicism and Orthodoxy to be the original.Neither really is.Then Protestantism made claims that the establishment had it wrong and the Bible, which was a bit ad hoc to begin with, was the only source for truth.It’s a problematic source, however, and systems built upon it have also continued to evolve.Herein lies the dilemma.With stakes as high as eternal damnation, the wary soul wants to choose correctly.There is no way, though, to test the results.

The Problem with History

Eventually a decision has to be made.Christian history is full of movements where one group or another has “gone back” to the foundations to reestablish “authentic” Christianity.The problem is that centuries have intervened.That “original” worldview, and the sources to reconstruct that worldview, simply no longer exist.The primitivist religions have to back and fill a bit in order to have any foundation at all.What emerges are hybrid religions that think they’re pristine originals.Historians know, however, that no originals exist.We have no original biblical manuscripts.Teachings of Catholicism, and even Orthodoxy, change in response to the ongoing nature of human knowledge.History contains no instructions for getting behind the curtain to naked reality itself.At the same time the stakes have not changed.The consequences are eternal.Those who choose must do so wisely.

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