Truth Project 6: History (Whose Story?)

In the sixth Truth Project tour, Del turns to examine history. He introduces the subject by quoting biblical passages (Isaiah 46:9-11, Galatians 4:4-5) that depict God as being in control of history. Del says that he rebelled against this idea for a long time because he wanted to be in control instead.

Then Del puts several numbers on a screen one after the other, and asks his students what those numbers are. His point in doing this is to show that humans are taught to see things in a particular way. “911” is not “nine hundred eleven,” it’s “nine-one-one.” And “9/11” has a definite meaning that it didn’t have 10 years ago. “What you believe in the present is determined by the past,” Del says, and that makes history extremely important.

To illustrate how important history is, Del gives examples of “historical revisionism.” The first example is the book I, Rigoberta Menchu, which was written as an autobiography and later was shown by anthropologist David Stoll to have falsified events. The second example of historical revisionism that Del cites is the “New School Version” of the Mayflower Compact (Del does not give a citation of his source for this revision, but presumably it came from a textbook). The revision of the Mayflower Compact leaves out references to God. Del concludes, “If I can change your historical context, I can change the way you view the present.”

This, Del says, is not new. It is what the serpent did in the garden of Eden. It is what the authorities did after Jesus’ resurrection, saying that his disciples stole the body (Matthew 28:11-15). But in contrast to historical revisionism, Del points out that the Bible is more reliable than any other ancient document based on the number and quality of manuscripts.

The objective behind historical revisionism, Del says, is control. He quotes Marx as saying, “A people without a heritage are easily persuaded.” In contrast, God commands his people to remember their history and what he has done for them. Our problem is that we remember things (like grudges) that we should forget and forget things that we should remember. Del then returns to his initial theme, saying that the thing we should remember is God’s providential ordering of history (Ps. 33:10-11, Acts 4:27-28).

Then Del pits this against postmodernism, which, as Jean-Francois Lyotard said, is “incredulity towards metanarratives.” Del says that this rejection of metanarratives appeals to us because we want to live our own little story. The Truth, on one hand, is that history is God’s story which he orders through providence, and the Lie, on the other, is that there is no metanarrative and that history is a tool. We all suffer from natural myopia, Del says.

He closes with the example of the Pilgrims, who were given strength to endure hardship because, as William Bradford said, “they rested on His Providence and knew whom they had believed.” “You can’t have this perspective,” Del says, “unless you’re caught up in the larger story of God.”

I agree with Del that history is important. I also appreciate Del’s pointing out that we often revise history because we would prefer to believe something else. One thing that came up in our group discussion afterward is that we all revise history at one time or another. The key is to be honest with ourselves when we are faced with that temptation, and ask why we are tempted to revise history. Why are we unwilling to be honest about history? Is it because we want control or power for ourselves? I also agree that for the Christian, remembering the story of God’s interaction with humanity is crucial. History is really his (God’s) story, and if Christians remember that we are part of a story, we are prone to make fewer mistakes.

However, I wish that Del himself were more aware of history. In the previous lesson, I wish that Del had mentioned, for example, B.B. Warfield or Asa Gray, two prominent 19th-century Christians who believed in evolution. If Del were aware of men like that, perhaps he would be less prone to believe that there has always been a conflict between evolution and Christianity, and less prone to demonize those who believe in evolution.

Also, although we have not gotten to it yet, one of the later tours in the Truth Project deals with the founding of the United States. In my review of that tour, I will attempt to point out some places in which Del himself engages in historical revisionism.

History is God’s story, as Del says, but this leads to two caveats: one is that if history is God’s story, we don’t have to be afraid of the truth, even if it contradicts our prejudices or makes us uncomfortable. The second is that if history is God’s story, God is the only one who knows the full story. We can know parts of it, but we ought to be humble because we know there will always be more for us to learn. I wish that Del had made those two things clear.

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