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Sword & trowel: Historical amnesia

Amnesia (noun)

am·ne·sia | \ am-’nē-zhә  \

1: loss of memory due usually to brain injury, shock, fatigue, repression or illness

2: a gap in one’s memory

3: the selective overlooking or ignoring of events or acts that are not favorable or useful to one’s purpose or position

 

Rufus Fears, the late historian who served as a distinguished professor at the University of Oklahoma for many years, once noted that we live in an “a-historical age,” meaning an era that finds little-to-no use for history.

While it’s true that we have a History Channel, and that many historical biographies and other books are produced, we Americans generally don’t tend to know our history, nor our part in the grand sweep of time. Generally, our historical knowledge goes back only so far, such as to the 1770s, or 1940s or 1980s.

Therefore it could be said that we are living with a sort of “historical amnesia.” For this, we unfortunately are increasingly paying a high price. It’s not just everyday citizens who lack historical thinking. Far too few of our elected officials are thinking historically when it comes to policy decisions and other matters.

The daily media treadmill and social media scorecard has instead monopolized our shrinking attention span, thus rendering us unable to think for the long-term or as informed citizens.

Perhaps worse, many students today seem to view history as one giant boring topic. It appears students these days can tell you more about what happened in the Star Wars movies (movies which I myself enjoy) than what happened in World War I or World War II.

This is not necessarily a new problem. In fact, a 1982 survey of “sixth through 12th-graders in a Midwest school district… (determined) that kids were ‘largely indifferent’ or revealed ‘negative attitudes’ toward social studies” and history.

This does not have to be the case. History is too important to wither away or become a topic for only a few “egg heads.” For us to recapture young people’s interest in history, we must bring storytelling to life. History is not just a list of dates and names; it is real events and real people like you and me.

Fortunately, there are so many great teachers in the state of Oklahoma and in this great nation that we can see a revived interest in history. For this generation in school now, we have many tools for learning, including through multi-media technology. Whether through new means or time-honored approaches, we must support our educators in any efforts to renew interest in thinking historically.

What is at stake? For Christians, we know that history is not merely academic. We know that the Gospel itself is rooted in history. Jesus Christ, the Son of God became flesh and dwelt among us. We know that He really was born of a virgin, that He walked the earth, performed great and miraculous deeds, living a sinless life. We know that He died and rose again. The Gospel is historical at its heart.

The sooner we can reinvigorate a historical sense in ourselves, the sooner we will see it translated to young people. Whether it’s remembering the bombing at Pearl Harbor and heroics of WWII, or celebrating Christ’s birth at Christmas, we can find opportunities to tell the story about what God is doing throughout time.

In the end, we must overcome our historical amnesia; not only for our own edification, not only for America’s future; but to give God glory for His grand work throughout all the ages.

Brian Hobbs

Author: Brian Hobbs

Brian is editor of The Baptist Messenger.

View more articles by Brian Hobbs.

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