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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Could the Narrative be Changing?

This refers to an article posted on Patheos, which sounds an alarm that Texas may approve a history textbook which sees Moses as an influence on the American Founder.  Uncle Cephas sees this as alarmist at best, obscurantist at worst.

One of the dynamics at work here involves consensuses among the academic historians who inform the writing of textbooks and the currricula we use. For the past few decades, there has been a questioning of the secularist paradigm, with which I am sympathetic.

For several decades in the early 20th century, the "progressive" historians dominated. One name associated with this was Charles Beard, who held that economic rather than philosophic motives dominated the thought of the Founders. This, of course, was an early attempt to apply Marxist insights into American historiography. Events battered this school of thought first in 1939, when many intellectuals or intellectual wannabes (including tertiary and secondary history teachers) were shocked that Stalin, hitherto the "great progressive", made a pact with Hitler over the corpses of Poland and the Baltics. A further blow to the "progressive" school of historiography hit between 1947 and the early 1960's, during the Cold War. In the USA, there was a swing back towards the idea of liberty. However, with the great disillusionment with the Cold War that arose from the late 1960's through the 1970's, the star of Beard's "progressive historiography" rose again.

From the mid-'60's through the '70's, there was a strong alliance between "progressive" thinking (again, informed partly by Beard and his disciples) and a militant opposition to traditional theism. It was helped enormously by the "separationist" interpretation of the First Amendment held by the Supreme Court during the period--even to the point where any sympathetic treatment of traditional Christianity became highly suspect.

I believe that an important change, ironically enough, occurred with the Iranian Revolution, in which the smart, educated money lost when the Mullah Khomeini did an end-run around the odd-son favorites in the Iranian Tudeh (Communists) at roughly the same time American Evangelicals were abandoning the Democratic Party of their grandfathers over pro-life and private schooling issues. Immediately, we had the specter of "fundamentalism" haunting the globe, as if the thought and histories of an older American "Democratic Evangelicalism" (cf. Sydney Ahlstrom) traveled the same routes as Twelver Shi'ite Islam from the Safavids until now. In the early 1980's, American media people and policymankers (I spent 1989-1995 in the US State Department) were unbelievably shocked and sometimes hysterical about the phenomenon--and, thanks to being educated in paradigms that wrongly perceived theistic traditions as unchanging, as well as being mere epihenomena in the body of "real" (money and power) history, utterly clueless when attempting to understand and address the sudden "retreat of secularism" (after Peter Berger).

So, take a good look at the Patheos blog article. Someone clearly senses that the "progressive" narrative is under questioning and attack, and is quite unhappy about it. Hence the shrill, exaggerated tone and the silly suggestion that "stupid Texans" think that Moses was an 18th century American.

Frankly, if the Texas books in question are what I suspect them to be (re-appropriation of the Bible as a source for the limited government ideal), I think that both students and teachers win in getting a wider and more varied perspective on history.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Thoughts of a Random History Teacher

The blog Patheos has run a post raising the tocsin that the barbarians have entered the gates and made Moses an American Founding Father.  After all, some history textbook in Texas supposedly says so

First of all, I am neither a Texan nor a Baptist nor a Pentecostalist. I have also laughed at Texan jokes.

Sorry, folks, but the Texas books in question DO NOT say that Moses was an 18th century American hobnobbing with the likes of James Madison, George Read, John Jay, etc. They merely note that Moses cast a very long shadow over how Western people have thought about the relationship between people, state, and law--including our own American ideas.

For almost two centuries prior to the writing of the US Constitution, Western political theory was shaped by an argument between proponents of royal absolutism and a school called monarchomach, who argued that the ruler is subject to law and established by political compact rather than immediate divine right (an important distinction). The latter school informed the Puritan and Calvinist view of politics; and what Moses wrote about king and Torah in Deuteronomy 17:14ff. was powerful grist for the monarchomach mill. The 18th century American colonists, who knew their Bibles and were shaped by Calvinist educations, knew that.
If this upsets the triumphalism of those who worship nature, the state, or cosmos, or they're afraid their kiddies will learn that they have derived political benefits from people who believed in the Christian God, WELL, AIN'T THAT TOO DAMN BAD. It's historical fact, whether we like it or not.

Christian conservatives (Eek! Help! Fire!) and ANYONE who wants accurate historical knowledge win. "Progressive Secular Humanists", who have for so long loudly boasted that they can handle any historical or material fact, yet whine, whine, whine when someone mentions the Abrahamic God in a history textbook, make themselves look petty and obscurantist. Worse yet, it shows them bearing false witness against their neighbors (nod to Moshe Rabeinu).