Is History Knowable? Implications for Christianity
by Sheri Bell
The accuracy of history is critical. Even for Christianity.
We can look at this photo and make some subjective judgments. We might deduce that the child is somewhere cold. We might also suggest the child’s age, if not also his or her nationality, healthiness, and socioeconomic status. In effect, we’re self-determining this child’s history.
Historians, too, might start with a single photo in their attempt to piece together some aspect of the past. The question we should ask upon their completed puzzle is, “Did they get it right? Is their version of history reliable — or skewed by subjectivity?”
It’s a valid question, as history has a history of being written or adjusted to match a personal bias. Both Hitler and Stalin, for example, revised “history” to justify their politics. Tweaking of history is a common practice; too often we don’t realize that its telling lacks truth or objectivity. Ask American adults, for example, what caused the Civil War, and their replies might overwhelmingly point to whether they were educated in the North or the South. (By the way, does removing Confederate monuments remove the “offense” of the Civil War?)
In this post, let’s look at the burden that rests on historians, including some of the criteria they should employ as they determine historical “truth.” Here’s the Cliff’s Notes version of this post: History isn’t true “history” unless its facts are presented objectively. Otherwise it’s skewed storytelling, if not outright propaganda.
Religion is one area in which truthful, objective history is critical to distinguish between fact and fiction, myth, and legend. Christianity makes historical claims that historians continue to study exhaustively. Some scholars do a great job of being objective; others are unable to get past their personal biases…