History, WWII, and the Christian Faith

One thing that has contributed to the watering down of Christianity in American churches is a loss of knowledge about and respect for history.  Not that we should idolize history, but it sure is helpful to know the past for a whole host of reasons.  It’s good to know how our Christian forefathers wrestled through heresies in the early church era and agreed on biblical conclusions and put them into creeds.  It’s good to know how our Christian forefathers stood firm in the faith when tortured to death.  It’s good to know how Martin Luther agonized over the Psalms as the righteousness of God killed him and saved him.  A church that loses respect for and knowledge of history is a church on its way to a wedding with the world.

Speaking of history, though not specifically Christian, I love how Ken Burns and company describe history in the introduction to their book, The War: An Intimate History, 1041-1945 (New York: Knopf, 2007).  Here are a few quotes from the intro, which are applicable to thinking about history and Christianity.

First, Burns said by neglecting to hear the stories of WWII veterans, “we would be guilty of a historical amnesia too irresponsible to countenance.”  Thus he was compelled to write and film.  Later he says,

“Memory is that deeply personal affirmation of self, that which calibrates and triangulates our sense of who we are, and yet it is also the ambassador of our own individual foreign policy – the agency that helps cement friendships, associations, and ambitions.”

One of Burns’ main points seems quite ordinary, but it isn’t: “There are no ordinary lives.”

[This] “Is a truth…as old as history itself, but one we always forget, especially in a society like ours, addicted as we are now to the breathless embrace of spurious celebrity, to the great tyranny those synthetic ‘heroes’ have over the rest of us.  It is a truth that this kind of nostalgia, and the mindless inattention that issues from it, prevents us from knowing.  It is, however, the theme that issues out of every frame of our film and every page of our book – not so much from our own doing as from simply bearing witness to the stories of these remarkably brave young men. … By stepping into memory, by stepping into the great gift of memory these men and women have given us, we liberate ourselves.”

Well said. Read again how he noted that our addiction to synthetic heroes (movie ‘stars,’ sports ‘stars,’ etc.) prevents us from knowing the truth about ordinary lives.  By going into the past, we free ourselves from the tyranny of this modern mindlessness.  Apply these things to the Christian faith and we have some deep things to think about as we give thanks for the faithful Christians from all places and times who have gone before us.

shane lems