October 8, 2011

Murdering History

The idea about historians uncovering history up to and including the 19th century with the likes of Leopold van Ranke was history earmarked by objectivity. By this I mean that the task of the historian was to uncover objective facts and let the facts speak for themselves. These facts or truths were generally to be free of subjectivity or subjective elements. By this I mean the historians own personality, bias, outlooks, etc were not to be involved. It was the general intent of the historians during this time to describe the past as it “actually was”. This is not unlike what we expect of news coverage today when we turn on the news on television. As we all know though just like the news we watch or read about today, this is often not the case, it is always subject to bias of some sort. Along come Charles Beard and Carl Becker and a shift to relativism or an imposing of subjectivity into history. Beard and Becker claim the historians are victims of their time also and ascribe their own meaning to the facts of history and therefore couldn’t possibly be neutral observers. These two men claimed that van Ranke description of the way it “really was” is actually an illusion because they claim the historian has “reconstructed” the past in the context of the present or piggy-backed his presuppositions into his interpretation of the past. This is considered historical relativism.

This being said it is assumed contemporary historical relativism then compromises two challenges to any claim of truth or history as it “really happened” (1) non-realism or constructionism is the view that all we know are historical reconstructions of the past rather than the past itself and (2) non-objectivism or subjectivism that says that no reconstruction can legitimately claim to be superior to alternative reconstructions. They are literally reframing the argument to validate their nebulous position of “we cannot know the past for sure”. In other words: Your reconstruction of the past is just as valid as anyone else’s making everyone’s reconstruction equally valid. This cannot be, as history only unfolded one way! Everyone cannot be right! But that is exactly what a postmodernist claims

With this premise postmodernists and postmodernist theologians posit their own idea of what history truly was and then make a truth claim about it….which is the very same thing they accused the objective observers of history of doing and said it was wrong! The postmodernists use the very subjective root to make their claims of truth or what “really happen”. The very thing that they told other people they were not allowed to do to determine what happened in history. The more a historian bias infiltrates the documentation or facts the more skewed and bias the outcome making it inaccurate. Truths become more subjective and relative to the observer rather than remaining objective and closer to the actual events. Relativistic historians and theologians then begin to see history through a purely subjective lens (or through their own biased lens) and see the past through presuppositions in a way that they "prefer to see" it rather than the way “it really was”. They begin to impose their beliefs and agendas on how they see the events of history and then report it to others through this distorted lens. They thereby make history their history as they prefer to see it.

Postmodern theorists and postmodern theologians having posited that it is impossible to have direct access to the past or have a neutral unbiased reconstruction, inevitably challenge everyone else’s objectivity and that includes challenging the Bible's objectivity (thereby challanging God Himself). They are attempting to detract from everyone else’s theory except their own. The event in history, now gone, is only in existence as a statement from a historian or a memory (preferably the postmodernist’s). In the case on Biblical history it is in the Bible and backed by interpretation of archeological evidences. What the postmodernist says is that we essentially perceive the facts as we want to perceive them. We perceive them based on our bias and ability to reconstruct a past. Each person interprets the same set of facts slightly differently. Because none of these “facts” or “realities” can be tested, like scientific method, they cannot be validated…therefore anybody’s guess is as good as any other’s guess. This is essentially the clarion call of the postmodern mind. Because it is unrepeatable (history) and cannot be observed directly there is no way to know for sure what really happened so a plurality of plausible paths seems more legitimate then the past as “it was”. Through this illogical postmodernist/post-metaphysical thought, they negate the ability for anyone to actually know the truth of what happen back then and therefore deny anyone's claim to actually know...even if it comes directly from a divine source like the Bible. Since we have determined that the postmodernist defines history as they see it based on their interpretation of the facts, when we then see them combined it with the idea that no one can know for sure exactly what happened in history, they then posit that their own explanation is the most plausible. How hypocritical. Actually they drop it on our heads as the only plausible “intellectually reasoned” history. Why? They are essentially redefining how we see reality. History is as they now interpret it through their “hermeneutical grid” This then leads to the last or thirdidea that ties the first two together.

The third statement from post-metaphysical theory claims to reveal something about the ways things are and therefore invoke the idea of reality. It is at this point all postmodern and post-metaphysical meta-theories implode because they utilize what they deny is legitimate. They literally use the tools to validate their points that they themselves deny to others use of. They thereby making themselves self-contradictory or as we understand the concept better from the Bible…they are hypocrites. Their double-standard condemns them.

Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Isaiah 5:20

Postmodernism like many things in the culture is just as fad and like all fads it will wane and people will lose interest in it. Most often the basis for their arguments are quite flawed because (1) they have not thought through their logic far enough to see that it is flawed and hypocritical and (2) people debating or confronting them do not catch them in their own flawed arguments. It is only now that society and the culture is beginning to catch up with their hypocrisy and calling them out on it as it becomes more obvious. Postmodern/Post-metaphysical validity will only last as long as there are people interested in it that are willing to act as hypocrites and apply the standards to others that they are not willing to impose on themselves. It is obvious that post-modernistic thought in and of itself is self-refuting. Anything this contradictory will not have a long shelf life in the culture. It is like a handgun with a barrel that faces the the person pulling the trigger.

In the end, what seems to be needed is a balance of subjectivism (which cannot be totally eliminated) since we all see the world through our eyes, not someone elases but it also should not have such a dominant role in the study of history either. I also suggest that we not return to the naïve von Ranke historicism because we cannot “just see things as they were”, to some extent we in the 21st century do impose the context of our times on historical data. We do it when we read the Bible and we do it when we read the news. To state another way, we often contemporize things like the Bible history to make it more applicable and understandable to our day and age. How many times have we heard improper analogies done in a sermon that really didn't apply? Because the events of the past are gone the inability to access any solid facts leaves Christians to be either historical reconstructionists or narrative realists based in the Bible text (not non-realists as the postmodern would state). To stand in one camp or the other is to subject oneself to as self-imposed insanity. We need to reconstruct the past with given Biblical evidences and data but it must be done so in a realistic manner. The fact that we have no “direct access” to the past or because there is a "lack of neutrality" cannot nor should not prevent us from learning applying Biblical truths from history because we know that the Bible was inspired by God, therefore it is accurate as it was written. To say that we cannot possibly know anything of the reality of the past because we cannot revisit it in person or because all data needs to be reviewed only through a neutral lens does not make the past cease to exist as it actually happened. Just because we do not know something for sure does not invalidate the entire claim to truth. We can have incomplete knowledge and still have that knowledge be true. To claim otherwise is to fall victim to a fallacy of composition or the idea that because pieces of our knowledge might be flawed then all of our knowledge is wrong. To claim we cannot know with some level of certainty is a claim of radical historicism. It is radical in that it rejects notions of universal, fundamental and immutable interpretations or an ability to know anything with certainty. The irony is that the postmodernist/post-metaphysicalist will deny this with a straight face while they themselves will make an immutable, universal interpretations while simultaneous making statements of ambiguity and indecisiveness. Hypocrites or blind to their own hypocrisy (sin). The problem with all this arises when these theories are applied to the Bible with an anti-theist or atheistic bias by the postmodernist. We have begun to see this in the Emergent Church and the branches of the church that want to add the “mystery” back into Christianity and remove centuries of orthodoxy, doctrine and dogma that people went to the stake for and burned to death. Yes, we can know what Jesus meant when He said things. Paul too. Too say otherwise is pseudo-intellectual ignorance (or arrogance).

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