I remember when I went to public school growing up, studying history. I loved it. However, I was brought up in a Christian household, and though my parents did not care a bit about history, I began to notice that something was missing in what I was being taught at school. There was simply no mention of the impact of Christianity on Western history.
Of course, the first college world history class I took wasted no time in properly bestowing credit to Western thought on the Greeks, Romans and the Judeo-Christian Ethic- just as it should have been. It was refreshing to see Christianity getting its due, but more than that, I began to feel that it was ‘history’ itself that was being cheated by the public schools in selectively choosing which parts of the story to leave out.
I learned a term while I was at college that was easily applied to this situation- “Revisionist History”. It’s not a complement. It’s would be more correctly described as a disease. Don’t get me wrong. There is room for some revisionism. This is easily seen when we look back at some recent presidents. Reagan, Clinton and George W. Bush were all reviled during their presidencies, but as Clinton and Reagan are both now being revised in a positive note (and rightly so), so will George W. Bush in a few years. This would be why you should not write history until at least 20 years after the fact, but that’s a whole different discussion.
The bad form of revisionist history tends to be agenda driven. A horrible example of this would be C.A. Tripp’s horrible book, The Intimate World of Abraham Lincoln which attempts to turn our greatest president into a homosexual based on the flimsiest evidence.
The History Channel over the past four or five years has begun a shift toward this type of agenda based historical programming. It, and the National Geographic Channel, have both begun to promote shows that are based on flimsy theories with little or no backing and no refutation. For example, there are a host of shows based on Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code that are presented as if they are based on real, long-standing historical theories rather than new speculations taken from a single man who himself says they are just made up. Unfortunately, this type of programming seems to be their trend.
Last night, I watched the first episode of Expedition Africa on the History Channel. In it, a group of quarrelsome idiots have decided to attempt to follow Henry Morton Stanley’s famous expedition to find David Livingstone.
The show has given some of the back-story of both Stanley and Livingstone. They were both great men who do not enough credit for their accomplishments today. Livingstone was easily the greater of the two. I was taken aback when they referred to Livingstone as basically an explorer who wanted to end slavery. I went to the History Channel website and read to see if they elaborated on him further. Here it was much the same, except that they referred to him as a ‘former missionary.’
David Livingstone was one of the greatest missionaries to ever live. Period. He was also a medical missionary. He saw Africa, and realized that there was so much intertribal strife that he could either stay in one place and affect only a few people, or he could change the way the whole continent worked, and reach millions of people. He was a strategic missionary. His theory was that by exploring Africa, and opening up trade routes, the people there would end up seeing the economic benefit of supporting these trade routes and working together. This, in turn, would make it easier for missionaries, like himself, to reach more people.
The problem I had was that this program, and the History Channel blatantly ignored Livingstone’s primary life calling and reason for doing the amazing things that he did. It’s easily done in this case, because most people were only taught in school that Livingstone was an explorer also. I am not expecting them to turn this into a religious program, but the truth of his motivations could be presented without it sounding preachy. In the end, by selectively ignoring essential aspects of a story, it is the history and the History Channel’s reputation that suffer.
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