Revisionist History Channel

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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Christian Attitudes Toward Halloween

Many Christians are confused and troubled about what to do with Halloween.  The imagery, movies and media coverage associated with this the events surrounding the 31st of October often leave us wondering what is the best thing to do, especially when we have kids. 

Some Christians take the popular and age-old Christian stance that if there might be a problem somewhere with it, then it is best to run away from the situation entirely.  These people just stay home and ignore the holiday all together.  Some Churches promote fall-themed alternatives or ‘Hell-houses.’  While others simply view Halloween as a fun family activity where the kids get to dress up and get candy.

I have a friend who subscribes to the ‘Halloween is evil, and we should ignore it’ theory.  Last year we both expressed our ideas about Halloween in a few emails.  They were cordial and respectful, but we did not agree.  I have decided to break down his arguments against Halloween and my responses to him.  I think the basic arguments for and against participating in the holiday were covered pretty well by both of us.

The main point made by Christians who oppose the holiday is that it appears to be evil and that it leads to or promotes evil things.  Most people who oppose the holiday see the images of skeletons, demons, devils, witches and ghosts, and say that it is inappropriate for children to see these evil images promoted in a positive setting.  The popular Bible verse that is used by any Christian that is against anything is used here.  Romans 14:13 says, “…make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.”  They say that these sorts of activities should be avoided so that we do not set a bad example for others.

The other main argument is the ‘gateway drug’ contention.  They believe that the evil ideas that surround Halloween provide a gateway for children to become interested in other evil activities.  In this argument, dressing your child up as a fairy princess who has magic powers will lead to her wanting to dress up as a witch later.  As they grow older, the positive images created by dressing up like this as they were younger will add to the possibility of them being attracted by actual occult activities.  My friend referred to the candy associated with Halloween as ‘the trap’ that gets kids interested in the first place.

Some see true problems with Halloween activities, and paint all Halloween activities with this brush.  They see some people having rowdy parties with a lot of drinking or possibly a Ouija Board or Séance.  They also see fringe occult groups garnering attention during the Halloween season by performing actual dark rights in ‘celebration’ of the holiday.  They sometimes look at the history of Halloween, and see its negative effects on people (mostly Chrstians, by the way) in centuries past.

Finally, there are truly evil people such as pedophiles who could be having children come to their doors looking for candy.  This is a truly disturbing possibility.

There may be other arguments against Halloween, but the ones supplied above are a good example of most of them.

I, however, do not agree that Halloween is evil.  The idea, that we, as Christians must ‘flee any appearance of evil,’ is just not supported in the context of Halloween.  Christians use Romans 14:13 is a Catch 22 saying, ‘because I believe there is an appearance of evil, then an appearance of evil exists.  Therefore, I can use the argument that we must flee any appearance of evil to support the fact that the idea is evil in the first place.’  This circular logic is not even supported in the context of the same verse that it is taken out of, much less in the context of the surrounding passage. 

Romans 14 verse 13-

13Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.

We are definitely admonished not to cause each other to stumble, but leading into the verse, it also admonishes us not to stop passing judgment on one another.  These same arguments have been used for centuries by some denominations to decry drinking (at all) and dancing and other denominations to condemn music.  The point is that the Bible, for the most part, does not deal with innocuous things such as Halloween.  In fact, often these people who tend to ‘make up sins’ when they see something that they do not like, do it in the face of scripture that argues against their point of view.  For example, in the case of drinking, Jesus made the best wine when he attended the wedding.  The word used for it describes a particularly good and potent form of wine, not grape juice.   Admonitions against dancing and music also do not hold up to Biblical scrutiny. There are hundreds of examples where the Bible calls upon someone to play an instrument, and the women who condemned David for dancing, in the nude no less, were punished by God for their actions.  My point is that it is never a good practice to go labeling something as a sin or wrong just because we are personally uncomfortable with it. 

The ‘gateway drug’ argument really just expounds upon the same idea.  The thing that worries me the most in it is the hidden message that our imaginations are a bad thing.  I find it personally sad when children are not allowed to indulge the fantastic imaginations that God gave them.  There is nothing wrong with a kid pretending to be a fairy princess.  We start down a slippery slope when we start to label fairies as magical servants of the devil.  The idea of a magical fairy has nothing to do with Satan, and really neither does what most people think of as a witch.  It is all pretend.

The point is that good Christian parents have an obligation, as their children grow older to teach them the difference between pretending and true acts of evil.  If you allow your child to dress up as a witch, and they use that as a springboard into Satanism, then you have not done a very good job of parenting.  Somewhere along the way, you did not communicate the true nature of good and evil with your child.  It is the job of any parent to spend (sometimes inordinate) amounts of time communicating what it is to be a good person, a good Christian, and a good citizen to their children.  If they do not take the time to do so, their children may fall through the cracks, but it won’t be Halloween’s fault.

Regarding the argument that there are events planned by some around the Halloween holiday that do involve acts of evil, such as drinking parties and rites performed by occults, I would say that those who despise Halloween on religious grounds tend to lump too many things together.  The people who use Halloween as an opportunity to get drunk, do not do so because it is Halloween, they just want to get drunk, and use the occasion of Halloween as an excuse.  Just as NRA proponents will say correctly that ‘guns don’t kill people, people kill people,’  Halloween does not make people evil, evil people can, however, use Halloween for evil things.  The same is true for occult members.  They simply use Halloween to promote the evil that they would be doing regardless of the holiday.

Remember, most sins in the Bible are sins of excess.  Almost anything when done to excess can become a sin for the person doing it.  Drinking is a good example of this, but almost anything else can become a bad thing when done to excess.  I’ll use prayer for an example.  Can prayer become a sin?  Well, if a person spent every moment of every day in prayer to the detriment of his physical body and his family, I believe for him, this would be a sin.  Drinking, dancing, music, Halloween, almost anything in excess is a bad thing, and since God wants good things for us, we should refrain from excess.  We do not, however, need to through the proverbial baby out with the bathwater.

The final argument against Halloween is that you do not know who is behind the door when your kids go up to it.  It could be a pedophile or someone that has laced the candy with something that will hurt them.  This is true.  These things could happen, and they are why responsible parents chaperone their children when they go trick-or-treating.  They only allow their children to go to houses where they know the people, and they already know where the pedophiles in their neighborhood live, because that information is available online.  They just stay away from those houses in the first place.  Responsible parenting requires parents to be extremely proactive.  If you are sitting at home, and allowing your small child to run around the neighbor trick-or-treating while unattended, I question your parenting skills.

I believe that most Christians who do not like Halloween are fundamentally wrong about what Halloween is for most people.  Halloween, like the 4th of July, Thanksgiving and even Christmas is a fundamentally American institution.  For most people, Halloween is simply a day when people decide to get together by the millions and do something nice and fun for children.  For them, it is about the act of giving a piece of candy to a child.  It is a wonderful gesture, and many parents use this as a teaching tool to reinforce good manners in their children by encouraging them to say ‘Yes, sir,’ ‘No, sir,’ ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’

Taking the argument one step further, I would make the case that those Christians who turn their noses up or pull their children away when offered a piece of candy may be further from God’s will in all of this than those who take part in Halloween.  Spend some time researching one of the strongest themes of the New Testament, that of “Hospitality.”  The Bible has a lot to say on the subject, and some of the admonitions against being inhospitable are very strong.  Paul knew he did not have to keep the old dietary law anymore, but he did so because he was Jewish.  However, he went out of his way to point out that, for the sake of hospitality, he put these rules aside.  He said that if a Christian were invited into a person’s home to eat, then he should eat the meal graciously whether it was Kosher in a Jewish home or bacon in a Roman’s house. 

If a person in a spirit of hospitality offers my child a piece of candy on Halloween, I let them take it with a smile, and I make sure both of us say, “Thank you!”  If I do not know the person, I may discard the candy later.  I may even explain why to the child, but I respect the fact that the person giving the candy was trying to be nice.

In the end, I believe that for most people and for my family, Halloween is about imagination and millions of Americans taking the time to brighten the day for the children around them.  Might it be better if we had a similar day without any of the dark imagery?  Perhaps, but this is what we have, and the great thing about Halloween is that you can make of it whatever you want.