First, I wish to pay my respects to the late Judge Horace Johnson and his wonderful wife, Michelle. I count myself lucky to be friends with both of these fine people, and know them to be good Christians who tirelessly work to make our community a better place. Judge Johnson has too many truly important accolades for me to count, including many historic, ground-breaking civil-rights firsts. But to me, the quality that stands out, was (and continues to be) his eternal smile.
Of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, only one now exists. Most of these priceless Wonders were destroyed by people who found them to be offensive. Tens of thousands of shrines, temples, churches, mosques and the like have been obliterated throughout mankind’s history, robbing us of the ability to learn from the past. Just a year ago, several priceless ancient colossal Hindu edifices were destroyed by radical extremists. Whole civilizations have been swallowed up, with only the tiniest fragments left to tell us what these diverse people were once like. Historians and scientists and students all around the world lament this tragic loss of knowledge.
Yet we want to erase our own history because some find it offensive.
The Carthaginians threw newborn babies into pits of fire in order to bring good fortune. The Greeks routinely committed infanticide to their own offspring that they considered weak. The Mayans and Aztecs celebrated feast days by killing thousands of hostages a day. Nearly every ancient culture enslaved people, sometimes by the millions.
Yet we find these cultures interesting and wish we could learn more about them.
It is far easier to destroy than to build. Historic structures tell us what different people – living in a time that we can no longer remember, and thus find difficult to understand – thought were important. Some of these structures serve as the only graves for many of the fallen who were never properly buried. They were constructed at great cost and great sacrifice and great effort by ancestors we should be learning from, not wishing away.
Yet now, some people want to remove the past.
One of the great canons of Western literature is the flawed hero. We scoff at unconflicted characters as being rigid, cardboard and uninteresting. We celebrate conflicted heroes who have horrible backstories, or who have even committed grisly crimes in their past. The archetype of the flawed hero dates back to ancient times, and our appetite for their stories has only increased in the modern era. Artists across the eons have created works of art depicting Zeus, Hercules, Artemis, Caesar and thousands of other characters in endless pantheons who did horrible deeds. Nearly every hero in modern movies or books or comics has a dark, checkered past … along with at least one fatal flaw. Snape from Harry Potter is a great example of a character who we love to hate … and then learn to respect. As long as a hero is redeemed by some unexpected act of goodwill, we forgive the misdeeds of that hero. We are, after all, a forgiving people.
Yet today, people who claim to be tolerant, demand perfection from our past historical leaders.
We rightly condemn Hitler for massacring six million Jews. Yet Stalin murdered some 20 million of his own people, and people still think we should adopt communism. The Chinese Communist Party killed some 80 million of its own citizens through starvation, persecution, and mass executions. Yet we turn a blind eye to their current persecution of the freedom fighters in Hong Kong and their horrific atrocities against the Muslim minorities (the Uyghurs) living in China.
Everyone knows the maxim, “Those who do not know the past are doomed to repeat it.” Yet we are trying to un-learn our own history to appease some.
George Orwell’s “1984” vividly portrays the horror of a society that rewrites its own past. “He who controls the present controls the past. He who controls the past controls the future,” was the slogan the villainous Party used to justify their many atrocities. There are many terrible and accurate predictions in the novel, including the concept of thoughtcrime … which is disturbingly similar to today’s “political correctness.” But to the sad protagonist in the book, the most crushing blow of all was that he could never tell what was true or what was false. Because the past had been altered, there was no way to prove what the “truth” was anymore.
Culture matters. History matters. You can’t tear down the underlying structure of a house (or a society) and expect it to keep standing.
I am truly hopeful for a better America, but I am gravely alarmed at this headlong rush to a “1984” dystopia … where “truth” becomes whatever current opinion thinks it ought to be.