Tag Archives: history

The Anchor as a Christian Symbol

Anchored“In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.”

What is the origin of the anchor as a Christian symbol, and why do we no longer use it? Apparently, it relied on a play on Greek words, so as Greek lost its hold as a language among Christians, so did the symbol.

Also,  a few questions answered by Jonathan Edwards’s A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, a highly recommended book.

How the Normans Ruined the British Isles for a Thousand Years

Battle of Hastings reenactment 2006

October 14 was the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings. Peter Konieczy of the University of Toronto offers three reasons why this was not a typical medieval battle. One reason was that the Normans and the English were evenly matched.

We can read some of the battle’s details in this post on a French poetic account, Estoire des Engleis History of the English, by Geoffrey Gaimar. It includes a part about a Norman juggler who demonstrated his spear skills before the English army.

Konieczy also touches on how the Normans meddled with the Irish several decades later, never fully conquering them, and by 1180, “would leave the island unstable and divided.”

The Real Nat Turner

Justin Taylor explores many details in the true story behind the new movie The Birth of a Nation, which one history professor called “a deeply flawed, historically inaccurate movie that exploits and distorts Nat Turner’s story and the history of slavery in America.”

According to his own testimony, Nat Turner appears to have been a strong, intelligent man who could not be subdued by a slave economy. He was gifted and believed he was called by God to lead a righteous war against slave owners. Reading his spiritual account, you could say he was powerfully deceived, but you might also say a brilliant and spiritually sensitive man can be twisted and perverted when shackled by oppression. Not that any motive or character study would justify the murder he and his allies committed, but the slavery in which they lived cannot be justified either. Four times as many slaves were murdered in retribution to Nat Turner’s revolt as whites were murdered by the revolt, which speaks to the war-like nature of the whole affair. This wasn’t a just war nor was it followed by a just condemnation.

Recommended reading ends the post.

History professor Vanessa M. Holden, in the past linked from Taylor’s, says, “Parker’s movie is important. Its independent roots and blockbuster distribution deal are significant in an industry that still grapples with racism. It also draws the public’s attention to a history that has no white saviors or triumphant endings. The character Turner is not long suffering; he springs into violent action as soon as he becomes aware of slavery’s brutality and validates his claim to humanity and freedom, just as the historical Turner did, through a radicalized Christianity. But the license that Parker took in an effort to craft his heroic version of Turner ultimately strips away too much valuable context.”

 

Distorting History

Justin Taylor interviews Sir Richard J. Evans, a historian and expert witness in David Irving v. Penguin Books and Deborah Lipstadt, which is the subject of a new movie called Denial. The trial dealt with a lawsuit by the British Hitler apologist David Irving against American historian Deborah Lipstadt and her UK publisher. In her book and public speaking, Lipstadt said Irving had manipulated evidence and misrepresented facts in favor of the Third Reich. She believed he was the most dangerous Holocaust denier in the world, because he had some level of respect among historians at that time.

Evans has written on European history, and perhaps more to the point, he has written on the concept of historical knowledge. The trial could easily have been framed as an issue of freedom of speech. Could anyone say or claim anything? Is it actually possible to establish historical facts?

Even though it was Irving who sued Lipstadt, some people defended Irving’s right for free speech as if he were the victim or the one on trial. How could the public have been so confused about the nature of this well-publicized case?

This is because the defence’s tactic was to focus on Irving, repeat Lipstadt’s accusations at much greater length, and back them up with overwhelming evidence.

Had he won, the freedom of speech would have been seriously damaged in the UK. Even though he lost, I still had major problems publishing my book on the case because publishers were afraid he would sue them. The movie makes it clear what was at stake.

A similarly skewed perspective of history appears to be on display today at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, where you can learn that Anita Hill was a major figure in the twentieth century and Justice Clarence Thomas was an also ran.  But maybe, looking on the bright side, the museum plans a major exhibit on Thomas next year.

Nazi Resort Finally Opens Though Unfinished

Hitler had the vision for a grand seaside resort on Rügen, an island in the Baltic Sea. He spent three years building it but did not complete it before turning his attention to war efforts. For years, Germans have argued about destroying vs. preserving it for history. Now, a design company has developed most of the complex into luxury condos and will preserve a portion of it as a historic memorial.

Metropole’s Manfred Hartwig told the Daily Mail, “The past is the past. Prora may have been built by the Nazis , but it was never used by them or their soldiers. Now the place is so lovely, visitors want to get back to nature and enjoy its beauty.”

NPR explains:

The resort was owned and run by the Nazis’ Kraft Durch Freude or “Strength Through Joy” leisure movement, a state-run organization designed to promote the advantages of National Socialism to the German working class. . . .

[Developer Ulrich] Busch has opened a hotel called Prora Solitaire in one of the buildings, which also includes 150 individually owned condominiums.

Busch says even in its unfinished state, the hotel boasted an 89 percent occupancy rate this past summer. The resort, he says, appeals to Germans curious about the Nazi past and those seeking to vacation closer to home, following recent terrorist attacks elsewhere in Europe.

Recommendations on the Enlightenment in America

Thomas Kidd is not bullish on the Enlightenment. “The Enlightenment is an ideologically loaded term that implies that much of the western intellectual tradition before The Enlightenment was ‘dark.’ Much of that tradition was, of course, Christian. ‘The Enlightenment’ presupposes an arc of history toward secular democratic scientific liberalism.”

Today, he recommends five books on how this movement influenced Americans and the Founders. Here’s one of his recommendations:

Jeffry Morrison, John Witherspoon and the Founding of the American Republic (2005). From one of our finest scholars of Christianity and the Founding, I might also recommend Morrison’s volume on George Washington’s political philosophy. But here Morrison assesses the broad significance of Witherspoon, Princeton’s president and the only pastor to sign the Declaration of Independence, and his defense of the “public interest of religion.”

“Why I was wrong about Christianity”

One of the best things I’ve read in some time, from Tom Holland in NewStatesman:

The longer I spent immersed in the study of classical antiquity, the more alien and unsettling I came to find it. The values of Leonidas, whose people had practised a peculiarly murderous form of eugenics, and trained their young to kill uppity Untermenschen by night, were nothing that I recognised as my own; nor were those of Caesar, who was reported to have killed a million Gauls and enslaved a million more. It was not just the extremes of callousness that I came to find shocking, but the lack of a sense that the poor or the weak might have any intrinsic value. As such, the founding conviction of the Enlightenment – that it owed nothing to the faith into which most of its greatest figures had been born – increasingly came to seem to me unsustainable.

Read it all here.

The Birth of Religious Freedom in America

Do we have religious freedom by the generosity of our government or by our natural rights as human beings? Is it more correct to say “all Men should enjoy the fullest Toleration in the Exercise of Religion, according to the Dictates of Conscience” or “all men are equally entitled to the full and free exercise of [religion], according to the dictates of Conscience”?

Justin Taylor writes about the birth of religious freedom in the American colonies. The quoted lines above are from George Mason and James Madison respectively. “Madison’s breakthrough was the insight that since the human mind and consciences only works properly when they are uncoerced, it is therefore inherently wrong to coerce them. One should not revoke or restrict religious liberty because it is based on human reason and conscience, which cannot be revoked or restricted.”

He draws this thought from the book The Right to Be Wrong: Ending the Culture War Over Religion in America by Kevin Seamus Hasson.

The End of Democracy?

Twenty-five years ago, Francis Fukuyama argued that liberal democracy was the only viable political structure of our world and all nations would eventually adopt it out of their own interests. Some disagreed with Fukuyama, saying “the Western traditions of rights and limited government, which themselves had evolved out of Christian tradition, particularly Western Christian tradition,” were in no way universally adaptable. Democracy needs fertile ground in which to grow. Now, two political scientists are arguing that our rising generation is far less committed to democratic principles than any previous generation, even willing to accept authoritarianism in various forms. (via Prufrock News)

Norway May Give Mountain to Finland

Hyvää syntymäpäivää!

Finland is looking forward to its one hundredth birthday next year and it’s Scandinavian neighbor Norway is considering a modest gift to help celebrate. They are discussing adjusting the Norwegian border so that part of Mount Halti will be Finnish territory.

“Geophysically speaking, Mount Halti has two peaks, one Finnish and one Norwegian,” NRK, which is Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation, explained back in March. “What is proposed is that Norway gives the Finnish peak to Finland, because it is currently in Norway.”

The proposal has apparently been supported by many citizens, but the prime minister must work out the implications before wrapping the gift. Norway’s constitution may be an obstacle, due to a clause vaguely stating mountains cannot be given as birthday gifts.

Finland declared its independence from Russia on December 6, 1917. Tensions between political parties swelled over the next few weeks until igniting a brief civil war. Once stabilized, Finland became its own republic with its own president in 1919.

So yes, it’s a time to party up, and there’s plenty of fun to be had. But if hiking that particular part of Halti was all you had wanted to do when you visited Norway in a couple years, consider this list of 99 amazing things to do in Norway, such as visit a super big halibut farm, lick a glacier, and milk a goat! Sure, you could do all that on a PlayStation, but this is for real, dude.

How Was Slavery in America Abolished?

Emancipation

W.E.B. Du Bois challenged the idea that American slaves were emancipated by outside liberators with the notion of slave insurrection and self-emancipation. He painted a picture of slaves rising up against the Confederacy to undermine it while pressuring the White House to pass anti-slavery legislation. Others have taken up this line of thought to argue that slaves, in fact, started The Civil War in order to free themselves.

Allen C. Guelzo, the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era at Gettysburg College, sees many problems with this view and reviews two books for the Claremont Review of Books that demonstrate how Du Bois was wrong. Of the longer of the two, Guelzo writes:

Rael’s book is a comprehensive history of slavery’s end, well-informed, subdued in tone, and in most cases forgiving. He does not believe (as David Waldstreicher, Paul Finkelman, and George van Cleve do) that the founders were unqualified hypocrites who cunningly crafted a pro-slavery Constitution, and he is more willing than most to acknowledge that it was the rise of bourgeois notions of property rights which made property in human beings seem repulsive in an age which had abandoned hierarchy as the governing principle of social life.

Perhaps the self-emancipation idea is an attempt at self-fulfilling prophecy, the idea that if they believe they liberated themselves back then, they will liberate themselves again today. But the fact that Du Bois and others saw the need to argue for a new emancipation is evidence enough that the previous one had not be entirely of their own making. (via Prufrock News)

Is the Declaration of Independence Racist?

Dr. Thomas Kidd is now blogging at The Gospel Coalition and he responds to a charge made this week that the Declaration of Independence is a systemically racist document.

“The greatest ideal animating the American experiment is here: the notion of equality by creation.” And yet, “if people are equal before God, then how can you justify slavery? Some African Americans like American soldier and evangelical pastor Lemuel Haynes asked this question within weeks of the promulgation of the Declaration.”

Haynes wrote an essay in response to Jefferson, in which he said, “Liberty is equally as precious to a black man, as it is to a white one, and bondage equally as intolerable to the one as it is to the other.”

But is the Declaration fundamentally racist? No, though it does have troubling spots, which only makes it an imperfect document. The key idea still isn’t racist at all, even if it was originally interpreted in a way we would not today. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”

Mississippi, Lower the Confederate Flag

A South-Carolinian professor of history, who has many good reasons to celebrate his Confederate heritage, talks about the problems with the Confederate flag.

After the Civil War, the Confederate battle flag took on new meanings on the Southern landscape. It became thoroughly identified with a movement known as the Lost Cause, which sought to memorialize and preserve a collective Southern memory celebrating the Confederacy. However, as African-Americans were entering into civic spaces, running for office and voting in large numbers during Reconstruction and into the 1880s, they began to represent to Southern whites many of the great changes affecting the Southern landscape — chief among them a threat to Southern white political power. The Confederate flag began to be used publicly as a symbol that represented a return to “white rule.” Further, the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 became a legal tool to help whites regain political control through massive disenfranchisement of African-Americans. Through literacy clauses, poll taxes and interpretation clauses, African-Americans were almost entirely removed from the voting process in Mississippi until the mid-1960s. In the midst of this, attacks on African-Americans in the form of lynchings and violent intimidation attempted to keep African-Americans from political activity or challenging a new system of white control.

He recommends the state of Mississippi put this symbol behind them. “Mississippi can be a beacon to the rest of the world that love, selflessness, repentance and reconciliation can reign.”