I’ve been intrigued as of late as to how we judge things now. Specifically, there seems an increasing trend to apply filters from today to assess circumstances from before. There seems diminishing room for the allowance of the truth that “we don’t know what we don’t know” — meaning our predecessors on this planet did not know then all that we know now. And so we’re tempted to re-examine circumstances centuries old through a contemporary lens.
Is that right? Is it wrong? Does it provide an accurate perspective?
There are so many examples here — and I write this hesitantly, knowing we really won’t do the entire topic justice — but let’s quickly take note of two examples from last week, before applying the lens question further…
In Charlottesville, Virginia, the city council voted to remove Thomas Jefferson’s birthday as a local holiday. With Jefferson’s prominent place in American history in addition to being the founder of the University of Virginia, he has long been especially revered in our 10th state. He also owned large numbers of slaves and reportedly fathered children with another slave after his wife passed away. In a separate council vote, they then declared the city will instead celebrate “Liberation and Freedom Day,” marking the emancipation of the enslaved at the end of the Civil War.
Also last week, Nike, Inc. pulled a shoe from the shelves. The sneaker featured the “Betsy Ross Flag,” promoted with the 4th of July. First unveiled in 1792, this flag is one of 27 designs our country has utilized over the course of our existence, used primarily for celebrations of our nation’s birthday. It has been prominently displayed at multiple presidents’ inaugurations, including at the first inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009. Nike pulled the flag at the urging of athlete/activist Colin Kaepernick, who said the design was offensive because of the flag’s perceived association with an era of slavery and with some white supremacist groups.
So how do we walk through this wisely? How do we respect and learn from history without discounting all that’s associated with history?
Modern scholars find things now that we didn’t realize were bad then. I am pondering, therefore, if the previous lack of awareness justifies now diminishing the worth of an era, person, or person’s contributions. And then we go further…
Are we picking and choosing? Are we picking and choosing when to be offended and what we will discount and disregard?
Let’s go to another era, but still acknowledging racial sensitivity and how hurtful that has been to so many… to 1859 to be exact…
I recently came across a bewildering insight within the works of Charles Darwin. While Darwin never seemed to deny the existence of God in some way, contemporary atheists have given Darwin credit for making it possible “to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.” Darwin’s perceived signature work, “On the Origin of Species,” has specifically substantiated the atheistic reasoning.
The book and its concepts are taught at educational institutions across the globe. As one who believes science and faith totally go together and actually support one another, I respect and appreciate the academic banter of what may be true and what may be not.
But I wonder if those who advocate for the entirety of assertions within Darwin’s work would think the same if the book’s complete title was instead used. I wonder if it would be so widely acclaimed… or if our contemporary lens could/should again be applied…
Would that be right? Would it be wrong? Would the lens provide an accurate perspective?
The complete title of Darwin’s book is as follows:
“On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life”
Darwin believed that some races were evolutionary superior.
Friends, there is so much we don’t know; this is a complex topic, and by no means is the Intramuralist an expert. More than anything, here we ask questions and encourage the always asking of more.
But when a contemporary lens magnifies the ignorance and/or foolishness of those of our predecessors, what are we to do?
And… we must also humbly ask…
What will future generations say about us?