2016.Episode 17~Why Study History?

Colosseum

There have been few generations as ignorant of history as ours. What are some benefits to studying the past?  Isn’t it a waste of time to look at what happen 1,000 years ago and expect to learn from it? In this podcast I explain how the study of the past can benefit us.

Leadership Lessons from Winston Churchill

Paul Johnson’s epilogue to Churchill is the best part of the book. In a few short pages he describes what made Winston Churchill such a great leader and a man who took Britain through some of the darkest years in her history. First, though he lists Churchill’s accomplishments, which are impressive.

In his ninety years, Churchill had spent fifty-five years as member of Parliament, thirty one years as a minister, and nearly nine years as prime minister. He had been present at or fought in fifteen battles, and had been awarded fourteen campaign medals, some with multiple clasps.  He had been a prominent figure in the First World War, and a dominant one in the Second. He had published nearly 10  million words, more than most professional writers in their lifetime, and painted over five hundred canvases, more than most professional painters. He had reconstructed a stately home and created a splendid garden with three lakes, which he had caused to be dug himself. He had built a cottage and a garden wall. He was a fellow of the Royal Society, an Elder Brother at Trinity House, a Lord Warden of Cinque Ports, a Royal Academician, a university chancellor, a Nobel Prizeman [for Literature], a Knight of the Garter, a Companion of Honour, and a member of the Order of Merit. Scores of towns made him an honorary citizen, dozens of universities awarded him honorary degrees, and thirteen countries gave him medals. He hunted big game and won a score of races. How many bottles of champagne he consumed is not recorded, but it may be close to twenty thousand. He had a large and much-loved family, and countless friends. 

So Winston Churchill led a full life, and few people are ever likely to equal it-its amplitude, variety and success on so many fronts.

Johnson doesn’t mention in this section, but Churchill also gave many of the most memorable speeches in the history of Britain.  But what were the keys to Churchill’s success. Johnson lists five lessons we can learn from Churchill’s life.

1.  Always aim high. Johnson mentions his failure at school, yet his persistence in learning the English language, which gave him the ability to write well and give great speeches.

In 1940 [Churchill] aimed not only high but at the highest-to rescue a stricken country in danger of being demoralized, to put it firmly on its feet again, and to carry it to salvation and victory. He did not always meet his elevated targets, but by aiming high the always achieved something worthwhile. 

2.  There is no substitute for hard work.

He worked hart at everything to the best of his ability: Parliament, administration, geopolitics and geostrategy, writing books, painting, creating an idyllic house and garden, seeing things and if possible doing things for himself. Mistakes he made constantly, but there was never anything shoddy or idle about his work. He put tremendous energy into everything, and was able to to this because…he conserved and husbanded his energy too. There is an extraordinary paradox about his white, apparently flabby body and the amount of muscle power he put into life, always. 

3. “He did not allow mistakes, disaster-personal or national-accidents, illnesses, unpopularity, and criticism get him down.” Johnson considers this his most important trait. Johnson writes about many of Churchill’s humiliations, defeats, and periods of unpopularity. Churchill did not allow those things to discourage or keep him down for long.

He scrambled to his feet and worked his way back. He had courage, the most important of all virtues, and its companion, fortitude. These strengths are inborn but they can also be cultivated, and Churchill worked on them all his life. In a sense his whole career was  an exercise in how courage can be displayed, reinforced, guarded and doled out carefully, heightened and concentrated, conveyed to others. 

4. Here I will quote from Johnson:

Churchill wasted an extraordinarily small amount of his time and emotional energy on the meannesses of life: recrimination, shifting blame to others, malice, revenge seeking, dirty tricks, spreading rumors, harboring grudges, waging vendettas. Having fought hard, he washed his hands and went on to the next contest. It is one reason for his success. There is nothing more draining and exhausting than hatred. And malice is bad for judgment. Churchill love to forgive and  make up. His treatment of Baldwin and Chamberlain after he became prime minister is an object lesson in sublime magnanimity. Nothing gave him more pleasure than to replace enmity with friendship, not least with the Germans.

5. “The absence of hatred left plenty of room for joy in Churchill’s life.”  Churchill despite embarrassing failures and blunders and despite living in a time when Britain’s existence was in question never failed to have a joke or a quote. He also love to sing, though not in tune. “He wept easily. But his tears soon dried, as strength came flooding back.”

Many of us now 70 years removed from the end of the Second World War forget what a pivotal time that was in the history of the world. Not all was done well. Some things that were done should not have been. And some things should have been done that were not. However, great leaders like Churchill, are lifted up by God to perform an important work in the world. He uses them and gives them gifts that we can learn from. When World War II ended Churchill was seventy years old. God had used him to preserve Britain. Any of us who lead can be students of this man and learn from his mistakes and successes.

Individual Rights are Anachronistic

Stephen Clark on why saying that women did not have full rights in traditional societies is historically anachronistic. All is his except what I put in the brackets.

A second historical error [made by feminists] is the view that women have been deprived of full human rights since the beginning of human society and have only won these rights within the past two centuries-since the beginning of movements for women’s rights. In the past two centuries women have attained equal access to education; full rights to inherit, own, sell, and control property; full rights of citizenship; and access to most professions with equal compensation. Women may not always be treated equally with men in these areas, but these rights have a fundamental legal and moral recognition. To be sure, women in most societies did not have these “rights” before 1900. However, this is because traditional society made little or no use of the category of “individual rights” for anyone-men or women.  This concept is an aspect of the shift from a society based on relational groupings to a society based on a mass of individuals…Before the advent of technological society, men did not have these “individual rights” either; the structure of traditional society made these rights a meaningless category. Traditional society was based instead on the rights of relational groupings [Think classes, guilds, wealth, family ancestry, etc.] and the position of men and women formed their personal relationships within these groupings. 

Later he adds:

The purpose of this discussion of women’s rights is not to assert that women always received better treatment in a traditional society than in technological society. Such comparisons are difficult to make. Rather the key point here is that “individual rights” is an inappropriate category for making historical comparison between the status of women in traditional and technological society.  

It is easy to take a contemporary way of thinking and apply it to all men throughout history. However, this is a grave error.  Our fathers and mothers did not think like we do. If we assume they did we do not really learn to understand them.

The more I read the more convinced I am that the fundamental shift in the last 200 years has been from a society composed of groups that contain individuals who identified with those groups, were loyal to those groups, and lived within the parameters set by those groups to a society that is composed of a mass of individuals who easily cross lines from group to group with little loyalty to anyone but themselves.  I am no longer Peter, husband of Julie, father of Sam, Will, Ben, Calvin, Amelia, Cecily, Elijah, and Bronwyn, son of Jerry Jones, grandson of Nils Jones, a Protestant American Southerner loyal to my country, family and church. Now I am just Peter the isolated. I could be anyone or no one. I have no creed, no country, no family, no political party, no race, and no gender. I am not saying that family or country loyalty is everything. But when we can’t even be loyal to the body parts we are born with there is a problem.

Book Review: Unbroken

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and RedemptionUnbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Both of my teenage boys beat me to this one, but I finally got around to it. A fantastic read that reminds me of what good war books do: show us man’s darkness and man’s courage. It never ceases to amaze me what a man can endure and what one man can do to another. I also did not realize how brutal the Japanese were to their prisoners. I really enjoyed her sections on how the prisoners kept their humanity by disrupting the Japanese war effort. I wish she had spent more time on his post-conversion years, but other than that a wonderful read.

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Book Review: Godly Seed

Godly Seed: American Evangelicals Confront Birth Control, 1873-1973Godly Seed: American Evangelicals Confront Birth Control, 1873-1973 by Allan C Carlson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is my first Carlson book, though I have read many of his articles. Carlson plots the change in the evangelical view of birth control from 1873 and the Comstock laws to 1973 and Roe v. Wade. It is a very dense book, with a lot of end notes. I would love to see an expansion of some of the themes. Also Carlson does not give any real clear answers as to what we should do. Yet it is clear he thinks we have gone astray on this issue. Several things stood out to me.

First, this is a very short amount of time for such a dramatic change in Christian views of sexuality.

Second, Christianity Today played a substantial role in making birth control acceptable among evangelical Christians.

Third, soft eugenics and postmillenialism played a large part in the acceptance of birth control between 1915 and WWII. After that the key factor for evangelicals was the population explosion. Billy Graham, as well as many other Christians, used the coming population explosion as sufficient proof that we need to use birth control.

Fourth, prior to 1973 abortion and birth control were linked by evangelicals. Their acceptance of birth control led to many leaders also considering if not outright supporting abortion. After Roe v. Wade views on abortion were revisited and modified. However, the birth control issue was not.

Fifth, the elevation of companionship as the primary reason for marriage was a key component in getting evangelicals to accept birth control.

Finally, Margaret Sanger and later Christianity Today used the Roman Catholic-Protestant divide to get Protestants to accept birth control.

I found the book very fascinating with a lot of excellent detail. For example, Carlson got access to boxes of notes, etc. at Christianity Today that have not been published. He also does a good job in showing the shifts in mindset that resulted in certain practical outcomes. I am looking forward to doing more reading on the subject, but this was a good start.

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Washing With the Water of the Word

I found the statement below by Charles Hodge to be fascinating for two reasons. First, he thinks Ephesians 5:26 refers to baptism. But second, and perhaps more surprising, is his view of church history. I agree with him on both accounts.

“Commentators, however, almost without exception, understand the expression in the text to refer to baptism.  The great majority of them, with Calvin and the other Reformers,  do not even discuss the question, or seem to admit any other interpretation to be possible.  The same view is taken by all the  modern exegetical writers.  This unanimity of opinion is itself almost decisive.  Nothing short of  a stringent necessity can justify any one in setting forth an interpretation opposed to this common consent of Christians. No such necessity exists.  Baptism is a washing with water.  It is the washing with which Paul’s readers as Christians were familiar, and which could not fail to occur to them as the washing intended. Besides, nothing more is here attributed to baptism than is attributed  to it in many passages of the Word of God. Compare particularly Acts 22:16.  There can be little doubt, therefore, that by ‘the washing with water’ the apostle meant baptism.” Charles Hodge Commentary on Ephesians, p. 233. Italics are his.

Primacy of the State?

“Most history textbooks presuppose the primacy of the State over the Church, and in fact, they presuppose the State over al other institutions. Most history texts are products subsidized by the State apparatus. Forms of government, names of rulers, and laws enacted form the bulk of the text. In cases where the Christian Church became a bit too pushy-as was all too often the cases in the middle ages-the books lean toward the side of civil government over the Church. The rise of nation states and absolute monarchs rescued mankind from the Church. In some cases, voting rights are exalted over theological truths. It does not matter that Puritan women were taught the truth about Christ; they could not vote in colonial Massachusetts.” Ben House, Punic Wars and Culture Wars, p. 19