From the Editor—Friday Reflections

The Size of History

The Friday Reflection by James M. Kushiner

October 16th, 2020

"Every generation is equidistant from eternity."

Today, there are two completely different ways of looking at history. One is the majority "progressive" modern view. The minority "traditional" view goes back to the Hebrews of the Old Testament and runs through the centuries of the Christian era. In this view, God judges the nations and individuals. This view is rejected as unenlightened and obsolete, relegated to being a merely private "religious" view that warrants neither voice nor influence in secular society. There is no God who sees.

The ubiquity of the modern view explains the growing comfort that an increasing number of politicians have in openly questioning whether a devout Christian who holds traditionally Christian views should be allowed to hold public office. Many now even label traditional Christian views of morality as revealed by this God as bigotry and hatred.

The modern majority view is that history is a linear flow of time that has its purpose only in its end somewhere in the future. It is at base evolutionary, viewing all that has preceded the present day as prelude to something better. In this, modern man flatters himself. The progressive thinks that the modern age in which we live is, in every way worth caring about, superior to previous ages, just as the most recent species is an improvement over supposed earlier species.

Herbert Butterfield in his classic work Christianity and History, based on radio talks he gave in 1949 for the BBC, argued that we must not "regard the lives of our forefathers as mere means to an end" and "stop regarding the Anglo-Saxons as mere links in a chain leading to us, mere precursors, significant only because of what they contributed to the modern world."

He insists that each generation is an end in itself, "a world of people existing in their own right." For "every generation is equidistant from eternity." That's the key.

Progressives reject his view:

"So the purpose of life is not in the far future, nor, as we so often imagine, around the next corner, but the whole of it is here and now, as fully as ever it will be on this planet. It is always a 'Now' that is in direct relation to eternity—not a far future; always immediate experience of life that matters in the last resorty—not historical constructions . . . or imagined visions of some prosperity that is going to be the heir of all ages." (p. 66)

History is more like a Beethoven symphony: "the point of it is not saved up until the end." Every proceeding doesn't exist merely for the last bar. Each note is as valuable as any other note. Thus,

"We envisage history in the proper light, therefore, if we say that each generationy—indeed each individualy—exists for the glory of God; but one of the most dangerous things in life is to subordinate human personality to production, to the state, even to civilisation itself, to anything but the glory of God." (p. 67)

To subordinate one's soul to the state, economics, politics or culture is to render unto Caesar the things that are God's. It is servitude, entered into perhaps in exchange for prestige, self-esteem, power, or sexual license.

Those who hold to the "progressive" view must always be anxious to remain "on the right side of history," which has no anchor in moral truth but is merely flux, subject to mobs and thievery. All that matters is that you applaud and ride the popular moving train of history to its destination.

There is no "right side of history;" there is only the right and the wrong side of the Holy One, as our actions are judged in the light of eternal and absolute moral truth. But in the 1970s, many elite leaders, educators, media personalities, and politicians decided that morality should not be taught because it was merely "personal." Or "socially constructed" as it goes.

Today's progressives promise gold as they rush down the yellow-brick road, a road which you can only travel if you leave Kansas behind, that is, if you abandon the real world for the Land of Oz. God sees the real world of men, created for living the Truth. He sent his Son to make the point stick. Christ is the Crossroad of history and the Door to eternity.

Yours for Christ, Creed & Culture,

James M. Kushiner
Executive Director, The Fellowship of St. James

—James M. Kushiner is Executive Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, and Executive Director of The Fellowship of St. James.