“Who controls the past controls the future” said George Orwell when he described the totalitarian state. Writing during the rise of Communism, he pointed out that if you can rewrite or even erase the past, you can help people forget who they are and forge a new future.
Revising history lies at the heart of all social and political revolutions. Perhaps the best example is the bloody cultural revolution in China between 1966 and 1976. Mao Zedong decreed that China was to rid itself of all traces of capitalistic Western influence. The Red Guards took to the streets and monuments were destroyed, Western literature was burned and buildings renamed, along with new designations given for cities and streets to reflect contemporary heroes. Churches were either destroyed or repurposed. Either you sided with the new Marxist standard of justice and equality or you did not. Those who didn't were either jailed or killed.
Arthur Schlesinger, a historian and former confidant to President John F. Kennedy observed: “History is to the nation much as memory is to the individual. The individual who loses his memory doesn't know where he came from or where he's going and he becomes dislocated and disoriented. I might add that an individual who has lost his memory can be manipulated into believing he is whoever someone else says he is.”
When mob mentality overtakes a country, apparently no one can stop them. Milan Kundera, a well-known Czech writer and historian who opposed the Soviet takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and the author of the book The Velvet Revolution of 1989, wrote about a conversation he had with a friend: “My all-but-blind friend Milan Hübl came to visit me one day in 1971 in my tiny apartment in Bartolomejska Street. We looked out the window at the spires and were sad. 'The first step in liquidating a people' he said, 'is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture and its history. Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long the nation will forget what it is and what it was'. He was correct. Once the past has been destroyed we can expect a new culture and a new history to emerge: we will forget who we once were, and who we are.”
Visualise yourself stepping out the door of an impressive sixteenth-century building and walking along the street. When you look back, you can clearly see where your trip originated. But suppose you turn a corner. Now when you look back, you see a twenty-first-century building that bears no resemblance to the building from which you came. The secularists are insisting that we turn a corner so that we lose sight of the Judeo-Christian influence of our past, and if we do choose to look back they want us to see our religious history as a blotch, not a blessing. They want us to substitute their worldview in the place of our historic religious roots, knowing that if we lose our history we will lose our future – a future they wish to control.
All historians select what they believe is most important about the past and what should be ignored, but it's unfair to approach history with an agenda to promote when the facts say otherwise. Racism and various other sins are equally distributed among all the peoples of the world. We must distinguish the positive contributions from the negative and the victories from the losses regardless of which groups are being discussed. Perhaps we should remember that the Germany that gave us Hitler is also the Germany that gave us the moveable printing press. The same Germany gave us the Reformation that was the seed from which freedom of conscience grew. Martin Luther awakened awareness of the priesthood of the believer and the rights of individual conscience, which eventually resulted in freedom of religion. The England that is so widely criticised for its imperialism is the country that gave us the Magna Carta, which presented the novel idea that even the king should be subject to the law. It is England that gave us John Wycliffe, who insisted that the Bible be translated into English and to be made available to all who wanted to read it. It is England that gave us William Wilberforce, whose efforts to end slavery in England and beyond were successful.
What do we as Christians do when the history of our country is being rewritten or even deleted? How do we respond when the cultural ground beneath us is shifting? Our calling and privilege is to represent Christ in this turbulent moment in history. This is not a time for us to deny the negative parts of our history and paint a picture that ignores the sins and racism of the past: we can learn from history without having to destroy it. How many children will receive a better education in our schools should monuments be destroyed? These monuments are a part of our history and should serve as teaching opportunities that both warn and instruct us: “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11.3). There is no doubt that Christianity in our country has been beneficial to its Judeo-Christian roots, but we must now learn to survive without this support. If we respond correctly, the church can grow stronger even as our cultural supports grow weaker.
When Jesus made the statement “On this rock I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” He was standing in Caesaria Philippi, the centre of pagan worship. So, standing on pagan ground, Jesus told His listeners that He would build a multinational community. This church would be neither black nor white, Western nor Eastern. Jesus was – and still is – building a community where cultures and races meet at the foot of the cross. We as Christians play a role in the survival and continuing impact of the church. Consider what Jesus wrote to the church in Ephesus. He commended their works and endurance, after which He countered this by telling them that they had left their first love, to remember from where they had fallen, and to repent.