Apparently, Henry Ford said, “Say, what do I care about Napoleon? What do we care about what they did 500 or 1,000 years ago? It means nothing to me. History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker’s dam is the history we make today.”
University professor Steve Mason goes a step further: “To say that history teaches us lessons is a misleading and dangerous statement”
During the Second World War, C.S. Lewis spoke at many gatherings of those in the armed forces. He was always a popular speaker, but he sometimes found the response he received to be limited. When asked what he found the most difficult aspect of addressing these gatherings, he replied “A lack of a sense of history”.
I am not certain what Steve Mason has achieved (and as that is history, perhaps I should ignore it), but it I do acknowledge that Henry Ford transformed the motor industry and built an awful lot of cars.
As far as I am aware, C.S.Lewis’s chosen method of transport was walking whenever possible and he never built a car in his life. What I do know, is that in a survey at the end of last Century, a couple of hundred leading Christian thinkers and speakers were asked to list the people who had been most influential in their life. There were a couple of categories, but Lewis was rated in the top three in both of them.
Henry Ford and Steve Mason are probably both closer to the present trends in thinking in our society, but I believe they are both wrong.
One thing that history teaches us, is that the view of history as unreliable and unworthy of note, is of comparatively recent origin. It is not that I wish to infer that the present cannot teach us anything, but it does sometime seem that those who disdain the lessons of the past often ignore the possible lessons of the present as well. It is surely not a question of choosing between learning from now or then, and in any case, by tomorrow, now will be then as well. Those who set their hearts and minds to learn, can generally do so from any situation; past present or even in some circumstances, future.
For a follower of Jesus, who takes the bible seriously, it is not possible to ignore the fact that not only is most of the bible itself history, but that within it, it includes a good deal of reference to earlier historical events as well. It is also hard to ignore the fact that most of the great Christian thinkers have done their thinking within an historical framework of reference. Nor should we overlook the fact, that in sharing with others what God has done in our lives, we are simply recounting history, albeit on a small and personal scale.
The history of the Church offers significant opportunities for learning, and through that, developing our faith. Most revivals have been stirred by the record of previous revivals, and many potential dangerous mistakes have been avoided by recognising the mistakes that others have made in the past.
If C.S.Lewis was able to identify a lack of a sense of history as one of the barriers to the reception of the claims of Christianity, it might be worth reflecting on the spiritual condition of those who emphasise the now, as having far more significance than the lessons we might learn from the past.