The Fear of History’s Memory

A popular phrase thrown around these days is, “Being on the right side of history.” It’s a bully’s phrase and intellectually cheap. There’s no reason given as to why you should go with a position or why it’s right, all you need to know is that if you take that side history will look kindly on you.

While this phrase seemingly gives the speaker the moral high ground, it also exposes a fear; a fear they’ve succumbed to and are preying upon to win you over. It’s a funny fear when you stop to think about it. In our hyperconscious society it should be no surprise that the fear has manifested itself so strongly and been picked up as a rallying cry by whichever group tries to convince others of their validity.

This fear is concerned with how history will remember us. Many Americans these days look back on their national past with horror. Slavery, racism, mistreatment of Native Americans, wars, corruption, etc. We remember these things and judgmentally look down on our ancestors as mindless Neanderthals. Granted, these are things that shouldn’t be condoned, but the spread of today’s new fear takes things to ridiculous levels.

The problem with “the right side of history”, in terms of applying it to current causes, is that we have no idea how the future will react. How will coming generations look back on ours? We assume that the future will have the same moral standing that we do. But will this be the case? Things considered acceptable 50 years ago are now shunned. The culture has changed, the values have changed. The “right side” 50 years ago is now more in the middle.

So the subjective nature of human society undermines “the right side of history” argument. Abortionists may now look askance at pro-life advocates, but in another century abortion may be fully condemned. Gay marriage may be extolled now, but by century’s end maybe it will be seen as a pointless idea. We cannot control the future and so we cannot control what the future thinks of us. The only frantic hope the current generation can have is to assume what history will smile upon and dive head-first into the bandwagon.

In the end, the cheap phrase falls in on itself. With no objective standard to hold to, with constantly shifting morality, the fear of what history thinks is impossible to satisfy. A clear standard needs to be set, something unchangeable and timeless. As a Christian, I believe this to be the Bible as given by the eternal and changeless God who lets me know exactly what He thinks about certain issues now and forever.

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