On Calvin and Columbus
As is our new habit, the articles all took a historical figure, imported him into the 21st century, and situated him on one side or the other of our current political divide.
Thus, history, politics, and truth, all suffered at the hands of our current soul sickness.
The left scourged him as a slave trader and a murderous knave.
The right championed him as a brave adventurer who opened the New World to colonialism that lead to the birth of America.
Both sides made sure that they spat at the other.
No one dared suggest that both sides had more than a little truth to them.
This is old ground to me because I am a Calvinist.
John Calvin is perhaps the most divisive figure in Christian history.
The Reformed hold him up as a great theologian and a civic innovator.
The non Reformed only speak of the execution of Servetus.
Neither side captures a true historical portrait of who the man really was.
What has happened to both Calvin and Columbus is that they have become symbols of greater ideals in a culture far removed from the ones they actually lived in.
Symbols by their nature are only useful when they have a singular meaning, thus remarkable men are reduced to one dimensional caricatures of who they were.
When we transform men into symbols we rob their legacies of all meaning except that one which we want them to represent.
We lose the ability to learn from both their weaknesses and their strengths, their triumphs and their failures.
We twist the truth about real historical figures to suit our own agendas and in doing so deny the whole truth about them…and ourselves.
All people, whether great or small are complex combinations of good and bad, the sacred and the profane.
Few of us rise above our cultural norms and the times we dwell in.
We could learn much that transforms us from the lives of both men…or we can continue to make toy soldiers out of them them to continue our wars of division.
Those who neglect history…or twist it…are doomed to repeat it.