Monday, July 28, 2008

The Whig Narrative of History: Secular Creationism (Part III)

(This is the continuation of a series of posts. See here and here.)

If all that was at stake with the Whig narrative was how one understood the Middle Ages and the rise of the modern world then the Whig narrative could be pushed off as just an esoteric issue for historians to discuss with no relevance to the world as we live in it. While I, as with most historians, am not a believer in the notion that history can give us direct answers to modern day problems, the Whig narrative has direct implications for how we live today. It forms the cornerstone for the secular narrative for today’s world. The modern day secularist sees himself as walking in the footsteps of the likes of Galileo, Isaac Newton, Voltaire and Benjamin Franklin. He fights on the side of reason, tolerance and freedom against the intolerant religious fundamentalist, who is the heir to the medieval Church. At stake is the very future of humanity. Either we will march on to a new, even greater, age of Enlightenment or we shall sink into a new dark age.

While narratives are not logical arguments, they create an overarching structure that link specific issues together and lend them a moral force that otherwise would not exist. For example there are many specific fronts in the religious versus secular culture conflict such as abortion, prayer in public schools, evolution and sex education. These are all very specific issues with many technical elements and which there are many possible positions that intelligent people of good will might take. In addition each side has its underlying narrative. For religious conservatives that narrative is that they are the defenders of traditional values and of a religious tradition now under assault by a secular atheist materialist culture. For those on the secular side the narrative is, as I pointed out, that they are fighting for reason against oppression.

These narratives have little to do with the particular issues in questions and therefore to refute the narrative of one side or the other would hardly mean the end of our culture war. It would, though, undermine the overarching moral structure that lends authority to a given side. What I say should not be taken as support for the conservative narrative, though for now my focus is on the secular narrative. As I see it, a major weakness of the secular position, one that people of faith have yet to properly exploit, is that the secular narrative is dependent on the Whig narrative of history. Remove the Whig narrative and the secular narrative collapses.

What we have is an entire secular establishment dependent upon a narrative of history that has been rejected by the historical community for the better part of a century. I believe that this is something that is important and that it offers an opportunity to change the dynamics of the religious versus secular conflict. In future posts I hope to offer some practical suggestions as to how to successfully use this issue within the public sphere. As part of this effort I also intend to go into some depth to explain, as a historian, what is so problematic about the Whig narrative; why someone who holds it cannot be viewed as a legitimate historian, but most be viewed as either ignorant or as an ideologue trying to push his views under the veneer of history. Finally, as it is my particular field of study, at some point down the line I intend to explore the Whig narrative in terms of how it has affected the study of Jewish history.

1 comment:

Cwoff said...

Excellent stuff Benzion!

I'm reading God and Gold at the moment and wanted to read up on the Whig Narrative.

Of course you've yet to explicitly state what it is... but an entertaining read nonetheless.

You'll feature in my google reader!