I have recently become acutely aware of the lack of historical context in which most people live their lives, particularly Christians. Neil Postman makes this point in Amusing Ourselves to Death, ch 9, showing how television militates against a life informed by the past.
Taking Thomas Carlyle’s comment “the past is a world, and not a void of grey haze,” he concludes that the past “is not only a world but a living world. It is the present that is shadowy.” (p. 136)
The immediacy of television has its addicts living in an ever present present, trapping us for, as Postman says, it “permits no access to the past” (p. 136). What a difference true Christian faith makes in the life of a believer. We constantly read from a book which is unashamedly about the past. We are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses (Heb 11,12). And week by week we are called to remember our Saviour who though ever-living, achieved our salvation within the confines of history past.
Postman takes issues with Czeslaw Milosz’s conclusion that we are an age characterized by a “refusal to remember”. Rather, he says, “we are being rendered unfit to remember” (p. 137).
The spirit of such an age and culture strikes at the very heart of Christian faith, for without historical context we have nothing to believe. Christianity is tied to history, and the ability to remember. If we become infected by our culture’s inability to remember we may regard ourselves as people of faith, but we will no longer be confessors of The Faith.
Whenever we affirm the Creed (in whatever form out Christian tradition couches it), we confess to believing in specific historical events. Strip them from the Creed and we believe in … we can’t remember what.