As I get older for some reason I am more and more interested in history. I recently listened to the Bloodlands and a lecture series on Russian history. I recommend both. I think I was more surprised by Bloodlands which I listened to first. I was not aware that Germany and Russia had basically agreed how to divide Poland and other Eastern European countries before Hitler invaded Poland. After listening to the Bloodlands I see no moral difference between Hitler and Stalin.
I first became interested in History for largely apologetic reasons. I wanted to learn about the Crusades, Medieval history and early Christian history. As I read the history I certainly found plenty of ammunition that can be used for any side if one wants to do that. That’s true whether we are talking about Muslim versus Christian, or Atheist versus Christian, or even Christian versus Christian in regards to the reformation. Reading history for those reasons, or at least mainly for those reasons, lost it’s luster.
People say you can learn “lessons” from history. I am not so sure or at least I think people might take that too far. They strain comparisons of today’s events with those of history. History is a one time thing. It’s not going to repeat itself exactly and it will always be controversial to claim that this current event is just like some event from the past. It is very difficult to try to speculate about causes of certain events. Like why did Stalin and Hitler end up leading their countries? I like many people like to draw my own conclusions. I think I can better sort out the good from the bad in people based on experiences I live directly or vicariously through reading history. But I have read enough history (and lived enough life) that I also know that many of my previous theories weren’t right after all. So concocting theories about human behavior is part of the reason I like history but its not an entirely satisfactory answer.
Sure what I learn in history is truth, and I value the truth for its own sake. But certain truths are more important than others. For example it seems facts dealing with morality are more important than just descriptive facts. So it seems somehow more important that the truth about the secret Soviet and German agreement to divide Poland is revealed, than whether or not Stalin had siblings. Finding out who was really responsible for the Katyn massacre seemed more significant despite the fact that those who were responsible are now dead.
I also read history for the same reason I read current events. It can be interesting. Current events that I read about in the paper might have some impact on my life, but really it’s pretty rare that learning about them will change my behavior very much. The events of history are yesterdays headlines and are even less likely to change my behavior, but they are usually much more interesting and surprising.
From the philosophical and religious perspective that this blog usually takes, is it important whether or not Hitler was a Christrian? Does it matter that Stalin was atheist? Does it matter that Christians have done wrong? I think the answers are somewhat more complicated than I thought when I originally took an interest in history.