In writing the foreword to my book about Stonewall Jackson and his black Sunday school class, Professor James I. Robertson, Jr. included the following remark:
"Williams's analyses reveal clearly that nineteenth-century religiosity, which some writers and reviewers conclude was nonsense, was in fact very much alive."
I would add that 21st century religiosity is also "very much alive" and that it is a valid perspective when approaching the study of history, despite what some (not all) bloggers, academics, and historians say. Recently, I quoted Professor Steven E. Woodworth on the same subject:
"Our worldview makes a world of difference to the way we approach history. The world is a much different place if 'all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights' than it is if all that exists is the result of chance plus time."
The notion that a Christian should leave his faith out of his interpretation is quite ridiculous and, even more troubling, are those Christians who think doing so makes their ultimate interpretation "more valid." An orthodox Christian, by definition, believes in his or her heart of hearts that Christianity embodies truth and that Christ is the very personification of truth. How does one who holds to such beliefs leave them out of something as serious as the study of history? The notion defies logic.
The secular academic or non-believer assumes that a historian who is a Christian will automatically twist or omit facts to make history comport to his particular belief system. In other words, he approaches history as a believer in Christ and will thus reject anything that appears to be in conflict with his beliefs. Interestingly enough, the opposite happened with me. Though I am not a professional historian, I've been fascinated by history since I was a child - in this order: Virginia history, WBTS history, Colonial period history, Church history, and the history of Western civilization. In my own experience, it was through reading and studying history that I began to question my belief system which, at the time, was Darwinist. It was partly through reading history that I became a Christian. And, I believe, it is what enables me to so easily see through those who approach history through a Darwinist, humanistic lense and apply their belief system to their interpretation, all the while claiming complete objectivity.
Of course, I'm not the only one who has had this kind of experience. One of the most fascinating experiences, and somewhat similar to mine, was the conversion to *Catholicism by the well-respected historian, Elizabeth Fox-Genovese (1941-2007). Her background and story are a perfect fit for what is often discussed here on this blog. Fox-Genovese was, until later in life, an admitted Marxist and, by her own testimony, a strident feminist. She was a person of the left and made no attempt to hide or disguise her views. She was, in many ways, the epitome of the modern American academic. She was widely published and has written extensively on the antebellum South and slavery. Though she claims to have grown up a "nominal" Christian, it was not until late in life that she actually embraced Christianity as absolute truth and, in her words, took "Jesus Christ as . . . personal savior and, no less important, as Lord."
Her experience inside academia is instructive as to how academia, as an institution and environment, approaches history and how it looks at those who reject relativism, Darwinism, and humanism as a belief system, along with the political philophies that accompany those belief systems. (Yes, we all have a belief system to one degree or another, whether you believe it or not. Sorry, but neutrality is not an option.) While critics of those who - like myself - approach history from a Christian worldview suggest our views are invalid because we view history through the lense of faith; they, at the same time, would have us believe they don't bring a belief system to the study of history. Fox-Genovese's experience is just one illustration that proves otherwise.
In 2000, Fox-Genovese discussed this journey in a published piece titled A Conversion Story. It is a must read for anyone interested in this subject matter, regardless of which side of the debate you're on. Here are a few choice quotes (All emphasis is mine.):
". . . they [other religions] do not carry Christianity’s taint of having long figured as the religion of a male European elite that allegedly used its faith to cow others into submission."
For what group do so many academics seem to have the most animosity? You've already answered the question in your own mind.
"For secular academics, the language and practice of faith belong to an alien world. Not understanding faith, they are ill prepared to understand conversion to it. Having long participated in the reigning discourse of secular intellectuals, I understand all too well where they are coming from . . . more important, however, my long apprenticeship in their world allows me to reflect upon their unreflective assumptions, for those assumptions cut a broad swath through our culture as a whole, challenging faith at every turn. So firm is their hold upon our culture that they are imperceptibly permeating the fabric of faith itself, constantly challenging the faithful to justify and rejustify our beliefs."
Unreflective. Conformists who are locked in to their belief system and not as open-minded in "embracing diversity" as they claim.
"The story of modernity has arguably been one of the marginalization and discrediting of belief, or, perhaps more accurately, its relegation to the realm of radical subjectivity. Modernity, in other words, has systematically divorced faith from moral and intellectual authority."
Marginalizing believers and claiming they are "anti-intellectual" is a favorite tactic of moderns in academia. In doing so, you don't have to give any serious weight or consideration to their arguments.
"In the postmodernist universe, all claims of universal certainty must be exposed as delusions, leaving the individual as authoritative arbiter of the meaning that pertains to his or her situation. Thus, what originated as a struggle to discredit pretensions to intellectual authority has ended, at least in the American academy, in a validation of personal prejudice and desire."
You can read the whole piece by Fox-Genovese here. Her experience, along with her stature as an academic, presents a strong argument that worldviews have great influence on our approach to history and that much of academia is as committed to their worldview as many Christians are committed to theirs.
*As a Baptist, I have fundamental doctrinal disagreements with Catholicism, but Fox-Genovese's experience is nonetheless instructive and illustrative for the purposes of this blog. Her honesty and openness is quite refreshing.