I am not at all suggesting that everything in our past is worthy of praise. Examples abound of our shame over our past and these ought to be challenged and rejected. That said, we do not spend much time sifting through our past to distinguish the good from the bad. We have chosen instead to throw the baby out with the bathwater. History has become itself our shame and embarrassment. So instead of spending our time looking carefully at the past and discerning what is good and worthy and what is not, we worry about renaming old institutions once dedicated to the memory of people who turned out to be flawed. Are we surprised by this? Is it impossible for us to believe that individuals of great wisdom, intellect, and accomplishment also owned slaves? Does one sin render them ineligible as teachers from whom we might learn? Note I am not at all suggesting that slavery was anything but a blight upon our national conscience then and now. That said, however, how does it advance the cause of learning and make us wise to smear these giants of our past and silence their wisdom to hear only their foolishness, folly, and faults?
We have decided with Henry Ford that history is bunk. So we spend our days distancing ourselves from our past. Instead of growing in wisdom or becoming greater intellects, instead we have become snobs who insist that we know best about everything, far better than those who lived before us. We do this by insisting that the constitution must be a living document into which we read our own values and by ignoring what the words actually mean or the founders intended. We do this by standing as the skeptic over history wondering whether Lincoln was really the larger than life president who began our rescue from slavery's shame or whether the Jesus of history was anything like the Jesus of Scripture. It is the same presumption that we know better today and can judge more clearly the past (a judgement which seems designed to do little more than raise questions and doubts).
We have become as a nation and a culture (perhaps a world) like those who received the financial legacy of our forbearers, whose first priority in spending the money we inherited was to taint that money by rejecting those who made it. Or perhaps we are like the nouveau riche who spend our money trying to forget that we were once Rednecks. Think here how those who disagreed or still disagree with certain political viewpoints are routinely disdained as ignorant, bigoted, misogynistic, homophobic, religious fools. Again, I am not at all suggesting that there none of these folks around us but challenging the ideas is different than smearing the proponents of those ideas.
As I write this, our nation stands ever divided between the elite class who believe they know better than anyone else and others who feel they have no voice. At the same time, the religious truths and values that were mainstream in our nation and culture only a generation or two ago have now become a pariah in the same land. As you read this, we have not only redefined marriage and family, we find marriage not only less attractive but less successful and families weaker than ever before. We laud desire and insist that self-control is either impossible or evil -- then we wonder why people give into baser desires and whose exploits fill the news.
The sad truth is that for all the money we have poured into schools and for all the new teaching methods we have invented, our children know less in university than they once know in junior high (as it was once called). For all the books that have been published, we read throw away literature that is a splash in the pan while we have no idea what the great books of the past actually say. For all that technology and the internet has provided, we ended up with social media, porn, and fake news as the shining achievements of our time.
I suggest that this has happened because we have glorified youth and all things new and disdain age and the wisdom of the past. I suggest that this has happened because we are less literate than those who went before us and have forgotten grammar, how to think, and how to really debate ideas. I suggest that this is become we have made the individual so sacred that we don't know how to have community (at least one larger than those who think like us). I suggest that this has happened because we no longer value the pursuit of history or spend time invested in carefully sifting through that history. I suggest that this is because we no longer believe in objective truth and therefore reject any Christianity which presumes the Word yesterday, today, and forever the same. If we want to change the future, we must deal with these flawed choices.