". . . little shall I grace my cause

In speaking for myself. Yet, by your gracious patience,

I will a round unvarnish'd tale deliver . . ."

(William Shakespeare's Othello, I.iii.88-90)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Repeating History

Right now in history Evan and I are studying the seventeenth century. Our text is Susan Wise Bauer's The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child. Several days ago we read about Oliver Cromwell and the Puritan Revolution. One passage left us laughing so robustly that Evan demanded it be read again and again:

Now that Parliament had been dissolved by force, Cromwell and his army generals appointed a new Parliament, made up of 139 men "fearing God and of approved fidelity and honesty." This Parliament became known as the Barebones Parliament, after one of its members, a Puritan minister named Praise-God Barebones."

Sounds like something out of Spongebob Squarepants, doesn't it? No wonder Evan loved it.

The experience of reading alongside my child, laughing and learning with him, is one of the best things about homeschooling. I knew about Oliver Cromwell. But reading about him again with Evan, I learned some things (such as the fact above) that I never knew before. More important, as I revisited that period of history, I was struck by how familiar it all sounded. Consider this passage, just a few paragraphs after the one quoted above:

Cromwell still called England a commonwealth, but now it was being ruled by his own hand-picked men, not by the people of England. Six months later, this Nominated Assembly of men loyal to Cromwell passed a new bill. This bill announced, "Parliament now gives all of its powers to Oliver Cromwell, to act on behalf of the people of England!" 

Oliver Cromwell had become the new king of England.

He was never called "king." Instead, he was given the title Lord Protector of England. And he was supposed to call Parliament every two years and listen to what the members of Parliament advised him to do.

But Cromwell certainly seemed like a king. He moved his family into the royal palace. The ceremony to make him Lord Protector looked an awful lot like a coronation ceremony. His advisors often called him "Your Highness." And when Parliament refused to do exactly what he said, he scolded its members, telling them that he spoke for God and that they were opposing God Himself when they opposed the Lord Protector. "I undertook this government in the simplicity of my heart and as before God . . . to do the part of an honest man," he explained. "I speak for God and not for men." When Parliament continued to oppose Cromwell, he announced, "I think . . . that it is not for the profit of [England], nor for [the] common and public good, for you to continue here any longer. And therefore I do declare unto you, that I do dissolve this Parliament." 

No doubt you have heard the Santayana quote that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. More and more, I think that even those who do know history are doomed to repeat it. The older I get the more it seems that there are a few basic storylines that repeatedly play themselves out on the human stage, whether on the world level or in our little, everyday lives. Still, I think it's important to study history. But maybe the point of doing so is not because we realistically have much hope of affecting it, but so that we can better understand our place in it. And what is that place? I am beginning to think it is nothing more than to hold on for dear life as God tries, time and again, to show us the hopelessness of trusting in rulers, or institutions, or learning, or money, or even dear loved ones, more than in Him and His love for us. We have to function within the framework of all of those things. But our nature is to make each of them into little gods that we turn to as sources of meaning and progress for our lives. I know I keep doing that and I don't know how to stop myself. But reading stories from history that remind me of the futility of such misplaced faith tends to put the brakes on, at least for a time. 


John Flanagan said...

I enjoy reading history as well, but it is especially important to seek fair and balanced information. It is too tempting to agree with a noted historian because we assume they have done more research than we could ever do, however, historians can also be biased, omit facts, and make careless assumptions about people and events. I have been fascinated by oral histories and diaries from eye witnesses, usually ordinary people, who share their own experiences at a particular time in history, including anecdotal records. We must teach our children to learn to search for the truth from many sources.

Susan said...

1. There's nothing new under the sun.

"I keep doing that and I don't know how to stop myself."

2. And thus the need for a Savior. You know, someone who SAVES us when we canNOT save ourselves, even when we know we ought, even when we try our darnedest, even when we have help from Him.


3. Boy, howdy, I'm right there with ya!