The study of history today suffers from a great denial. Too often, past events of exploitation are isolated from their context and then retold collectively as the sum of history. Consequently, the proper study of the past is forgotten and Western culture neglected.
To regain our historical bearings, this observation needs to be restored: Our civilization was uniquely born of two great loves. The first, the love of wisdom, was born in ancient Greece. The other, the love of God and neighbor, was born in ancient Israel.
No culture in history has developed a culture of learning as has the West. Any student of history can rediscover this truth in the spread of universities and all kinds of academies throughout Western society, for example, or in the West’s unparalleled development of arts and letters, and in its comparably unique development of science. The wellspring of these events lies in the discovery of the mind in ancient Athens, culminating in the rise of philosophy.
No culture has so elevated the dignity of the individual person. Any student can see this in the unprecedented care for widows and orphans by Christians in ancient Rome, which, in no small measure set the stage for Rome’s conversion; the establishment of hospitals and schools for the poor in European monasteries and cathedrals and missions to every region of the world; and the heroic efforts in recent times to maintain genuine culture under communist oppression, to care for the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, and to fight the global scourge of human trafficking. All these efforts found their impulse in events that erupted in and around ancient Jerusalem.
Too many events of transcendent, sacrificial love break through and prove false the claim that our past is the story of one exploitative event after another.
Andrew J. Zwerneman is co-founder and president of Cana Academy. He is the author of History Forgotten and Remembered, a set of reflections he wrote for fellow history teachers.