Sunday, July 18, 2010

History and Theology: A Jumble of Subjective Interpretations

The interpretations we possess of history are varied and conflicting. This is largely a result of a large number of sources covering one event as they personally see it, hence resulting in many differing original accounts, and also in the large number of interpretations of these very sources. The result is a widely varied and very confusing picture of the past, and the average Joe and Jane are at a loss to decide which version to believe. Hence, they often decide to adopt the first they are exposed to, a practice which, I must say, is not very good scientific procedure. The aim of this treatise is to dissect these reasons and lay them before the reader, and also present, in a nutshell, my own theory, my reasons for holding it, and a fair concession of its weaknesses.

The Source: Subjective Witnesses

From the very earliest written historical records we possess, which date back to the Sumerian Empire which flourished in the Tigris and Euphrates valley about 6,000 years ago, there is ambiguity. From that era right up to the 20th Century, when reliable archiving systems were developed and advances in multimedia technology allowed for the recording of history as it happened, conflicting accounts of events exist. Even after the advent of these systems, accounts have been twisted, manipulated and altered to serve the disseminator’s own ends.

                Good ol’ fashioned politickin’ has been the main culprit in the alteration of historical accounts. Battle accounts, especially, are prone to embellishments. It is well known that the victor in a war is always the one who writes the history books. As such, said victor will always take up the opportunity and choose to paint the opponent in a different light in order to vindicate their own motives. A practice which was common especially in the age from the dawn of civilisation right up to the 18th Century or so was to embellish battle reports, exaggerating army sizes and battle conditions in order to prove a military leader’s battle prowess. The loser of a battle may also do the same in order to save face.

Religion also plays a major role in the deliberate alteration of history. Religious texts are riddled with embellishments inserted on purpose to reinforce the supposed “greatness of the Big Guy being praised. As a result, the outcomes of battles, army sizes and military tactics are altered from fact, actions of individuals falsified and legends of heroes and villains created from thin air.

Not all misrepresentations featured in religious writings are deliberate. Lack of scientific knowledge is also to blame. Early peoples had no knowledge of certain phenomena and hence subjectively misinterpreted them to be the actions of the gods. As a result the texts are filled with wild superstitions and improbable phenomena which today’s science minded people dismiss as nonsense as they are unable to see the truth behind the myth. This is very unfortunate, as I do believe that hidden within the smoke and shadows are many actual historical accounts.

Perhaps even more unfortunate is the fact that the type of thinking that was prevalent in those dark, uninformed days is still perpetuated today. Even as the boundaries of the unknown are continually being pushed further and further back people still cling to their illusions, hindering the progress of good, sound science. But this is a completely different topic that I shall later discuss in detail. Meanwhile, I would advise you not to take what you read about the past without a dose of good, healthy scepticism. Do come back to read the next part of this treatise, scrutinising the process by which information is passed down from generation to generation.