Sunday, August 19, 2007,3:38 PM
Historical Point of View
"Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view." - Obi-Wan Kenobi

I have that quote on the water bottle that I carry around everywhere. It summarizes what I've been learning over the last 5 years or so and is a good reminder as to how I should be engaging with the world. Plus it's a Star Wars quote (need I say more?).

My reading over this past week has forced me to recall that quote numerous times. This sounds pathetic, but I really have never studied history outside of the Western/Christian mindset (and I majored in history!). My studies focused on European and American history or on other parts of the world as they related to Europe and America. Beyond that, most of my studies (academically and personally) were done to understand the roots and development of the Christian faith. That included studies of Egypt and the Ancient Near-East that were done only to gather trivia to shore up my belief that events in the Bible really happened the way the Bible presents them. My point of view determined what I studied and how I interpreted the facts once I encountered them. In all a very narcissistic approach to history.

Within my myopic interest in history, I recently started reading about the Zoroastrian influence on Judaism and Christianity (which is absolutely fascinating by the way, more on that another day). But in the process, I have started reading histories of Iran and the Proto-European Aryan tribes which is something I have never done before (honestly, what schools teach the history of Iran, the ancient history of Iran?). So in the process I am encountering history done from point of views that I knew were out there, but never took the time to explore before.

But beyond my being reminded of my narrow view of history, I have been amused by the historical points of views of others. Amused not in an attempt to ridicule others, but in seeing in other cultures the same ignorant syncretisms we find so common in our own. For while I have known about how most of our Christian holidays are just baptized versions of older Pagan celebrations (not that I find anything wrong with that), I never thought about that happening in say, Islam. While I am familiar with the story of my own faith and (some of) its evolution through time, I guess I always viewed Islam as more rigid and static. But to see cultural examples among Iranian Muslims of Zoroastrian influence took me by surprise (while it retrospect it should have been obvious). New Year festivities that have no root in Islam, wedding traditions that still involve fire ceremonies, and Mosques that have Zoroastrian symbols (this is Islam remember) on them - and all of them have been "baptized" with Islamic meaning. To them it is just another part of "orthodox Islam" and how dare anyone suggest otherwise (while the government continues to stamp out such practices...).

Our stories and perspectives on history are influenced by what we already believe and expect to discover. Our myths of nationality and religious superiority crumble under the slightest soundings of history. Not that it's our faith that is changed (usually), but it is how our faith colors how we see everything else. As I continue to read about Zoroastrian influences on my faith (especially on the eschatological perspective), I am reminded that there are those out there who would be eager to discover "pagan" roots for Islam (in order to further criticize and dismiss it), but who will refuse to admit the cultural influences on Christianity. How we view our faith and how we view history depends greatly on our point of view.

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posted by Julie at 3:38 PM ¤ Permalink ¤


  • At 8/21/2007 11:50:00 PM, Blogger Carrie

    I thought of this quote as I read your article on this.

    "I draw courage from the remembrance that history is never, in any rich sense, the immediate crudity of what "happens", but the much finer complexity of what we read into it and think of in connection with it." -Henry James