History. Why I love it now and why I didn't love it before.

This post stems from the last 3 posts.

I find that I have a pretty strong interest in almost all academic subjects and I always have, however, the one exception is that I used to not be interested in history. I wouldn't say I disliked it, but it struck me as not having much significance. (aside from Mormon History. I was always very interested in that. To a lesser degree I was also interested in biblical history)
In the past few years I have developed a deep fascination with history. I know why I like it now, but I'm not certain why I didn't before. I think it is connected to my having been Mormon. (I will explain)

Why I Used to Not Like History(not 'the past', but history as a subject of study.)

Before, history just seemed like a bunch of stuff that happened. It seemed to have no deeper significance the way it does now (I will explain this part later).

When I was Mormon, I saw all of human existence as part of one story. The story was this: God made man about 6000 years ago. He gave us prophets to teach his message. People fluctuated from following the prophets to rejecting them. Everything that happened before Jesus was a lead up to and preparation for Jesus. Everything that happened after Jesus was a lead up to and preparation for the Second Coming.
All of the prophets, Jesus, Second Coming business is because we are here on Earth as a test of our Character to see how luxuriously our time will be spent. It takes approximately 6000 years for everyone to participate in this test.
Everything that happened in history was part of this narrative. Everything which seemed important served the purpose of leading up to Jesus or leading up to the Second Coming of Jesus. Everything else that happened was a side note.

(I did believe in evolution to a degree, but I felt that sometime around 6000 years ago God had somehow intervened and created modern man. Within that framework, I sometimes believed in a literal Garden of Eden story and sometimes not.)

Since the historical narrative I believed in was so simple and complete, I didn't feel there was much to gained by studying secular history. Much of it was either irrelevent to the important stuff or contradicted my understanding of history.
Secular history contradicts the large majority of the Old Testament and entirely contradicts the Book or Mormon. If anything, I saw History(as a subject of study, not the past itself) as an anomaly. Academic History seemed to offer no insights into how I believed the past actually happened, and the parts I believed to be most important were seen by Academic historians as not even having happened.(anything in the book of mormon, moses, abraham, adam and eve, etc.)

Take for example Greece and Rome. The study of these held almost no interest to me. In my mind, Greece and Rome wasn't where the action was. The Greeks and Romans were either apostate polytheists, or, when Christianity finally did come to Rome they were apostate Christians whose empire quickly died out.
To me, that wasn't where the action was. That wasn't where the interesting stuff was happening. In my world view, the action was taking place in the rural parts of the middle east or in Central America, and it was precisely these two places where historians offered a version of events which contradicted my version of events.

Why I Like History Now.

Now that I'm not Mormon, history is suddenly very interesting to me. Not only am I able to take the academic historian's interpretation of events at face value, but I believe it offers great insights into human nature.

History is sort of like anthropology or sociology, but in one sense even better.

Anthropology sheds light on human nature by showing how different cultures behave. This helps us distinguish between human nature and culturally specific behaviors. For example, by observing that every culture ever observed has incest taboos we are able to show that Sigmund Freud was wrong to suggest that human nature wants to commit incest but it is arbitrarily restricted by our culture, causing turmoil within us. If there were even one culture without incest taboos he might have a case, but since there are none, it becomes clear that repulsion to incest is an innate part of human biology.

By studying various cultures around the world we have learned that facial expressions are not culturally specific as had once been thought, but common to all people. Ie Human nature.

By studying marriages around the world we learn that monogomy is not part of human nature. Some cultures have polygamy and one doesn't even have marriage at all! This tells us that marriage is something cultural(though, clearly it is heavily influenced by human nature. For example, there is no culture where most people exclusively marry trees.)
So anthropology shows the ways human nature can manifest itself under a variety of different circumstances.

History, I believe, goes one better. With anthropology one can argue that although all these cultures are, of course, human, perhaps some of their differences in behavior can be explained by genetics. One might argue that Chinese culture is so different from European culture because of genetics. I imagine that to, at least some degree, this is true. It would be different to separate which was which, though some have tried.

History, however, can show how the same(more or less) genetic pool behaves under a variety of circumstances. By taking a historical snapshot of, lets say....Norway, at a variety of times throughout history, one can get a sense of how, what is essentially the same group of people, behave under a variety of different circumstances.

By studying how various cultures evolve and change it can teach us a great deal about our current culture and ourselves generally. By learning about the development of Greek thought, it can help us understand the origin the western world view. By studying the evolution of religion it can help us understand current religions and why the look the way they do. History does for us what I talked about in the previous entry. It helps us better know how various types of people, who we know in the modern world, behaved in the past world. By getting a sense of how such a behavior came to be in the past, we can better understand why it persists in the present.

History is one the mirror through which we can see ourselves to help know who we are. (other mirrors, linguistics, psychology, anthropology, sociology, tyrannosaurs-rexology)


naomi said...

Seems like 'being mormon' stopped you from understanding or enjoying alot of things. I can only concur you were more culturally mormon than anything else. Take swearing for example. Mormons are asked to forgo swearing in the same way they're asked to avoid crude slang - it's a rubbish use of language and doesn't remotely portray ability to think or interact on a particularly respectable plane. They're not asked to refrain from swearing because God will damn them to hell for saying 'damn them to hell'. In terms of limiting learning and understanding, being mormon doesn't stop me from admiring/having a thirst for studying culture, history, science. Those that I know who are limited in their studies 'due to the blinders of mormonism' are generally Cultural Mormons and essentially missed the point of the faith.

Chris Almond said...

Hi naomi, I appreciate your comment, and find it interesting, however, I disagree.(though on some points I agree)
I recognize that the theology of Mormonism encourages the study of all things, whereas the culture may not.
However, Mormon Theology is in direct contradiction with a good amount of science(particularly history, but several other aspects as well). In those cases where Mormon theology and scientific consensus were at odds, I tended to side on the side of Mormon Theology. I have a hard time seeing that as me being a mere cultural mormon.

Although I was very devout, I was never a typical Mormon. I was as liberal as I am now. I feel Mormon theology is liberal, wheras Mormon culture is conservative. If anything I would see that as an example of me being not culturally mormon.

I was never any less passionate about any other subject aside from history, but on no other subject do I feel that Mormon theology(as opposed to culture)makes very specific claims and claims that are at odds with the claims of the academic community.

As for swearing... Many of the finest(in all senses of the word) thinkers and speakers I'm aware knows how to use good swear word here and there. The only one's who feel otherwise are those who feel some moral offense from these words. (Although i'm sure there is the occasional exception to this). I don't know of any mormon who would say that 'frak' and 'fuck' have the same moral 'badness, despite them both sounding similar, and meaning the exact same thing. I don't know many mormons who think swears would send them to hell, but I'm sure many would agree it would keep them from the highest levels of the celestial kingdom.

Maybe I did miss the point of the faith, at this point in time I feel so detached from it that I don't care too much if I did or not, but looking back on myself at that time I have a difficult time agreeing that I was merely a cultural mormon.

Chris Almond said...

I would agree with you though that 'being mormon' did prevent me from understanding or enjoying many things. Somethings I wasn't able to enjoy at all, such as being ethical for its own sake, rather than for obedience sake, deciding for myself what I believe to be ethical, other things I may have enjoyed or appreciated before, but now enjoy and appreciate on, what i believe to be a much deeper level (although I think my old self would have felt that I was at that time enjoying things on deeper level than I am now.) Before I was often in the struggle of having to integrate my Lds beliefs with whatever subject I may be learning. Which sometimes worked well, but often caused a certain amount of cognitive dissonance.
One other thing, when I said I was a big fan of mormon history, it wasn't traditional mormon history, (ie. official publications, although I liked those as well, I was primarily a fan of non-traditional mormon hisotry along the lines of D. Micheal Quinn. This seems to me as also being a sign of me not being merely a cultural mormon. Although, who knows, maybe some would disagree.
Though, I would like to say again that I am glad you left your comment, and although I mostly disagree I still appreciate the feedback and your thoughts.

Chris Almond said...

also, my girlfriend is a big fan of your blog.

Marissa N. Paolacci said...

it's true, i think your blog is funny. hey!