Tuesday, December 14, 2010

History is Precedent and Permission

"...[L]acking curiosity and the habit of study and any general grasp of history, we have entered a period of nostalgia and reaction. We want the past back, though we have no idea what it was. Things do not go so well for us as they once did. We feel we have lost our way. Most of us know that religion was once very important to our national life, and believe, whether we ourselves are religious or not, that we were much the better for its influence. Many of us know that Calvinism was a very important tradition among us. Yet all we know about John Calvin was that he was an eighteenth-century Scotsman, a prude and obscurantist with a buckle on his hat, possibly a burner of witches, certainly the very spirit of capitalism. Our ignorant parody of history affirms our ignorant parody of religious or 'traditional' values. This matters, because history is precedent and permission, and in this important instance, as in many others, we have lost plain accuracy, not to speak of complexity, substance, and human inflection. We want to return to the past, and we have made our past a demonology and not a human narrative." - Marilynne Robinson, Marguerite de Navarre, The Death of Adam, p. 206.

1 comment:

byron smith said...

John Calvin was that he was an eighteenth-century Scotsman
That one made me laugh.