Welcome to the 20th Century, time tourists! Our 10th-grade textbook for homeschoolers, World History and Cultures In Christian Perspective, would like to remind you that while science and technology are developing like crazy in this new century, the world remains a very very sinful place that has unaccountably failed to adhere to the unchanging norms of Biblical Christianity, at least as they are defined by textbook publishers in Pensacola Florida in 1997:
Civilization had progressed so far by the beginning of the 20th century that it seemed the world could only get better and better. Little did people realize that on the horizon loomed two of the greatest wars the world had ever known.
“Foolish Hu-mans!” you can almost hear the editors laughing.
And of course, we all know why Europe stumbled into World War I: the tangled alliances, nationalist desires, and conflicting aspirations of the leaders, combined with a technological and economic sophistication that made war far more deadly than anyone could have imagined, right? Well, sure, that stuff entered into it, of course, but there were also bigger forces at work, you see:
the tensions caused by two centuries of anti-Biblical philosophies had set Europe on a seemingly uncontrollable course toward war. Strong feelings of revolutionary nationalism, the result of spiritual decay, caused some European powers to seek the annexation of areas inhabited by people of their own nationality.
“Many German people had by this time rejected all but an empty form of their Christian heritage and had accepted modernism almost without question. The vacuum created by this rejection of true Christianity was destined to bring terror and destruction to Germany.”
As the patriotic postcard to the right suggests, many Germans were also so completely deluded as to think that Jesus would bless their soldiers on the way to the front! They were apparently unaware of just how hollow their faith actually was.*
Unable or unwilling to sustain this nonsense about spiritual decline beyond these passages on the prelude to the Great War, the textbook then settles into a pretty accurate narrative of the war’s events, leaders, and tactics. It’s almost as if they handed that section off to, like, a historian or something, but forgot to pass along the memo about the necessity of moralizing on every turn of events.
You will also search in vain for any mention of the single most Christian moment of the war, the “Christmas Truce” of 1914, when British and German troops in many places along the Western Front spontaneously stopped fighting, came out of their trenches, and exchanged gifts and sang Christmas carols together. They even played enthusiatic games of “foot-the-ball” and shared their rations with each other. Talk about an inspiring tribute to the Prince of Peace! But of course, it was unauthorized, a spontaneous application of basic human decency by soldiers acting without guidance from the higher-ups — and the officer corps on both sides took pains to prevent it from happening again. No doubt if the event did make it into the textbook, it would be an example of rebellious free-thinking in defiance of Godly authority. (If accounts of the spontaneous truce can bring a tear to an atheist’s eye, then it couldn’t possibly have been a good thing, now could it?)
Once the war is over, preaching takes over the historical reins. We learn that the “most profound effect of World War I was its impact on the spirit of mankind”:
Before the Great War, people believed in the inevitability of human progress and the triumph of Western civilization. The war shattered this idea, and instead clearly illustrated how false the concept of “continual human perfection” was. The only explanation for the horrors of World War I was the Biblical doctrine of man’s sinful, depraved nature, and the only solution was in Biblical Christianity.
The weird thing is that we kind of agree with part of this analysis, a little, because back in our undergrad days we watched Robert Hughes’ brilliant TV series on modern art, The Shock of the New, which focuses more on the secular and creative aspects of that disillusionment, and makes the argument far more convincingly, not to mention entertainingly. We read the book, too.
In any case, we learn not merely that the only possible solution to the horrors of war was “Biblical Christianity,” but that humanity foolishly pursued political approaches instead, because of the whole depravity thing. Woodrow Wilson — in this textbook merely the ineffectual proponent of the failed “14 Points,” not the GlennBeckian archfiend of Progressivism — was a big dope who was “convinced that peace could be attained through human efforts” and gave us the League of Nations, which “looked like the final solution [yes, they went there] to world peace” but would merely
become just one more of man’s futile attempts to impose peace on people whose hearts are at war with each other.
Even with the tut-tutting about how human attempts to bring peace are inevitably futile, the editors’ hearts don’t really seem to be in it here; it’s as if they had themselves a good righteous rage against communism and were left tuckered out, with little to sustain them as they build up steam for the task of taking down Freud, Bertrand Russell, John Dewey, John Maynard Keynes, and other nasty 20th-Century liberals in the next chapter.
* We think that “spiritual decay” is, for this textbook, something like “toxins” for fans of alternative medicine: It’s a vaguely-defined Seriously Bad Thing that they are completely sure is causing systemic damage, even though it can’t be explicitly identified, and it can only be gotten rid of by a good purge.
Next Week: “20th-Century Liberalism: Retreat from Authority and Responsibility.” Yes, that is literally the chapter title.