A friend posted something today on the social media that caught my attention. It concerned a rather disturbing fact: one half of all Russian young people know nothing about their own nation’s murderous Communist past, including the Gulag, the crimes of Stalin, and so on.
I chipped in by saying that just as worrying is the likely fact that probably a full three quarters of Australian and American young people don’t know about this either. The dumbing down of our young people, including their blatant historical illiteracy, is a huge worry indeed.
Being ignorant of one’s own history is a recipe for disaster – as history proves. But of course we will never learn the lessons of history if we do not know history. So things will simply get worse as more and more people are cast adrift from their own past, and any knowledge of it.
A similar situation was recently reported on in the UK concerning Christmas and what it means. It seems that far too many young people there today have no clue what it is about. They are as clueless about their own Christian heritage as most Russians are about their own Communist heritage.
Here is how one news report ran with the story:
A survey has found that as many as two out of five British millennials do not know that Jesus Christ is the baby in Nativity scene displays. The survey, carried out by research company OnePoll on behalf of Hotels.com, found that 39 percent of 2,000 Britons aged between 21 and 38 did not know the baby’s identity. A similar amount, or 37 percent of respondents, also did not know about Joseph and Mary, Jesus’ earthly parents.
The poll, which examined a number of other questions regarding family and Christmas, found that less than 10 percent of young people were able to name the gifts by the three wise men in the story, namely gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Six percent said that they believed the story of Santa Claus was somehow linked with the Nativity.
“Of course I know about Jesus and Joseph and Mary, although I’m not too sure what the three wise men were doing or the Angel Gabriel for that matter,” said one of the respondents, 29-year old Craig Munro. “It is shocking that some people in my age group don’t know the story of the Nativity, but time moves on and some traditions go out of the window I suppose,” he added.
As I and others have stated so often, the West is by and large the product of the Judeo-Christian worldview. If you know little or nothing of that worldview, you will know little or nothing of yourself and your place in the world today. The vital importance of history – and of knowing your own history – cannot be overstated.
Let me offer three trenchant quotes to make this point:
“The first battlefield is to rewrite history… Take away the heritage of a people and they are easily persuaded.” -Karl Marx
“To destroy a people, you must first sever their roots”. -Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
“The most effective way to destroy people is to deny and obliterate their own understanding of their history.” -George Orwell
Exactly. That is why history matters. Fail to learn it and we simply repeat its mistakes. As Thomas Sowell once put it, “One of the most important reasons for studying history is that virtually every stupid idea that is in vogue today has been tried before and proved disastrous before, time and again.”
But let me return to the shocking findings of UK youth. Jonathon Van Maren recently offered some commentary on the land that forgot Christmas:
This should not come as a complete surprise due to the fact that a minuscule 6% of Britons can be classified as practicing Christians, and with the exception of a small remnant, Christianity is nearly dead in England. One of the greatest Christian empires in the history of the world is now populated by men and women who do not even know that the Christmas story is about the birth of Jesus, or that His parents were Mary and Joseph. This amnesia is simply staggering to consider.
Many people do not yet understand the enormity of this loss. Primarily, the loss of Christianity is the loss of an essential faith. Secondarily, it is a cultural loss that robs Western civilization of one of its foundational stories and eliminates a fundamental part of Western identity. To be unaware of the beliefs that motivated prior generations for over a thousand years is to be cut off from our own history in an extraordinary way. It is to ensure that we simply cannot understand why things happened the way that they did, and to be crippled in our ability to analyze the present and plan for the future.
It is also a stark reminder that civilization is an incredibly fragile thing. Who would have believed, only a few decades ago, that it would be possible for the children of the West to be ignorant of the Christmas story? To not believe in the historical accuracy of the Bible, or the fundamentals of Christianity—that is one thing. But to be incapable of identifying the Child in the manger as Jesus? That is something else. That is not simply skepticism. That is fantastic ignorance.
To lose a knowledge of Christmas and what it means is to lose everything we have built and developed over the centuries in the West. As Winston Churchill once said, “The greatest advances in human civilization have come when we recovered what we had lost: when we learned the lessons of History.”
It is no surprise that all over the West we seem to be going backwards. As we become increasingly ignorant of our own history, we become increasingly open to bad ideas and even dangerous, totalitarian ideas. All the tyrants and dictators understood that.
But let me offer a few concluding quotes for all those who have no clue who this baby was and why he matters so greatly:
“Maker of the sun, He is made under the sun. In the Father He remains, from His mother He goes forth. Creator of heaven and earth, He was born on earth under heaven. Unspeakably wise, He is wisely speechless. Filling the world, He lies in a manger. Ruler of the stars, He nurses at His mother’s bosom. He is both great in the nature of God, and small in the form of a servant.” -Augustine
“Infinite, and an infant. Eternal, and yet born of a woman. Almighty, and yet hanging on a woman’s breast. Supporting a universe, and yet needing to be carried in a mother’s arms. King of angels, and yet the reputed son of Joseph. Heir of all things, and yet the carpenter’s despised son. Oh, the wonder of Christmas.” -Charles Spurgeon
“The exciting quality of Christmas rests on an ancient and admitted paradox. It rests upon the paradox that the power and center of the whole universe may be found in some seemingly small matter, that the stars in their courses may move like a moving wheel around the neglected outhouse of an inn.” -G.K. Chesterton
“The central miracle asserted by Christians is the Incarnation. . . . If the thing happened, it was the central event in the history of the earth.” -C.S. Lewis
“Christmas can be celebrated in the school room with pine trees, tinsel and reindeers, but there must be no mention of the man whose birthday is being celebrated. One wonders how a teacher would answer if a student asked why it was called Christmas.” -Ronald Reagan
“It is impossible to conceive how different things would have turned out if that birth had not happened whenever, wherever, however it did … for millions of people who have lived since, the birth of Jesus made possible not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living it. It is a truth that, for twenty centuries, there have been untold numbers of men and women who, in untold numbers of ways, have been so grasped by the child who was born, so caught up in the message he taught and the life he lived, that they have found themselves profoundly changed by their relationship with him.” -Frederick Buechner