Sin and the Historian

John Fea on how Christian belief in human sin could influence the work of historians:

The historian Herbert Butterfield informed us that “if there is any region in which the bright empire of the theologians and the more murky territory of the historians happen to meet and overlap, we shall be likely to find it at those places where both types of thinkers have had to deal with human nature.” (Christianity and History, 1957). Marsden adds: “Of all traditional Christian teachings the doctrine of original sin or of pervasive human depravity has the most empirical verification. The modern world, rather than undercutting this doctrine, seems to increasingly confirm it.” Indeed, anyone who studies the past realizes that there are no heroes in history. At first my students balked at this idea, but I continued to press the point. I suggested that people often perform heroic acts and rise about their broken circumstances, but in the end all human beings are tainted by sin and are susceptible to acting in ways that preference themselves over others and God. Historians understand, perhaps better than most, the reality of pain, suffering, injustice, anger, and vice brought upon by sin. They understand the tragic dimensions of life.

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