So Tuesday I joined another priest for lunch at a local grub joint and there was a T.V. in the corner competing for attention with assorted folk there. On the screen was a black and white movie about the old west and in the scene which caught our eye, the closed caption revealed that one man was speaking to the other about King David and illicit desire for one of his commander’s wives, presumably to chastise him for whatever was happening during the rest of the movie.
The thought occurred to me then how amazing it is that art plays such a vital role not only in helping us understand who we are and where we are going, but how we view and understand our past. It may be nothing like we imagine it but it will play a huge role in who we think we are and want to be.
For example, ask any 15 year old and he will tell you the old west was full of cowboys toting around guns and having gun fights. The fact is that this was not the case. It is fabrication of our art. Guns were far too heavy, awkward, expensive, and dangerous for everyone to be carrying around just in case they wanted to get into a fight. (But that doesn’t make for a great movie.)
So it is with language. A lot of slang, idioms, and references made up a lot more of everyday conversation in the past than it does today. Yet when writing a old west cowboy script in 2014, one would never guess that Christ was ever born or meant anything to anyone. That is why there is a fight over whether our founding fathers were interested in Christianity or not. Exactly what does separation of Church and state mean? Our history matters. Our writers of history matter because they help influence who we think we are.