Over the last few years I have seen a rise in different versions of the following: “You should agree with me about my views on politics and/or religion. You don’t want to be on the wrong side of history do you?” Recently I saw an article entitled “How _______ Will Be Remembered.” I removed the subject of the verb because it doesn’t really matter. Whenever I see titles like these I become very excited because it must mean that people have discovered time travel. How else would they know that someone’s religious/political beliefs would be held in derision years from now? They must be from the future or else they would be guilty of making an argument that is primarily emotional, intellectually lazy, and incredibly arrogant. Unfortunately, absent a special phone booth or flux capacitor we will have to assume the latter.
It is an intellectually lazy, emotional argument
Why do I say this? Well, because arguments require supporting reasons. The “wrong side of history” argument (as far as I can tell) goes like this:
How do you support such a proposition? You can’t unless you have a crystal ball. It just ends up being circular emotionalism about how certain you are that you are right. Further, when we say “the wrong side of history” what do we mean by “history”? History is a discipline. It’s like someone bloviating about “Well, SCIENCE says…” No, science doesn’t say anything. Scientists say things. Likewise, History doesn’t say anything. Historians say things. So if I drop the “wrong side of history” line on you do I mean that future historians will write bad things about you? More likely I mean that a future society will have rejected your beliefs and you will end up looking like a fool. It is an argument intended to shame you with opinions from people that do not yet exist.
It displays incredible arrogance
In Tim Keller’s book The Reason for God, he comments on the argument that all religions are basically the same like blind men feeling different parts of an elephant. First of all, it is irresponsible to put a bunch of blind guys in a room with an elephant and just leave them there. Somebody’s getting trampled. Second, Keller writes,
“This illustration backfires on its users. The story is told from the point of view of someone who is not blind. How could you knows that each blind man only sees a part of the elephant unless you claim to be able to see the whole elephant?…How could you possibly know that no religion can see the whole picture unless you yourself have the superior, comprehensive knowledge of spiritual reality you just claimed that none of the religions have?”The Reason for God, p.9
In the same way, how can I claim to know what the “right side of history” is or how anyone will be remembered when I am just as locked in time as you are? It assumes that I have somehow become trans-temporal and can see all there is and shall be. Of course no one actually means this, but they don’t realize the implications of their argument. The argument projects my personal opinions into the future as if they are facts. It attributes a certainty to my position(s) that is undeserved because I have not provided any argumentation for my thesis.
Why do we use these bad arguments?
First, emotional arguments feel good. They are easy to make and feed our self-righteousness. I just asserted that history is on my side. Deal with that! But whenever our arguments can be turned around on us we have a problem: “No, you’re on the wrong side of history!” How can we prove it either way?
Secondly, this type of argument is used because of a general rejection of God and his role as the judge of all the Earth. As human beings we are made in the image of God. We have a natural sense of right and wrong. We crave justice to be done. But if we reject God and his word as the standard then we must create a new judge. In this case the new judge is some future societal consensus that we somehow have sussed out by our supernatural intuition. And isn’t it wonderful that the future society will vindicate me and not you? Just don’t ask me to prove it.
A better way is to simply say, “I think you are wrong” and then give the reasons why you believe I am wrong. We would all be much better off if we put to rest this “appeal to opinions from the future” nonsense.
What we should really be concerned about
The reality is that “history” will not remember us. I will live, die, and be remembered for a while by my descendants until I become just another name on their family tree on the ancestry website. If people 100 years or 1000 years from now think I am a jerk or an idiot what do I care? I’ll be dead.
The reality is that history won’t judge us, but God will. This isn’t a “God’s on my side” argument. This is accepting the reality that God is the eternal Holy One who will judge the world. This reality is at the very heart of the gospel. For the good news of God’s grace is that as the judge of the world he has judged our sin in Christ. He offers pardon, a place in his family and future kingdom if we will submit ourselves to Christ. For those who receive and rest upon Jesus will find in God not a righteous judge but a merciful Heavenly Father. This is why we don’t need to worry about history judging us or how we will be remembered. We should be more concerned about how God will judge us. For if we refuse to trust in Christ then we will be judged for our sins. But if we trust in Jesus we will be forgiven for God has judged our sin and poured out his wrath for it upon Jesus.
Further, the judgment of God should move those who profess Christian belief to live holy lives. It is not to my credit to bring the holy hammer down on those around me while I exempt myself. 1 Peter 4:17 reminds us that the judgment of God begins with the church and then proceeds to the unbelieving world.
Finally, the judgment of God should move Christians to share the gospel. There will be a great and terrible final judgment. God has provided mercy for guilty sinners in his son. God has tasked, equipped, and sent his church into the world to share the life-giving message of his grace. As the church we needn’t worry about how history will judge us. Rather we should concern ourselves with glorifying God and enjoying him.
What do you think? Have you heard the “right side of history” argument used before? Should we use it or not? You can contact me here.