Historical Reinvention

Kevin Moss

The thought of journalists hacking into peoples’ phones is bad enough. Now the Leveson enquiry is investigating the way journalists have gained information from the police – and paid them for it! The banking crisis was one type of corruption, but is this any less serious? Certainly it demonstrates how rare a commodity integrity has become within a secularised media. But I suggest something more is involved which is even more ominous. The media is also guilty of misrepresenting history. It tinkers not only with our Christian past but also with what is happening now, an illustration of which is the reporting of the Queen’s Christmas speech. Though the media hacking and information-slush-funds scandals are bad, the bias against Christianity has even more serious implications. Secularist journalists, therefore, need to be held to account when they indulge in it.

Recent events in Tripoli, Egypt, Libya or Syria are a case in point. It is not uncommon to hear a journalist speaking fervently about being a witness to the making of history. On one level this is fine. It would be unfeeling not to empathise with a people being liberated from oppression. How can one not rejoice? Later, however, when one accidentally discovers that this ‘liberation’ has gone hand in hand with a rapid escalation (by the ‘liberated’ note) in the persecution of Jewish and Christian believers – a part of the story almost completely unreported by western journalists - one has a sense that history is not merely being written, but re-written. The instantaneous nature of internet reportage gives viewers (and readers) an illusion of real history. In fact the ‘real-reality’ is being continuously and subtly supplanted by something that looks strangely like it, but isn’t.

Recently, on a web-forum, I encountered a similar sort of thing. It was a citation attributed to Albert Einstein which suggested that he believed ‘anti-semitism’ is a phenomenon manufactured by Jewish people themselves! The quotation, supposedly from the November 1938 edition of Colliers Magazine said, “anti-Semitism is nothing but the antagonistic attitude produced in the non-Jew by the Jewish group. The Jewish group has thrived on oppression and on the antagonism it has forever met in the world - (so) the root cause is their use of enemies they create in order to keep solidarity.” It may come as a surprise to learn that Einstein did not say this. In reality two quite separate statements he made have been conjoined. Viewed separately and in their original context neither conveys this sense at all. Biased reporting and an antipathy towards Israel have produced a synthesized version which now forms part of a popular mythology. It is trotted out by journalists and writers and rarely checked to find out what Einstein actually said!

Atheists on another webforum have done the same with a passage from Josephus’ ‘Jewish Antiquities’ (written around AD 93). The contentious passage in Josephus is the Testimonium Flavianum, which provides one of only a handful of ancient non-Christian references to the historical Jesus. Opponents of Christianity have long recognized that such a passage is inconvenient to their idea that Jesus was just a myth invented by the early church. So to find the passage being challenged on a contemporary webforum was no surprise. What was interesting, however, was the way Josephus’ Testimonium was linked to a 3rd century Bishop called Eusebius (AD 263 – 339) via citations from the notorious 18th century sceptic Gibbon (1734-1794). According to Gibbon the Josephus reference is unreliable. To support this he includes in his Decline and Fall a quotation from Eusebius in which the early bishop seems to admit to suppressing information against the Christian faith and reporting only what is useful to his cause. However, digging a little deeper one discovers that, irrespective of his credentials as a historian, the confession attributed to him by Gibbon doesn’t appear in that format in his own (that is in Eusebius’) writings. Indeed, as with Einstein’s quote above, it appears to be another conflation of disparate references. When these references are read in their original context they give a quite different meaning to the one Gibbon intends.

All this may seem nit-pickingly abstruse. But the examples I’ve used are symptomatic of the way the new atheism misrepresents history and we need to be alerted to this fact.
What is not abstruse is how the Queen’s Christmas Day speech fared in the media. It was a remarkable speech not only for the clarity of Her Majesty’s emphasis, but also for the proportion devoted to the Gospel and the focus given to the uniqueness and role of Christ. I calculated hurriedly at the time that about 46% of the total speech was devoted to the centrality of Christianity at Christmas. Significantly the media reportage sidestepped this completely. As far as the BBC was concerned the speech was all about the family unit, shared beliefs and mutual values. The Telegraph said that she spoke about ‘family, friends and community spirit’. In fact Her Majesty made explicit reference to our fundamental need for rescue by a loving Saviour.

By contrast the secular media reported her saying that the answer to societal woes lay in community! The reporting didn’t just omit significant and relevant data, it in effect re-wrote the Queen’s Speech for her. Whether this is the height of arrogance or merely patronizing the end result is the same – the creation of another layer of pseudo-history, one designed to write the Christian worldview out of our narrative.

That the secular historian Gibbon should be found cherry-picking from Eusebius’ writings 1449 years after that ancient writer’s day is one thing, but having modern history effectively re-written under our noses is another. One is reminded of the Apostle Paul’s pertinent phrase: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5 italics mine). If the BBC’s misreporting of the Queen’s Speech is considered of little significance we are being naïve. According to the apostle Paul, it reflects a mindset which is absolutely set against Christ and his kingdom.

Kevin Moss is a member of our board who is a businessman in Cardiff www.validpath.co.uk

Kevin Moss, 14/03/2012