Social Justice and a Historical Worldview


Any careful reflection on issues must ultimately turn to one's worldview.  Last week I listed a short bibliography pertaining to issues at the core of the social justice debate.  One of the first books I listed on the left was Howard Zinn's popular "A People's History of the United States" (HarperCollins 1980).  The reason I listed it (as well as "A History of the American People" by Paul Johnson on the right) was that how one views history is imminently important for understanding where we have been, where we are and, in all likelihood, where we will go in the future. 

A Christian must take history seriously.  The Bible is the very word of God Himself (2 Tim. 3:16) and presents history from creation to its consumption in the new heavens and new earth.  Thus, God holds a right view of history to be important, so a Christian must hold such a view as well. 

Zinn's book is very popular, especially on college campuses, which means it is popular among young social justice warriors.  Yet, Zinn's book has met with decidedly mixed reviews by historians both from the right and the left.  Zinn has been found guilty of often omitting facts that run counter to his narrative.  For example, he incorrectly states that Japan was willing to surrender to the Allies before the dropping of the atomic bombs.  He also wrongly argues that the overwhelming majority of African Americans were indifferent to the outcome of World War II (as studies from the 1960's demonstrate).  Many of Zinn's fellow liberals labeled the book nothing but propaganda when it was released in 1980.  

I was an American History major in college.  When I first read it, I asked my primary professor for his thoughts.  He was notoriously independent (publicly decrying both the GOP and the Democratic Party over cocktails in bars near campus!).  He replied with a sigh, an eye roll and pronounced Zinn's work a "secular, leftist fairy tale."

Zinn's book is simply poor history.  Notable historians from both the right and left acknowledge the horrendous treatment of many Native Americans, as well as other people of color and laborers while still attempting to present an objective picture.

History matters, it matters too much to allow one's view of the United States to be left to a partisan with an axe to grind.  I would recommend reading it but with a critical eye and time devoted to better works such as Paul Johnson's.