Over time, memories shift and change. Memories become more favorable than the original experience unless we have an appetite for misery. Most people will gravitate toward happier, more positive memories. And this seems to suit human beings quite well.
What we receive as information is passed down over time, through many people who have biased and selective memories that serve their purpose or agenda. Take, for example, American history. What incident in 20th century American history has been the center of attention for our history books, television, museums and films? World War II. Certainly it was a time of great tragedy in which millions of people suffered and died. But so was the massive act of genocide by Europeans and their descendants upon the indigenous peoples of the Americas. So was World War I, Joseph Stalin’s genocide against the Ukraine, the Khmer Rouge war crimes in Cambodia, the Rwandan genocide, the Turkish genocide of the Armenians, Assyrians and Greeks, the Darfur conflict in Sudan, and the Vietnam and Korean wars.
Why are we, as a nation, so focused on WW II – specifically Nazi Germany’s domination of the Jews, while we pay less attention to the brutality caused by Japan, Italy or America. I didn’t know the Japanese internment camps in America existed until I was in college and visited a Smithsonian exhibit on them. Why? Because it was a horrible act done to people in our country – who happened to be non-white. As a country, we don’t serve ourselves well by dredging up that memory. Sure, we didn’t send our Japanese-American prisoners to the gas chambers, but they suffered severe economic losses, personal humiliation and death due to this imprisonment.
We avoid putting these fine details into the history books, yet we love to recall the Germans imprisoning Jews in the concentration camps. Why? Because it lets us point the finger at the Nazis and what they did. And it lets us come in and be the shining white knight that saves the day. Selective memory.
Another example can be noted in Christianity, similar to nearly every religion and steeped in atrocity. Christianity has imparted on the masses its selective memory and, as a nation, we have allowed this as much as we have allowed selective and biased information in our history textbooks.
At some point in the history of Christianity, the church supported the death penalty, slavery and war. It requested or required taxes, tithes or payments for absolution, annulments of marriage, indulgences, religious offices and performance of the sacraments. It used its power and influence to attack social and political insubordination. It established a hierarchy of power among people and denied women equal voice, representation, positions and power. It is based on a book that includes numerous justifiable accounts of rape and murder.
We choose to see what we want to see in Christianity. We may not like the many references to hell and our general worthlessness and sinful nature, but the churches are pretty and the songs are quite pleasing.
In a country that supports freedom of choice, you can support whatever religious and historical views you like. But as you do so, question why things are done. Do you agree with what is accepted by our society because you have done extensive research? Or is it because you’ve been given information and are accepting it as is?
Take the opportunity to move beyond the selective memory of that which gets filtered to the masses. Look into other viewpoints. Search more deeply into the history of things.