Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Honesty and Ideological Positions

Writing in the Peace Weekly, a member of the Bishops Pastoral Research Committee begins her article by referring to a visit, while a student overseas, to the Dachau concentration camp where many Jews were slaughtered, some being used for medical experiments before being killed. In the camp many reminders of the past, she said, could be seen: the railway that brought the prisoners to the camp, the guard posts, the water moat, the barbed wire, the high-voltage instruments, and the incinerators. Also on display were pictures of various areas of the concentration camp, and posters the Nazi government had disseminated to popularize and defend their brutal activities. 

Outside the camp, on a stone slab are the words, "Never Again," which left her, she says, with an unforgettable memory of the trip. But during her time in the camp, she said not once did she notice any words critical of Hitler or the Nazi government. She surmises that such information would have been unnecessary, that a deliberate decision had been made to allow visitors to the camp to see firsthand the horror that took place there, and to judge for themselves the meaning of it all. And the facts, she agreed, spoke more loudly than any official commentary could.

And what are the facts, she asks, that will be included in the textbooks now being prepared, presenting the history of Korea. There has been, she says, a lot of infighting between liberals and conservatives on what to include. Efforts are being made to correct the mistakes in previous textbooks, but it is a problem not easily solved; those who have the job of checking on the revised history do not have the trust of many critics.

In Korea, it is said that a person who acts according to principles is like a textbook. A textbook should follow fundamental rules: be accurate, fair, universal. A textbook, she emphasizes, should not be a place for personal convictions, values and philosophy. When what is said conforms to the beliefs of those in authority, and they fabricate laws and systems for their own benefit, change untruths to truths and beautify what is not, this becomes a great embarrassment to all. When the ideological disputes among our adult generation, she says, affect the way textbooks are written, we are blinding our children to the past and preventing them from entering a more secure and predictable future.

No one questions, publicly at least, that history books should be written solely with the intent of presenting the facts of the past as accurately as possible. Judging the accuracy of these facts will however have to be made, she points out, by those viewing the facts and will depend not only on their knowledge of history but on the qualities of heart that often inform what is known. And it is precisely in this area that the Church has spoken out clearly (in discussing the transformation of humanity, in Evangelization in the Modern World #19): "For the Church, it is a question not only of preaching the Gospel in ever wider geographic areas or to ever greater numbers of people, but also of affecting and, as it were, upsetting, through the power of the Gospel, mankind's criteria of judgment, determining values, points of interest, lines of thought, sources of inspiration, and models of life, which are in contrast with the Word of God and the plan of salvation."

We as Christians look at history through the eyes of the Gospel. We evaluate what has happened in the past and analyze it with our understanding of Gospel values, in order to contribute to a better world. Since the Church is interested in evangelizing the culture, we can't help but be interested in the factual writing of history, and concerned that the forthcoming revisions of the textbooks on Korean history be done accurately.

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