Though I’ve had the opportunity to hear him speak a couple of times, I had only read one Stephen Mansfield book before this one. I enjoyed the historical perspective of The Search for God and Guinness, so I picked up this short work on one of my trips to McKay used books in Nashville. It quickly became apparent that this book was written for students, but I still gleaned some interesting insights.
It begins by talking about what history is and why it is relevant. In an early section explaining the importance of studying history, Mansfield points out an inconsistency in the worldview of most public education in the West. “If evolution provides the philosophy we use to understand the past (and it does, because evolution is the official public school explanation for what exists), then it only makes sense that history is going to seem like a silly thing to learn” (8). The validity of such curriculum aside (seriously, please don’t hone in on this one point), he raises an interesting observation. There is often hubris in modern man, believing that we are much smarter and more advanced than those who came before us simply because we have technology. What, then, could we possibly have to learn from the dumb people who lived long ago? If we are their more fit descendants who have survived, nothing. No wonder many kids educated in our public schools have no interest in history. They are being taught conflicting principles. When taken in the context of the biblical story, however, history has an intentional beginning and an end toward which all things flow. From this perspective, it has great value.
Mansfield then looks at several key periods in Western history through the lens of Christianity. He examines the stories of the Mayflower, the Titanic, Pocahontas, the nanny of Winston Churchill, the Logan County Revivals, and the 1960s in the United States. I was hoping to glean some little-known facts about the times he covers, though I didn’t come away with anything significant for the most part. Also, while I have great respect for Mansfield, I was concerned at his view of some historical events. In one passage, he alludes to Christopher Columbus, giving quite a flattering account of how he brought the Gospel to America. While that’s technically true, I believe most historians also acknowledge that he slaughtered many of the native peoples he encountered. It’s because Mansfield usually has his facts straight that such one-sided views concern me. Perhaps there wasn’t enough space in the pages of this short work to expound on the whole story.
By the end, the greatest take-away for me was the idea “Every generation is living in the wake of the generation that precedes it” (33). This didn’t quite strike me until the section of the book covering the 1960s. It’s no secret that the decade spawned several cultural revolutions in the United States, some more constructive than others. Mansfield details the downward spiral of culture initiated by a backlash against authority. The message of popular music (yes, including the Beatles) became one of hedonism. Drug use and promiscuity increased with each passing year, buoyed by clever catch-phrases. Protest against any and all authority, justified or not, became vogue. Altogether these movements together comprised the “counterculture.”
Surprising to me were the connections to the occult and demonic woven through so many of the events of the day. In 1966 Anton LaVey founded the Church of Satan which aligned perfectly with the zeitgeist of self-absorption. Many became swept up in his and other such movements, perhaps more for the rebellious shock value than anything else. They may not have known the evil with which they dabbled. The book notes how LaVey became an icon who had access to many of the culture-makers of the day including Sammy Davis, Jr., Jane Mansfield, The Rolling Stones, and later The Eagles. While it is questionable whether such celebrities took the spiritual power of LaVey seriously, Mansfield believes it opened a door to the demonic in popular culture which has yet to be shut. Still, the fruits of the counterculture quickly bore witness to its dark influences. Charles Manson and his followers were members of the movement, and many of its front-runners died of drug overdoses or other excesses. The “anything goes” attitude led to unbridled debauchery, manipulation, and violence, truly a picture of what happens when mankind forsakes all authority, particularly God’s. This is the wake in which my generation is living..
Overall, I’m glad it was a short book, and I consider it worth reading for the brief analysis on historical study and the insights into the culture of the 1960s. You can find More Than Dates and Dead People – Recovering a Christian View of History on Amazon.