I came across a new form of chronological snobbery today.
For those of you not familiar with the term, "chronological snobbery" means believing things are false because the idea was popular in the past and is unpopular today. It does not apply to cases where actual scientific (or similar) evidence is used. For example, people though the earth was flat thousands of years ago and now they think it is round. Arguing that we are correct today because the earth looks like a circle from every direction (e.g. from the ISS) is reasoning. Arguing that we are correct because ancient people were credulous fools who though the sun was a god is chronological snobbery.
It seems reasonable to me that this could also apply in reverse. I occasionally worry about the portion of Christianity that asks "what did the early Church do?" for every practical problem. There were some things they changed for good reason (cf. Acts 4:32,34-35 and 2 Thessalonians 3:10-12). Other things were presumably value-neutral (I suspect some of the early Christians wore togas). Other things were almost certainly good (e.g. taking in abandoned babies). But they were not good because the early Christians did them; they were good for other reasons. The past is no more certain to hold the truth than the present.
The new version I found is based on the future. The person who used it suggested "what will our grandchildren think about this" as the best way to resolve a disagreement. Lets leave aside the question of how we will find out what they are going to think (maybe she's a prophet, or has a crystal ball, or a sophisticated computer model, or something). How do we know our grandchildren will be right? I am sure everyone knows of at least one crazy but popular belief today, and I can only guess there will be other ones in 50 years.
Looking at it another way, what is so special about 2 generations? If we can see the future anyway, why not ask our great-grandchildren? Or people after 10 generations? We could ask H.G. Wells's Eloi (or the Morlocks). Or we could look ahead to the apocalypse (or the war the wipes out the species, or the end of time, or whatever) and ask the people then. If we want to get ahead of history, surely farther is better?
This seems to have turned into a bit of a rant. Sorry.
Back to essays page
Back to home page