Recently you hear a lot of people talking about somebody being on the wrong side of history on this issue or that issue. Right now it is being used concerning those who don’t believe in homosexual marriage. For one to use such an argument one must have 1) a linear view of history, that is that history is travelling from one set destination to another and 2) one must have a knowledge about which direction history is going in. This was the gift of Christianity to the western world. God created the universe at one point and is providentially guiding it according to his plan to another point. Where history came from and where it is going was revealed in the Christian Scriptures. Of course, this just gives the ultimate beginning and destination points. It does not tell us where God’s plan will go along the journey between those two points and thus Christians should not make predictions about such things in God’s name.
I find this interesting because those that are using this argument currently are not friendly towards Christianity and don’t seem to realize they are operating on left over assumptions only valid within a Christian (or a Jewish or Muslim) context. Let us examine the other possibilities for a philosophy of history.
1st, there is the atheistic evolutionary biology point of view. According to this viewpoint, there is no grand design to history. History evolves in response to new circumstances that are presented to it by nature. Society changes according to what will best help the species survive. In some circumstances that may mean homosexuality if viewed negatively. In some circumstances, it may mean viewing homosexuality in a positive light. Neither position is right or wrong and neither position is what history is moving towards. All one has is stimulus/response on a societal scale to new life circumstances. You can’t say either position is on the wrong side of history because new circumstances may arise that make the other position more helpful in human survival.
2nd, there is the cyclical view of history that many eastern and animistic cultures have adopted from being in touch with the natural world and noticing the cyclical pattern of life on the earth. Thus there is always winter, spring, summer and fall or birth, growth, maturity and death, etc. In this view, what goes around comes around so to speak. We are at some point on a huge wheel that will keep spinning and come back to the same point some time in the future. From this point of view sometimes homosexuality will be viewed as good followed by times homosexuality will be viewed as bad followed by times when homosexuality is viewed as good followed by times homosexuality is viewed as bad. History is an ever changing cycle not heading in any direction in particular except to repeat itself. From this stand point one cannot talk about being on the right or wrong side of history for one knows the triumphant view point of today is destined to give way to the exact opposite viewpoint in the future.
I suppose one could say that what people are really saying is, “We are on the right side of history for now, in our time, for our circumstances, but we know things may change in the future.” But I do not think that is what people mean when they say we are on the right side of history. I think they are reflecting the image of God in their heart that history is going someplace and they find meaning and purpose being on the right side of that journey. They are making eternal judgments about the nature of reality and their place in it, and I think it is good that they do so. I am simply pointing out that without Christian revelation, they have no intellectual validity in doing so. Ontologically they are doing a good thing for that is what they were made for, but epistemologically they are operating according to a worldview that does not give them rational grounds to make such judgments.
I think as Christians we can take these statements about who is on the right side of history as good discussion starters. We can affirm those who are wanting to stand up for the rights of others, who are wanting to see this world through moral and eternal eyes. But then we can try to show them through loving dialog that they do not have an intellectual basis for pursuing such goals and then invite them to consider the gospel which gives them a framework for a moral worldview. An engagement with Scripture may then cause them to alter some of the positions they have on moral issues, but now they will have found a home that meets their deepest needs as humans.