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The facts of history are never neutral. They do not “speak for themselves.” Those who study history always give meaning to the facts they uncover. This is why it is necessary to have a standard to evaluate historical events. Without a standard, facts are simply random events with little or no significance.
For the Christian, history can be explained in terms of biblical standards and God’s design for man and his creation. History means something because God is in control and is moving history in a direction chosen and directed by Him.
The founding of America did not begin in 1492. Long before Columbus took to the open seas cartographers, navigators, ship builders, and scientists were laying a foundation of knowledge and know-how for his eventful voyage. Philosophy, religion, and technology played major roles in developing a European mindset that set the stage for exploration and colonization. Columbus stood on the shoulders of many great philosophers, historians, scientists, inventors, and theologians who helped make his ground-breaking passage across unchartered waters a success.
Like a suspension bridge, the voyages of Columbus and those who followed him created a cultural link between European civilization and the North American continent. These bold feats of exploration resulted in the transportation of centuries of new ideas to the unexplored lands of what was a New World to Europeans. Only bits and pieces of European civilization came with Columbus on his voyages. His navigational exploits, however, made it possible for later explorers and settlers to bring large parts of European culture to a newly connected continent.
The Europe of Columbus day had its own links to the past. Centuries of turmoil, war, and political strife as well as technological progress, educational advances, philosophical speculation, and theological development contributed to the formation of a unique worldview that would shape the distinctive nation we call America. America cannot be understood without first understanding the continent that gave birth to her.
Before the year A.D. 500 the Mediterranean world was ruled by the Romans, and before them, the Greeks. Rome, like Greece, was a pagan empire that forced its subjects and citizens to comply to its religious and political worldview. Citizens and captives were expected to worship the gods of the city in which they resided. Those who failed to comply were often charged with atheism.
Much of Roman culture, including its religious beliefs, was borrowed from the Greeks. This is especially true of its religion. For example, the Romans renamed the Greek gods and adopted them as their own. Zeus became Jupiter, Athena became Minerva, and Artemis became Diana. Like other pagan cultures, Romans followed a horde of household gods, spirits of the countryside, spirits of ancestors, and protectors of towns. A typical Roman believed that the gods controlled the details of his life and that paying homage to them would guarantee success or at least prevent disaster. A Roman farmer might call on Pomona, a goddess of fruit, and Ceres, goddess of creation and growth, to insure a successful harvest. The household god Janus Patulcius was charged with opening doors while Janus Clusivisus was responsible for closing them.
In the ancient world, when nations went to war, it was not merely nation against nation or people against people, but god against god. Defeat for the nation usually meant the death or enslavement of its citizens and the demolition of its temples (Dan. 1:1–2). To defeat a nation was to defeat its gods. This was no less true of Rome, and it is no less true of what is happening worldwide today.