I changed my major after my freshman year of college–from Premed (Biology and Chemistry) to Nursing. It was an expensive decision in two ways: (1) Money–I had spent tuition dollars on science credits that wouldn’t count toward the nursing degree; and (2) Time–now I was almost a full year behind the rest of the nursing majors. This meant rubik’s cube sessions with my academic advisor to find a way to catch me up with the rest of my class. Hoorah for summer school.
Years later, when I began grad school, I decided on a different strategy–I wouldn’t declare my major right away. I’d take general education classes my first year and get a feel for the school–perhaps I could avoid the expensive lesson I learned in college.
It worked. And surprised me. In my first weeks of seminary, if you had pulled me aside and prophesied that I would major in Church History, I would have laughed at you. I never had interests in history–and I had the typical biases you still encounter these days–biases about boredom, memorizing dates, extremely complicated stories about dead folks, and (most tragically), a bias against Old. Old is dead. Old is boring. Old is completely irrelevant.
But to my shock, my history classes were amazing. Credit to my professors–they refused to be snoozers. They were always relevant–or teaching us that you have to be patient in order to harvest the lessons of the past if you want wisdom for today.
C.S. Lewis says that every age has blind spots. We are susceptible to group think. We hold assumptions in common that are unique to our day, age, and location. How do you put corrective pressure on modern ideas? By reading the past. He quips that reading the books of the future would be just as helpful–but you can’t get those. (At least, not without a flux-capacitor, DeLorean, and Doc Brown.)
“Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristics mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books….to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books. Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes. They will not flatter us in the errors we are already committing; and their own errors, being now open and palpable, will not endanger us. Two heads are better than one, not because either is infallible, but because they are unlikely to go wrong in the same direction. To be sure, the books of the future would be just as good a corrective as books of the past, but unfortunately we cannot get at them.”C.S. Lewis, “Introduction” to Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 6-7.