Minding The Gap

I never cease to be amazed at my own ignorance. 

It might not be immediately obvious to a casual acquaintance, since I’m reasonably well-read and articulate when it comes to topics that interest me - but there are huge gaps. Take mathematics, for example. I was one of the few people who welcomed decimal currency, because it made it so much easier for me to count my change. Then pocket calculators arrived: another invaluable aid for the innumerate. I would quite likely have chosen a career in the sciences, except that I couldn’t manage the maths involved in almost every area of those various disciplines. 

It would take too long to list all of the great gaps in my education, and I haven’t enough years left to live to make up for all that I’ve missed. I’m not too bothered about things like geography or German or graphic design; but I do wish I that I had done history when I was young. 

It’s never too late? I fear it is, since I sat down and worked my way through a one-volume history of the British Isles about a year ago - and I can’t even remember the title or the name of the author, now. And yet I have no trouble in recalling what occurs just before the Caucus-race in “Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland”. 

At last the Mouse, who seemed to be a person of authority among them, called out, ‘Sit down, all of you, and listen to me! I’ll soon make you dry enough!’ They all sat down at once, in a large ring, with the Mouse in the middle. Alice kept her eyes anxiously fixed on it, for she felt sure she would catch a bad cold if she did not get dry very soon.

Ahem!’ said the Mouse with an important air, ‘are you all ready? This is the driest thing I know. Silence all round, if you please! “William the Conqueror, whose cause was favoured by the pope, was soon submitted to by the English, who wanted leaders, and had been of late much accustomed to usurpation and conquest. Edwin and Morcar, the earls of Mercia and Northumbria—

I take Carroll’s point. But even though I know his real name (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), if you were to ask me when he lived, I would struggle to give you an answer…

One reason why I would like to know more about history is so that I could consider the lives of notable Christians in the context of the times in which they lived. I’ve just read through the Wikipedia article on William Wilberforce. I was particularly taken with the following passage.

At the time, religious enthusiasm was generally regarded as a social transgression and was stigmatised in polite society. Evangelicals in the upper classes, such as Sir Richard Hill, the Methodist MP for Shropshire, and Selina Hastings, Countess of Huntingdon, were exposed to contempt and ridicule, and Wilberforce's conversion led him to question whether he should remain in public life. He sought guidance from John Newton, a leading evangelical Anglican clergyman of the day and Rector of St Mary Woolnoth in the City of London. Both Newton and Pitt counselled him to remain in politics, and he resolved to do so "with increased diligence and conscientiousness". Thereafter, his political views were informed by his faith and by his desire to promote Christianity and Christian ethics in private and public life. His views were often deeply conservative, opposed to radical changes in a God-given political and social order, and focused on issues such as the observance of the Sabbath and the eradication of immorality through education and reform. As a result, he was often distrusted by progressive voices because of his conservatism, and regarded with suspicion by many Tories who saw evangelicals as radicals, bent on the overthrow of church and state.

Shot by both sides eh? And yet: look at all that he achieved, and in how high a regard he is still held by both Christians and non-Christians alike.

I need to know more. To begin with, I’ve downloaded an audio version of “A Practical View of the Prevailing Religious System of Professed Christians, in the Higher and Middle Classes in this Country, Contrasted with Real Christianity” by Wilberforce, from Librivox.

I’ll let you know how I get on with it.