By Fr. G. Corwin Stoppel
When Winston Churchill had been turned out of office just after World War II, he told a friend, “History will be kind to me. I will write the history.” I like to balance that against a proverb attributed to Yogi Berra: “Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be.”
In mid-May Pat and I joined friends at the Saugatuck Douglas History Center for a program on the ancient garden builders of southwest Michigan. Lon Kreger was speaker. It was an alternate interpretation of history from the old ditty, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”
I remember while growing up in Minnesota smiling politely when we heard that because we knew Leif Erickson of Norway had come here much earlier.
Mr. Kreger is one of those people who asks questions that challenge traditional beliefs. Ptolemy believed that the sun and everything else revolved around the earth. When Copernicus and others dared to challenge that accepted tradition, they nearly forfeited their lives.
When Leif E. was about to sail off to Minnesota and the New World, a lot of people warned him the earth was flat and that when he got to the horizon he would fall off.
In the early 1600s Bishop Ussher of Dublin had so much time on his hands he added up the numbers to demonstrate that the universe was less than 7,000 years old. That theory gained so much traction people railed against any other idea. Some still do their best to bend science to justify their beliefs.
People like Mr. Kreger ask questions and seek evidence to prove or disprove ancient truths. That’s a good thing. He and his associates hypothesize that there may have been Europeans on this continent several thousand years earlier than what we have long believed, and considerable trade between countries in the Mediterranean basin and copper-mining regions of Michigan. The theory also includes the ancient gardeners who provided the food.
This may or may not be bunk, but like all theories and ideas it deserves to be considered and explored, not just rejected out of hand.
To lock ourselves into any sort of orthodoxy as absolute truth — whether religious, medical, scientific or anything else — is to stop exploration and progress. We’d still be listening to oracles that riding in a train traveling more than 10 mph would suffocate us, people can’t fly, modern medicine is pure hubris and radio waves are dangerous because they’ll scramble our brains.
Hearing an alternative view of the early Michigan history was a wonderful opportunity to look at everything around us from a different perspective.