One approach to history is making the news this May (2008). We are all historians in that we choose what to accept or not accept as true regarding the past. The Texas televangelist John Hagee recently supported presidential candidate John McCain, and this week McCain rejected that support, embarrassed by an interpretation of history by Hagee that he chooses to call "nonsense."
Most historians in the big universities describe the past without going beyond the empirical. They describe religious belief and stories, which is within the bounds of empiricism when these are presented as such. Hagee belongs to that school of history that goes outside this empiricism. Reverend Hagee is educated. He has a Master's Degree from the University of North Texas. He received theological training at Southwestern Assemblies of God University in Waxahachie, Texas. Oral Roberts University saw fit to give him an honorary doctorate degree, and he has served on the Oral Roberts University Board of Regents since 1989. The history by Reverend Hagee that goes beyond empiricism he expresses in quotes from scripture with the assumption that those quotes contain truth – not shocking in that this is for many of us a cultural tradition.
But is has led to Hagee making statements of historical fact the are worthy of skepticism by those of us who stick to empiricism. Hagee described Hitler as God's agent of punishment – little different from standard belief among Christians, stated in scripture, that God sent the Assyrians against the Ten Tribes of Israel. According to Hagee, Hitler was the hunter. He quotes from Jeremiah. "They shall hunt them from every mountain and from every hill and from the holes of the rocks." Speaking of Hitler's extermination of Jews, Hagee asked, " How did it happen? Because God allowed it to happen. Why did it happen? Because God said my top priority for the Jewish people is to get them to come back to the land of Israel." Other historians prefer to describe Hitler and genocide connected to human actions and thought, political history and maybe economics or even geography. It's the same divide that goes into the issue of whether God created the US Constitution or people acting within an historical context.
Reverend Hagee saw God's involvement in other recent acts. On September 18, 2006 on National Public Radio's Fresh Air, Hagee spoke of Hurricane Katrina as an act of God, punishing New Orleans for "a level of sin that was offensive to God." This is more tradition, similar to Bishop Cyprian in the 3rd century interpreting Rome's murder of Christians as God's punishment. And it is similar to statements made by other reputable Christians, Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell, who described the recent 9/11 disaster and Hurricane Katrina as God's punishment.
These men of God have their approach to history. (Robertson has a degree in history.) And there is the alternative methodology of sticking to the empirical. It is for people to understand the difference between the two approaches and choose between them.