Ever noticed when people use phrases like “biggest in history”, “best ever”, “most powerful”? Is it my imagination, or is that more common verbiage in the United States of America? Since I’m from there originally and have done it in some form myself, I feel uniquely qualified to comment.
Americans seem to have a need, perhaps out of a competitive and numbers oriented culture, to constantly make very sweeping statements about our nation and what it has achieved. Or what we have personally accomplished or the group we belong to.
As a historian I am especially sensitive to phrases that pronounce something to be best in history. Really? Greatest nation in history? Really? Why is there a need for statements like this? What does it accomplish? Some would say it may just be stating facts. But usually there is no evidence given to support it.
And there is a big problem comparing societies, cultures or nations over thousands of years. With such vastly different contexts, it is often like comparing “apples with oranges”.
Recently I heard a mission organization described as “the biggest mission movement in history”. Even if it was true, why does it even need to be said? A statement like that can actually contribute to a pride and perhaps even an unintentional arrogance.
If a group in the 21st century claims to be the biggest mission movement in history, they must be forgetting the Church of the East missions movement in Asia from the 2nd to the 14th century. In the year 1000 A.D. it had perhaps 12 million adherents across Asia, with tens of thousands monk/merchant missionaries. They spread the Chistian faith from their heartland of Baghdad and what is now Iraq and Iran, all the way through Central Asia to India and China.
Some historians have called the Church of the East “the greatest missions movement in history”. I think it probably was. But there I go again. Doing the same thing I’m cautioning against in this post. I think we need to examine our language more closely. It is hard to read Facebook posts these days without at least three “amazings” in it. Or a couple of “awesomes”. Or that someone has met a “legend”. Really??
Language is important. The problem with over-statements is that they are usually not true. Especially over the course of thousand of years of human history. Let’s pay more close attention to what we say, to the numbers we use. To other cultures it can even at times be humorous at best, offensive at worst.
But let me end this by saying that I think this is the best blog post ever written.