As a history buff, I enjoy watching history shows, reading history books, discussing history and going to historical sites and museums.
Each of these present the past in one of two ways: either the past was a golden age when things made sense and people were good and we would do well to return to such a time, or the past is presented as a living horror, and thank goodness we have learned from the past and become a more civilized society.
So either the past is good and we should return to it; or the past is evil and the present is far better.
Now neither of these is entirely true. The past was not completely perfect, no matter how much we try to idolize it; nor is the past completely imperfect, no matter how much we try to demonize it.
Clearly there are things in the past that need to be repented of. Certain atrocities went on far longer than they should have; there are certain ideas and trends that we are still trying to purge from society today. But there are also things in the past that it would do us well to return to. Some programs and ideas were done away with far too quickly, and their reinstatement would be beneficial today.
But to say the past did not happen is pure foolishness. We have the evidence that it happened in writings, in pictures, and in some cases even video.
The real question is what about the future? Is the future a return to the past, or is the future a further stepping away from the past?
To return to the past is impossible, and to try to recreate the past is not only impossible, but it also rejects the present and the lessons learned. On the other end of the spectrum, to outright reject the past entirely is likewise wrong.
Our proper reaction to the past is to look at it clearly, in its proper historical context; use what we can, learn from what we cannot and archive the rest.
Just because something happened in the past does not make it completely right or wrong. There were good things that happened in the past, things that should even be embraced and if at all possible, practiced today because they would be an overall benefit to society; in the same way, there are good things that happen in the present that will hopefully be embraced and practiced by future generations.
Were there mistakes in the past? Yes, but we are not immune from making our own mistakes today. Sometimes we even make the same mistakes that were made in the past.
This is true no matter what the subject: individuals, nations, even the Church. All have things in their past that are regrettable, and all have things in their past that they can be proud of. The goal of both current and future leaders is to know the difference. Which part of the past will be embraced, and which part will be archived.
Because one day, the same will be done with our actions of today.