No offense to amino acids and cells, etc, but memory and the act of remembering are in actuality the building blocks of life. We as people and I as a person are formed almost entirely by memory. Remembering is how we relate to our past, interpret our present and shape our future. Even language and how we interact with each other is based on memory, taking past instances of learning and applying them to the here and now. Memory also seems to be completely random. I mean, why do I immediately remember all the lyrics to Montel Jordan’s “This is How We Do It” at a drop of a hat, but struggle to remember what I had for breakfast? More on this later.
Memory creates identity. Personally, as how I project myself is based on the memories I have of people, places and things. However remembering also creates a strong social identity. Large historical events are framed in remembering, be it 9/11 (with the phrase “Remember 9/11” on every bumper sticker and flag across the land) or even the Holocaust (with the reverse remember notion of “Never Forget.”). Memory is especially important for religious identity. In Judaism, you see the collective remembering of the Passover and Exodus every year as the strongest identity for one people. For Christianity, the Eucharist is the event that is practiced across the world to identify very different people with one cultural identity. During Communion (which itself was originally a Passover meal), Jesus implores His disciples (and by extension His followers throughout time) to practice these rituals “in remembrance of me.”
Heavy stuff. Particularly if you reflect on just how notoriously unreliable memory is. Think about it. How often have you disagreed with a friend on the way an event you both witnessed transpired? People often joke they can’t even remember what they had for breakfast (like I did earlier), which if you think about how seriously we invoke memory, is a pretty dramatic statement. Yale theologian Miroslav Volf, in his book The End of Memory, argues that remembering incorrectly is just as bad as not remembering at all. “To remember something incorrectly is, in an important sense, not to remember at all – we do not remember to the precise extent that what we remember is incorrect” (Page 47). When life and death hang in the balance, having to rely on a faulty memory at best is just the worst. Continue reading