History is Powerful: Why the Christian Right Distorts History and Why it Matters
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Mar 15, 2007 at 04:34:08 PM EST
The Public Eye magazine has just posted my most recent article online.  I am posting a few excertps below, but you will have to click over to The Public Eye to read the whole thing.

The notion that America was founded as a Christian nation is a central animating element of the ideology of the Christian Right. It touches every aspect of life and culture in this, one of the most successful and powerful political movements in American history. The idea that America's supposed Christian identity has somehow been wrongly taken, and must somehow be restored, permeates the psychology and vision of the entire movement. No understanding of the Christian Right is remotely adequate without this foundational concept.

But the Christian nationalist narrative has a fatal flaw: it is based on revisionist history that does not stand up under scrutiny. The bad news is that to true believers, it does not have to stand up to the facts of history to be a powerful and animating part of the once and future Christian nation. Indeed, through a growing cottage industry of Christian revisionist books and lectures now dominating the curricula of home schools and many private Christian academies, Christian nationalism becomes a central feature of the political identity of children growing up in the movement. The contest for control of the narrative of American history is well underway.

History is powerful.

That's why it is important for the rest of society not only to recognize the role of creeping Christian historical revisionism, but our need to craft a compelling and shared story of American history, particularly as it relates to the role of religion and society. We need it in order to know not how the religious Right is wrong, but to know where we ourselves stand in the light of history, in relation to each other, and how we can better envision a future together free of religious prejudice, and ultimately, religious warfare.

We've seen how religious beliefs (and other ideologies) inspire people to view others as subhuman, deviant, and deserving of whatever happens to them, including death. It is the stuff of persecution, pogroms, and warfare. The framers of the U.S. Constitution struggled with how to inoculate the new nation against these ills, and in many respects, the struggle continues today. The story goes that when Benjamin Franklin, a hometown delegate to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, emerged from the proceedings, people asked him what happened. His famous answer was "You have a republic, if you can keep it." To "keep it" in our time, we must appreciate the threat and dynamics of Christian nationalism, and the underlying historical revisionism that supports it. Then we can develop ways to counter it.

Continue reading:  History is Powerful: Why the Christian Right Distorts History and Why it Matters

is one of the main themes of this site.

This article is the most detailed articulation of my views on this to date.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Mar 15, 2007 at 05:04:35 PM EST

I tend to get so focused on debunking the individual lies that I sometimes lose sight of the larger goal of this revisionism, and need to read an article like yours once in a while to keep things in perspective and remember why I'm doing what I'm doing. As you said, it's "the underlying historical revisionism that supports" Christian nationalism. The religious right needs the masses to feel justified in supporting their agenda, and this would not be possible without getting them to genuinely believe that the lies of the pseudo-historians are true. I like to think that the majority of Christians who are spreading these lies on their websites and in other ways are not liars themselves, but have merely been duped by their trusted leaders. I've often wondered how big a percentage of these innocent players, who support certain constitutional violations because they honestly believe them to be justified by history, would still support them if they knew the truth.

by Chris Rodda on Thu Mar 15, 2007 at 09:44:37 PM EST
I don't know how many people would be persuaded or are persuadable. But I do know that the political, academic and religious community (with some notable exceptions) have not been contending for the interpretation of history.

It's not that there aren't good books, or good history professors -- it is that there is a war of ideas underway, and the other side is on the attack. Our side seems oblivious to the war, or at least are behaving that way.

by Frederick Clarkson on Thu Mar 15, 2007 at 10:34:40 PM EST

When the Europeans came to these shores, there were already established, stable, lawful nations with codified legal systems, advanced governmental systems (of which the American is rather a copy), and systems of trade and commerce- that had been in existence for many generations and that spanned the entire "new world".  The only things we lacked were guns and writing- and in some areas writing even existed.

The land was taken from us, our systems co-opted or destroyed, and then everything was denied and covered up (especially regarding our organized and advanced cultures).  The Europeans even tried their best to cause all of us all to "vanish".

Indeed, it can be said that we were FAR MORE CHRISTIAN than those who came over.

A nation created in theft, violence, and slavery does not have the right to say that it was founded as a "Christian Nation".

Ask the Native Americans.

by ArchaeoBob on Thu Mar 15, 2007 at 08:59:40 PM EST

I've been following this for some time, and, as you point out, the gap between history and facts on the one hand, and reconstructionist mythology on the other is stunning.

For example, Christian reconstructionists are busily recreating the the Jamestown settlement as an embodiment of "America's Providential History." Chief among them is the Vision Forum (Industries) Ministries who, not coincidentally, will make a bundle off all of the families & others that participate in VF's alternate celebration in June, after the official events in May.

To get an idea of how bizarre this all is, check out their latest posting: http://www.visionforum.com/hottopics/blogs/dwp/2007/03/2337.aspx

A children's monument? And, to boot, a monument made by the same company that carved Roy Moore's 10 commandments monolith?   You can't make this stuff up.

by wahineslc on Thu Mar 15, 2007 at 09:50:58 PM EST

Being that the Founders were products of the Enlightenment, this in and of itself refytes the whole concept of Christian nationalism. I truly believe that this revisionist view of history is finding fertile ground is because of our failure to teach basic civics.

We just might be paying the price for excessive tax cutting that impedes quality education.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Fri Mar 16, 2007 at 07:32:49 AM EST

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