Help Chris Rodda Fight Fake History
Bruce Wilson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat May 05, 2007 at 01:31:16 PM EST
IN 2004, The Texas Republican Party platform declared the United States to be a "Christian nation". Christian nationalism is probably the driving ideology of the Christian right, and that ideology rests on a falsified version of history that tens of millions of Americans believe to be true.

Falsified history, asserting that the US was founded as a "Christian nation" and that the founders intended the separation of church and state principle to keep government out of religion but not vice-versa, has become shockingly widespread:

It is being taught at hundreds of US high schools, through an elective Bible class curriculum, it gets taught in the US Army's Junior ROTC curriculum, it gets showcased in an exhibit from the US Library of Congress, blasted from talk radio, broadcast by PBS, pushed by many religious broadcasters as a matter of course, distributed appended to Bibles given US troops, spread via Christian homeschooling curriculum taught to hundreds of thousands of students (at least), and promoted via a blizzard of videotapes, works of dubious and brazenly falsified American history..... on and on (I'm sure the full list of vectors for fake history is longer still).

This post concerns that problem and introduces readers to one historian, Chris Rodda, who rightfully deserves to be called a hero for writing Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternate Version Of American History, and for her ongoing 15 part series at Talk To Action debunking falsified American history from the Christian right.

Originally, I wrote this post (the first incarnation of it, that is. ) as a fund raiser to pay bills Chris Rodda had accumulated in the course of writing her landmark book "Liars For Jesus" and in continuing to rebut falsified history. Thanks to the generosity of contributors that effort was successful at keeping Chris' utilities on and that has afforded her some breathing room to work with me at envisioning what sort of longer term, more ambitious project will be necessary to combat the efforts of David Barton ans others that threaten to overwrite American history with a falsified "Christian nation" historical narrative.

The rewriting, and fabrication, of history can be most deadly expression of totalitarian impulses : those who control the past, the record of what has been, control the future. Falsified American history has seeped into not only homeschooling curriculum, America's public schools, and Congressional debates, but it also has distorted public understanding that the religious neutrality of American government was, and still is, key to the success of American democracy itself.

Chris Rodda, author of Liars For Jesus: The Religious Rights' Alternate Version Of American History has worked with astounding tenacity, intelligence, and persistence, at debunking a falsified version of American history put out by David Barton and other historians on the Christian right. I have come to have a deep respect for Chris Rodda's commitment to historical accuracy, and I'm asking Talk To Action readers to, please, help make it financially possible for Chris to continue her vital research which currently includes a survey on the use of falsified history in Congressional debates over the past decade. At the end of this post is way you can make a contribution to a fund Talk To Action is collecting for Chris Rodda.

As Chris has recently demonstrated, in an ongoing series at Talk To Action, a falsified version of American history that depicts the United States as originally a "Christian Nation" is now being taught to American teenagers in hundreds of high schools across America and, as we've covered earlier on Talk To Action, this falsified history has spread so far that it has polluted the understandings of America's political and religious leaders, on the origin and role of American secular government.

Fighting Fake History Action Items:


Make a donation to support Chris Rodda's research debunking falsified versions of American history put out by David Barton and others.

Email this link to history teachers and historians you know, to alert them to the spread of falsified American history that's even getting taught in some American public high schools.

Put the picture with attached link, on the right, on your blog as an ad

Buy a copy if Chris Rodda's book, Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternative Version of American History

Let Chris Rodda or I know if you're interested in working on this problem in some way ( her email is : LiarsForJesus@aol.com )



Donations here are not currently tax deductible
If you make a donation to Chris Rodda, you should receive a confirmation email and thank you note within 48 hours. If do not receive that confirmation, please let Chris Rodda know at: LiarsForJesus@aol.com

Thank you, in advance, for your contribution.

Even if you can't afford to make a financial contribution, you can help a great deal by sending this story to friends who care about history and historical accuracy. For American Democracy to survive and flourish, it is necessary that Americans be clear on what the historical record is on the founding of American government. If we, as a society, don't remember the meaning of secular government, we may wake to find, one day, that all of American government has become "faith based".... but based on whose 'faith' ? And, in the end this is a non-partisan matter. We are entitled to our own opinions but not our own facts. - Bruce Wilson



The rest of this post is divided into three parts, for the convenience of readers:

Part 1: My introduction of the growing "fake history" problem and explanation on why it matters.

Part 2: Chris Rodda explains the problem, and links to her ongoing series. Part 3: Testimonials



PART 1: Fake History, and a Divided America

As Frederick Clarkson, Co-Founder of this website, wrote in a recent Public Eye story entitled History is Powerful: Why the Christian Right Distorts History and Why it Matters:

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. (emphasis mine)

Why Should You Care ?

Well, because fake history is being taught in hundreds of American public schools, because America is splitting into two opposing political camps and one of those embraces a falsified version of American history, and because that fake history has even become cited pervasively in Congressional debates and the consequences are not minor:

One might have expected such government-sponsored lies from a totalitarian regime such as the former Soviet Union. But the United States government claims to foster the teaching of accurate history. Are we sliding towards totalitarian government ?

At stake are the rights of minorities in America, the separation of church and state, and the preservation of religious liberty. In fact, pluralistic American democracy is itself at risk.

America, and the American electorate is bifurcating, wrote political science professor Tom Schaller, in a recent Baltimore Sun editorial. So, we should ask ourselves, which political camp, and which narrative of history, will exert more influence in America in the coming decades ?

As a practical point, you should care because church state separation has become badly eroded and breached over the past two decades. Consider - religious organizations that get federal funds to provide social services can now practice religious discrimination in their hiring practices;  a new federal program launching this summer will literally install courts in churches; several billion dollars in federal domestic and international aid dollars have gone to promote failed "abstinence-only" sex ed programs advocated by the religious right. I could go on. The list is long.

And, what has been behind growing support for such violations of church/state separation is the fact that millions of Americans, probably tens of millions, believe that the church/state separation principle is a fraud, a pernicious myth, and that the United States was founded, and intended, as a Christian nation.

A substantial percent of Americans now believe that America was founded as a Christian nation, and they believe that in part because the flood of revisionist history, based on historical lies, fabrications and distortions, and misquotes and false quotes incorrectly attributed to America's founders, that has been written over the past several decades.

Many of America's leaders, in fact, have come to believe in the "Christian Nation" myth and the precepts that myth has been built on have become, to a worrying extent, taught to American teenagers; through Bible class curriculum taught in hundreds of America's public schools, through homeschooling curricula and, through the JROTC program, to America's future military leaders.

What view of history did recently resigned US Department of Justice staffer Monica Goodling, and her 150-odd fellow graduates from Pat Robertson's Regent University, hold ?

Almost assuredly, they were taught, at Regent, that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. In fact, up to 1/2 of Americans may believe in some version of the "Christian nation" myth, and many of those Americans who do will also tend to believe the separation of church and state to be a pernicious myth.

Things have gotten so bad that fake "Christian nation" history is being taught in hundreds of American schools [see end of post] and American politicians across almost the  whole breadth of the political spectrum seem to have forgotten that the United States was founded as a secular nation, and why America's founders chose to do so.

Recently, hundreds of thousands of Turkish citizens rallied in support of secular Turkish government but, as Frederick Clarkson and I have written about, at length, many of America's national political and religious leaders seem to have lost an understanding of what secularism, a core foundational principle of American government, is about.

The consequences are not minor ; as more and more Americans have come to believe in falsified "Christian nation" history, the admixture of church and state in America has grown, and incidents in which minorities, Jews, Wiccans, atheists, and others, are persecuted seem to be growing more common [footnote 1]. The logic is simple ; if the US was founded as a Christian nation, minorities should simply shut up and get out of the way.    

Until recently, falsifications in that "Christian nation" narrative have not been effectively rebutted.

Until now.

This goal of this post is to raise funds for, and publicize the work of, one historian who has made it her life's work to demolish Christian revisionist falsifications of American history that have seeped into the national political discourse and been embraced by tens of millions of Americans.The work of rebuttingn that is painstaking, tedious, and critical for America's future and for the role America will play, in coming decades, on the world stage for better or worse;

An entire generation of American children growing up now is being taught a falsified, heavily politicized version of American history, and to the extent that we neglect to pay attention to that we will continue to be surprised to find, as with Monica Goodling and her cohorts today, partisan religious ideologues ensconsed in American government, warping our nation's agenda, for decades to come.

Schaller makes this grim diagnosis:

America seems to be coming to the end of a period of partisan dealignment that began with the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. The so-called vital center is collapsing." [emphasis mine]

Let me take Schaller's analysis one step further:

America is slowly splitting in to two diametrically opposing politically camps.

Each camp has its sense of reality, grounded in its own understanding of history.

One camp holds an orthodox historical interpretations of American history built up by historians over decades and centuries.

The other political camp holds a view of American history that has been constructed, quite recently, by activists on the Christian right, from fake quotes and misquotes, lies, distortions and omissions and which holds that America was founded as a "Christian Nation", and that the separation of church and state is myth and America's true heritage has been stolen and the intent of the nation's founders thwarted by liberals and "secularists".

That second view is a lot more common than many on the left believe:

According to a 2002 Newsweek poll, 45% of Americans at that time saw the United States as a "secular nation", while 29% saw the United States as a "Christian nation" and 16%  as a "Biblical nation, defined by the Judeo-Christian tradition".

It is fair to say, I think, that those in the poll who saw America as a "Biblical nation" would also tend to agree, except for a small percentage of Jewish Americans, that the US was also a "Christian nation", and so Newsweek's poll indicated that Americans were almost evenly split.

But the United States was founded as a secular nation in which church and state were intentionally decoupled ; the first government in history to expressly prohibit the use of religious oaths as a precondition for holding national political office. Almost 1/2 of America seems on the verge of forgetting those historical facts ; history is being overwritten by myth.

PART 2: Chris Rodda Explains Why David Barton and His Work Matter

"Because the portrayal of history so affects current policy, some groups have found it advantageous to their political agenda to distort historical facts intentionally. Those particularly adept at this are termed 'revisionists.' "

Who wrote these words? The answer might surprise you. It was David Barton, in the foreword to his book Original Intent. And, Barton has certainly proved this statement to be true. No group has found it more advantageous to their political agenda to have "revisionists" as adept as himself on their side than the religious right, and, in fact, the entire Republican Party.

Just how influential is Barton? How valuable is he and his distorted version of American history to the religious right and the Republican Party? For those who don't already know, the following, from the 2005 Time Magazine article naming him one of Time's 25 Most Influential Evangelicals, will give you an idea.

David Barton
The Lesson Planner:
Even before he got directly involved in politics, David Barton was a major voice in the debate over church-state separation. His books and videotapes can be found in churches all over the U.S., educating an evangelical generation in what might be called Christian counter-history. The 51-year-old Texan's thesis: that the U.S. was a self-consciously religious nation from the time of the Founders until the 1963 Supreme Court school-prayer ban (which Barton has called "a rejection of divine law"). Many historians dismiss his thinking, but Barton's advocacy organization, WallBuilders, and his relentless stream of publications, court amicus briefs and books like The Myth of Separation, have made him a hero to millions -- including some powerful politicians. He has been a co-chair of the Texas Republican Party for eight years, is friends with House majority leader Tom DeLay (whom he has advised on the Pledge Patriot Act, which seeks to keep the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance) and was tapped by the Republican National Committee during its election sprint as a liaison to social conservatives. Those elected as a result of his efforts need not feel lonely in Washington: Barton conducts tours of the Capitol, during which he shows his rare copy of the Bible that Congress once printed -- for use in the schools.

That rare Bible that Barton carries around and whips out during his tours of the Capitol and other speaking engagements, which, by the way, was not printed by Congress for the use of schools, is an original 1782 Aitken Bible. The cost of this book alone -- this one single item in David Barton's library of "70,000 original documents predating 1812" -- would fund my work for several years. (The Bible Museum, Inc., an Arizona based dealer in rare and antique Bibles, currently has one for sale, priced at $149,000.) This is what I, a person who wakes up every morning hoping that my electricity and phone are still on so I can keep working, am up against. I am determined to bring David Barton and all the other Christian nationalist history revisionists to their knees (in something other than hypocritical prayer), but I need your help to do this.

The pseudo-history lessons of Barton, the "Lesson Planner," were once confined to churches and homeschools. Now, however, these lessons are making their way into more and more of our public schools via the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools (NCBCPS), an organization whose advisory board includes Barton. The NCBCPS curriculum, which not only recommends Barton's materials, but contains an entire unit devoted to promoting the Christian nationalist version of American history, has already been implemented in 382 school districts in 38 states.

Over the past decade, the lies of Barton and and other revisionists have been used with disturbing frequency in debates in Congress -- by senators and representatives who learned American history before the days of Christian homeschooling and the NCBCPS. If those of the generations currently in Congress have been so greatly influenced by this Christian nationalist pseudo-history, what will our Congress be like in a few decades from now, when it is packed with a generation who were never taught real history?

Historical Revisionism from the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools - 3/10/07
More Historical Revisionism from the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools - 3/18/07
Barton Revises History to Promote the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools - 3/24/07
Historical Revisionism in the NCBCPS Curriculum - 3/31/07

More Historical Revisionism in the NCBCPS Curriculum - 4/5/07
The Influence of the Ten Commandments on American Law - According to the NCBCPS - 4/12/07
Chuck Norris Helps the NCBCPS Spread David Barton's Lies - 4/15/07
Even More Historical Revisionism in the NCBCPS Curriculum - 4/22/07
"Revisionism: A Willing Accomplice" -- The Remarkable Hypocrisy of David Barton (Part 1) - 4/29/07


PART 3: Testimonials To Chris Rodda's Work

Having spent many years writing in opposition to the distortions and falsehoods foisted on the world regarding religion and the founding fathers, I am a fan and supporter of Chris Rodda's work. She has done an incredible job of debunking some of the most commonly repeated myths about our nation's founding, myths that distort both our view of history and our ability to make needed public policy changes. Rodda's work in this regard is indispensible.

Ed Brayton, Dispatches From The Culture Wars

Chris Rodda works to set the historical record straight and she does it with extensive documentation showing how the distortions found in the pseudo-history of David Barton and other revisionists are intentional and aimed at leading many well intentioned Christians into false conclusions about the faith and the intentions of our Founders. As a pastor I am thankful for her work.

Rev. William N. Esborn

I have been writing about Christian nationalism for about 15 years and recognized, and written about how David Barton is an influential leader in promoting a bogus-but-appealing version of American history that has helped to animate the Christian right, and its role in the Republican Party.  That's why I am grateful that Chris Rodda is busy debunking Barton and telling the real story of America -- authoritatively and with credible, checkable documentation. It is a tremendous -- and tremendously necessary project --one that Chris has taken on with gusto and a  dedication and scholarship that is turning history into a vital tool in combating some of the worst elements of dominionist politics in the U.S.  She is writing this stuff like she was born to blog, and is using the medium as effectively as anyone in the blogosphere.

Frederick Clarkson Journalist, Researcher, Co-Founder of Talk To Action

"Liars" seems a harsh term to apply to professed Christians and until lately I had--admittedly without paying too much attention--assumed that Christian fundamentalists were engaged in wishful thinking and selective quotations when they complained about activist judges subverting both the Constitution and the clear intent of the Founding Fathers to establish a Christian government. But after reading Ms. Rodda's book I realize that there is something going on far beyond taking words out of context. When she digs out the words and records that clearly demolish the assertion that no "wall of separation" between church and state was ever intended, "liars" does seem the appropriate word. Those of us who fear that the intrusion of "faith based" activities into our government and the flow of subsidies, in the guise of "contracts", to favored churches, is a step toward a theocracy, will find much useful and carefully documented information in 'Liars for Jesus' ".


Ramelle Macoy
Time Magazine, 1945 to 1957 (Roving Correspondent in Central America; War Correspondent in Korea; Bureau  Chief in Buenos Aires; Correspondent in Bonn)

footnotes

  1. David Barton is one of the principle architects of the Christian right's "Alternate" version of American history. See Barton's Wallbuilders website.  

  2. See Frederick Clarkson's grimly funny Who's Secular Now ? quiz series for an example of the sorts of language politicians and religious leaders across the politician spectrum use in relation to the word and concept of "secularism" ; Clarkson's multi part quiz series demonstrates just how degraded and twisted American understanding of the principle of secularism, a foundational principle of American government, has become.

. For an example of where Christian nationalism can lead, see Jewish family flees Delaware school district's aggressive Christianity from Jews On First




Display:
How can we donate to David Barton?  He sounds like a true American!

by wyoneb72 on Sun Aug 05, 2007 at 09:43:29 AM EST
David Barton has repeatedly demonstrated a fair degree of dishonesty in his historical works.

I do not consider dishonesty a core "American value".


by Bruce Wilson on Wed Aug 15, 2007 at 09:17:54 AM EST
Parent

Kitten's husband in Madras here. Interesting if you ARE our old guitar playing friend. Give us a call if you are. This is a little-known problem I've been fighting against for years now. It drives me NUTS to see newscasters nod and look like they agree when these people make statements like, "This was founded as a Christian country" - as though it's a well-known and foregone conclusion! I like the "Liars for Jesus' name - it fits. Ian

by Ian MacLeod on Wed Sep 12, 2007 at 04:56:51 AM EST
Parent



Sounds like we may have a little altered history on both sides.  If Chris Rodda wants to sell books and keep the lights on maybe telling the true history not one that fits your political agenda would help.
Barton's books are well written and documented, I find very little to support the revisionist theory.
Sorry no donation.


by Truth on Wed Aug 08, 2007 at 10:43:16 PM EST
Chris Rodda is not taking a "side" except insofar as she is on the side of historical accuracy.

Are you against historical accuracy ? It would seem so, but perhaps you've missed the basic point underlying Rodda's work - people have the right to their own opinions but not their own facts.

Support for accurate history should span the American political spectrum.

Rodda's work is carefully documented, and one of her areas of specialization lies in documenting the abuses of history carried out by the likes of David Barton.


by Bruce Wilson on Wed Aug 15, 2007 at 09:15:08 AM EST
Parent



Coild someone come up with a "button" that those of us have Websites and additional Blofs sites can place on them?
Pax Christi,
Ninure Saunders aka Rainbow Christian
http://Ninure-Saunders.tk

by Ninure on Wed May 16, 2007 at 11:41:22 AM EST

PART 2 interesting for me

by caren3 on Tue Nov 17, 2009 at 05:38:02 AM EST


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