Barton Broadside: Religious Right Pseudo-Historian Replies (Weakly) To Critics
Rob Boston printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Mon Jul 16, 2012 at 01:28:23 PM EST

"Christian nation" pseudo-historian David Barton is on the defensive. It's a place I've wanted to see him for a long time.

If you're just joining us, Barton is a Texas Religious Right activist who makes his living peddling a revisionist history of America designed to prove that the country was founded to be a Christian nation.

I've been writing about Barton and his group WallBuilders since 1993. I've pointed out that Barton, who is not a historian (he holds a degree in Christian education from Oral Roberts University), is just a far-right political activist who twists history to suit his partisan ends. Barton is to history what creationists are to biology.

Recently, Barton went too far. He published a book called The Jefferson Lies that asserts that Thomas Jefferson was really an orthodox Christian most of his life and that he didn't advocate strict church-state separation.

Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter, two professors at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, debunked Barton's new tome in their e-book Getting Jefferson Right. At first, Barton tried to ignore the book and even told his radio audience that he didn't intend to read it.

Barton has apparently had a change of heart because he has issued a rebuttal to the book - kind of.  Much of the rebuttal is just an ad hominem attack on Throckmorton, Coulter and other scholars who have criticized Barton's work. For example, Barton accuses his critics of being "academic elitists" - a curious charge to level against two guys who issued their book in an electronic format for $4.99. (You can read Throckmorton's reply to Barton here.)

Barton then attempts to establish his credentials by noting that he has been summoned as an expert by some state education officials. But this is irrelevant. The fact that some ultra-conservative politicians brought Barton in to promote a political agenda during textbook disputes does not give him any credibility. Barton seems to believe that because some people are foolish enough to believe the lies he peddles, that makes him a historian. Please.

But I was most amused by these passages by Barton: "[P]eople are willing to pay good money to learn the simple, uncomplicated history that used to be taught in school" and the academics' "real objection is that I make history uncomplicated, and thus make them irrelevant."

I almost fell out of my chair with laughter. I read a lot of history, and the last thing it is is uncomplicated. The complications are what make history so fascinating. Uncomplicated history isn't worth reading.

Look, the founders weren't demigods. They were human beings with the same flaws and moral imperfections that afflict us today. Yes, they did great things - but sometimes they missed the mark. Yet they still managed to forge a nation that has survived more than 220 years. That's a story - warts and all - that's worth telling.

Barton does not want to tell that story. What Barton calls "simple and uncomplicated" history is really just the "rah, rah/America first/we've never done anything wrong because God is on our side" claptrap that turns people away from history in droves. His "simple and uncomplicated" history is a fairy tale for adults designed to help them sleep well at night. Those of us with a conscience  -- or even some simple curiosity - would rather hear the real story and spend an occasional sleepless night grappling with the moral implications of living in a great country that has sometimes done bad things.

And if you think this is just some airy squabble between a handful of academics and a wannabee historian in Texas, think again. This matters.

Barton's "history" was written for political ends. It was written to motivate people to vote and behave in the way Barton and his Religious Right allies want them to vote and behave. It was written to motivate theocrats to "take back" a country they never owned in order to recapture a great "Christian nation" heritage that never actually existed. It was written to provide a justification to the people who seek to take away your rights. (Interesting fact: Barton argues that the First Amendment protects only monotheists.)

This is history pressed into the service of right-wing politics. It is history bent and twisted to serve an ideology. It is history with a political agenda.

Scholars, many of them Christians, are now seeing Barton for the threat that he is and are standing up to him. (Throckmorton and Coulter are hardly the only ones. John Fea, author of Was America Founded As a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction, is also on the case.)

Barton knows that he's intellectually outgunned by these real scholars, so he's lashing out at them with all of the name-calling and straw-man arguments that have marked his work over the years.

That's the real story - simple and uncomplicated.

He's referring, of course, to the hagiographies masquerading as historical portraits of our founding fathers drummed into us in elementary school. This man is barking mad!  It's a shame madness and bigotry are such bankable commodities in this country.

by Bronxboy47 on Mon Jul 16, 2012 at 04:41:46 PM EST

Slightly off-topic, but after the news about the Iowa state senator who joined up with the republics folks, I looked into it briefly and noticed their tenants include "sovereignty" and some of this revisionist Christian nation stuff. I'd love to gain a better understanding of how all of these groups fit together. Has anyone ever written about that?

by amyloo on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 08:10:10 AM EST

once defined as "Knowing where your people are going and getting a step or two out front." It is what Barton has been doing, pandering to a political agenda. It is the key to many ministries who successfully bring together people who already have a certain mindset, and they repeat what these people already know, making them feel proud of their certainty without challenging them with any new information or expanded ways of looking at the world. Conservatives used to understand that life was changing and moving vigorously forward -- because they understood and welcomed this, they were passionate about history, and worked to preserve the best of the past. Like a curator at a find museum they restored, celebrated, and documented the best of the past. Today's conservative is unwilling to move forward, they want to move back... they rewrite history in their attempt to go back and get it right this time. They are no longer like a curator, nor even an antiques dealer... it's like they are hoarders piling up old junk, without the ability to distinguish between what is valuable and what is just old and worn out.

by chaplain on Tue Jul 17, 2012 at 08:57:04 AM EST

Great info on how they are trying to revise history. Keep up the good work.

by Jaypride on Tue Jul 24, 2012 at 12:06:10 PM EST

 Those of us with a conscience  -- or even some simple curiosity - would rather hear the real story and spend an occasional sleepless night grappling with the moral implications of living in a great country that has sometimes done bad things.Veterinary Schools

by mike12 on Wed Aug 08, 2012 at 07:36:12 AM EST

And if you think this is just some airy squabble between a handful of academics and a wannabee historian in Texas, think tournament prizes

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by nilky698 on Mon Sep 03, 2012 at 03:35:37 AM EST

Those of us with a conscience  -- or even some simple curiosity - would rather hear the real story and spend an occasional sleepless night grappling with the moral implications of living in a great country that has sometimes done bad things.lacoste canada

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by nilky698 on Thu Sep 06, 2012 at 12:29:57 PM EST

The fact that some ultra-conservative politicians brought Barton in to promote a political agenda during textbook disputes does not give him any credibility.Schools for Vet Techs

by nilky698 on Thu Sep 13, 2012 at 07:34:40 AM EST

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