Barton's Bad Season: `Christian Nation' Advocate Continues To Sink
Rob Boston printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Fri Mar 01, 2013 at 11:50:25 AM EST

You could say that this has been the winter of David Barton's discontent.

Barton, a Texas-based pseudo-historian who for years has made a living telling gullible Religious Right audiences that the United States was founded to be a Christian nation and church-state separation is a myth, has run into quite a streak of trouble lately.

Barton's problems began when a band of conservative Christian scholars, led by Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, dissected his book The Jefferson Lies and exposed the many errors therein. The book's publisher, Thomas Nelson (the nation's largest Christian publisher), pulled the tome.

More recently, Chris Rodda, director of research for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and a longtime thorn in Barton's side, produced research indicating that a Barton claim about armed schoolchildren during the Wild West period defending their teacher from a killer was in fact taken from a novel by Western writer Louie L'Amour.

Barton originally told the story to Glenn Beck. He still insists that it might be true and claims L'Amour said it was. But as Throckmorton points out, that's not how history is done.

 "If there really is a basis in fact here," wrote Throckmorton, "it is a fair question to ask: how much more did the story change from the original source to L'Amour's book? L'Amour doesn't claim to be an historian and doesn't say what details were based on the account he used or what he added to make an entertaining novel. Clearly the reason one does not do history this way is because the narrative can change dramatically from the first telling to the last."

Rodda also took aim at another Barton claim about guns: that during the founding period, there were rarely gun-related accidents. Barton claims he could find only two. Rodda consulted an archive of historical newspapers and tracked down numerous accounts of people being maimed and killed due to gun accidents during this era.(Just to be clear: Americans United doesn't take a stand on gun control. The point here is to underscore how sloppy Barton's research is.)

Will any of this make a difference? Well, thoughtful evangelicals have been challenged to look anew at Barton's influence, and some of them are doing that. Some of the hardest-hitting material about Barton has appeared in World magazine, a conservative Christian publication that Americans United rarely finds itself in accord with.

More satisfyingly, it appears that some political leaders are finally questioning the wisdom of being tied to Barton. Over the years, I've been amazed at Barton's ability to ingratiate himself with certain political figures. Despite having absolutely no credentials, he even served as an advisor when social studies standards were being rewritten in California and Texas.

This week Montana Gov. Steve Bullock announced that he would not attend a prayer breakfast where Barton was the featured speaker. Bullock is a Democrat, and LGBT groups in the state had urged him not to share a stage with Barton, whose views on LGBT issues are predictably extreme.

Barton's standing among professional historians has already hit bottom. Is this the beginning of the end of this political influence as well? We can only hope.


Wouldn't it be nice if after the dizzying erosion of "facts" (meaning items that can be found in the historical record or proven by science) over the past decade or so, average people with no axe to grind started holding folks like Barton and the many, many mostly right-wing politicians to account for their statements?  They talk about scholarship and the importance of "book learnin" (which is often supposed to include the Bible), but then they embrace this tripe, while simultaneously insisting that the theory of evolution has absolutely no basis, that global climate change "was made up by Al Gore," and that no pregnancy-gone-wrong can ever actually kill a woman.

Not to beat a dead horse, but I remember simultaneously feeling as if I had been kicked in the stomach and laughing hysterically when one of Mitt Romney's campaign strategists said that the campaign was "not going to be constrained by facts."  That there was so little comment on this from the media or the plain, old public was truly frightening.

When one thinks about the damage done to lower-income folks and social welfare programs by Reagan's folksy lie about "Welfare Queens" and their Cadillacs, one should realize just how incredibly damaging "little stories" can be.

I hope Barton loses his supporters and that we never have to endure his intellectual snake oil again!

by coralsea on Fri Mar 01, 2013 at 03:13:01 PM EST

It showed me a great deal with that Evangelical Mormon Libertarian Glenn Beck hitched his star to David Barton Dominionist purveyor of Christian History. In such a dictatorship as they pine for Barton would be one of the pseudo scholars of such a regime. We have seen it in short lived Nazi Germany, longer lived USSR, Mao's China etc. Where the ideology and theology rule over facts and truths. Time to strip this charlatan naked for all the world to see.

by Nightgaunt on Mon Mar 04, 2013 at 03:32:53 PM EST

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