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Is David Barton a Typical Christian Apologist—a Liar?

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Amateur Historian, Barton, Shows off Some of His Collection of US History

The Christian Historian

According to Time magazine, David Barton is one of the most influential evangelicals. He presides over the WallBuilders, a company he owns in Aledo, Texas. Allegedly, he gives 400 speeches a year, advises the federal government and state school boards, and testifies in court as an expert witness. He was for long the vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party, and is a frequent guest of Glenn Beck, the outlandish Mormon chat show host. It should not therefore be surprising that his vision of America as a nation infused from the start with Christianity is popular with churches, Christian schools and universities, Mitt Romney, the GOP and a plethora of other elephantine celebrities—Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, and Michele Bachmann. Huckabee said at a conference:

I almost wish that there would be a simultaneous telecast and all Americans will be forced, forced—at gunpoint, no less—to listen to every David Barton message. And I think our country will be better for it.

Sounds typically right wing hypocrisy in view of the GOP’s supposed libertarian principles. Still, Barton’s supporters call him a hero, while his detractors think he is sowing confusion and misinformation.

One way that he does it is by writing “Christian history” books about the founding of America, lately one called The Jefferson Lies which made The New York Times best seller list. He boasts he has collected and analyzed 100,000 documents from before 1812—original or certified copies of letters, sermons, newspaper articles and official documents of the Founding Fathers. He says they prove, contrary to conventional wisdom, that the Founding Fathers were deeply religious men who built America on Christian ideas. Barton’s popularity notwithstanding, conventional wisdom begs to differ!

Critics accuse Barton of misinterpretations and errors, says Thomas Kidd writing for World Community, and even some conservative Christian scholars are now openly questioning Barton’s work. Readers of the History News Network voted The Jefferson Lies as the “least credible history book in print”. Barbara Bradley Hagerty, writing a column syndicated by National Public Radio, points out David Barton is not a historian. He has a bachelor’s degree in Christian education from Oral Roberts University not in history, and has only published one peer reviewed article.

It seems that Christian Education frankly must mean lying (see Liars for Jesus, by Chris Rodda). Honest researchers, historians included, try to tell the truth, but Barton has qualified critics who say he tells lies, damned lies, and cannot understand statistics. Barton is being criticized by many scholars and historians, not simply for taking a different view of American history but for changing historically documented facts to further his own agenda. He is accused of cherry picking old documents on American history, selectively quoting them to make them say what he wants them to say, a popular ploy of Christian apologists, utterly dishonest but approved by most gullible evangelicals. Critics find his work riddled with unjustified historical revision with which he has misled millions of credulous Christians and gotten rich in the process. Such consistent misinterpretation cannot be other than deliberate, historians say. He is even alleged to have tried to silence critics through the courts, using his ill-gotten wealth.

Some Critics and Criticisms

Jay W Richards of the creationist Discovery Institute has spoken on the same platform as Barton at Christian conferences, but openly said Barton’s writings so troubled him he asked 10 conservative Christian professors to assess his work. Many concurred with Richards.

Glenn Moots of Northwood University wrote that Barton, in his desire in The Jefferson Lies to portray Jefferson favorably for Christians, omits obvious evidence that Jefferson was in no way an “orthodox, creedal, confessional Christianity”.

Gregg Frazer of the Master’s College, exposed factual claims in Barton’s video, America’s Godly Heritage, as being at least dubious. An example is the statement that “52 of the 55 delegates at the Constitutional Convention were ‘orthodox, evangelical Christians’ ”. Glenn Sunshine of Central Connecticut State University went further, saying Barton’s ideas of Jefferson’s religious views are “unsupportable”.

One of the “myths” about Jefferson, Barton told Huckabee on Fox News, is that Jefferson was a religious skeptic. Barton argues that for the first 70 or so years of his life, Jefferson was a “conventional Christian”, although he did express doubts in his final 15 years. As evidence of the third president’s religiosity, Barton, showing Huckabee an original document signed by Jefferson, explained:

Jefferson, unlike the other presidents, closes his documents: “In the year of our Lord Christ”.

He did not point out that Jefferson was adding his signature to a pre-printed form required by law. Barton goes on to say that Jefferson started church services at the Capitol, that he ordered the Marine Corps band to play at the services and that he funded a treaty to evangelize the Kaskaskia Indians—three claims that experts say are demonstrably false.

Professors Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter of the evangelical Grove City College, a largely conservative Christian school in Pennsylvania, named their book, Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President, plainly challenging Barton whom they argue “is guilty of taking statements and actions out of context and simplifying historical circumstances”. Regarding the nature of Jefferson’s faith, Throckmorton says there is no dispute among historians—Jefferson questioned the most basic tenets of Christianity:

  • he didn’t see Jesus as God
  • he didn’t believe that Jesus performed miracles
  • he dismissed the Trinity.

Jefferson even decided to write his own version of the gospels, now called the Jefferson Bible, a task he considered as “taking ‘diamonds as if from a dunghill’, picking out the Sermon on the Mount and the golden rule as the diamonds. The dunghill was the virgin birth, the Resurrection of Christ, the Great Commission”, and so on. Thus, ending his book, The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, Jefferson has nothing to say about the core of Christian belief, the Resurrection, simply writing:

There laid they Jesus: and rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.

Barton insists that Jefferson not only bought a copy of the Bible, but invested in a 1798 edition, showing his philosophical support for the sacred text. Doubtless, he wanted a copy to write his own version of it! But he claims Congress published the first American Bible in 1782, and intended the Bible to be used in public schools. Barton is quite wrong in these facts and his conclusion. Congress did not publish or pay for the 1782 Bible. At the request of Philadelphia printer, Robert Aitken, Congress agreed to have its chaplains read for errors the bible he was printing at his own expense. Honest historians agree it was not a government promotion of religion.

Like many of his kind, Barton seems to think that the Americans of 300 years ago are simply modern Americans in old fashioned gear. He utterly fails to comprehend the changes brought about by the passage of time, and therefore cannot make allowances for changing manners and ways of thinking. For example, Jefferson owned nearly 200 slaves, but Barton says he wanted to free them, as any devout Christian would—omitting that Jesus Christ never condemned slavery, nor did Paul who advised slaves to accept their situation—but he could not because in Virginia it was illegal to free them. Barton claims:

Had his plans been followed, Virginia would’ve ended slavery really early on. They would have gone much more toward civil rights. He was not as advanced in his views of slavery as say, John Adams in New England, but he certainly was no racist in that sense.

Critics say Barton “seriously misrepresents or misunderstands (or both) the legal environment related to slavery”. They mean he deliberately or incompetantly omits the section of Virginian law that says Virginians could free slaves. Confronted by this, Barton moved the goalposts, claiming now that Jefferson was too poor to free his slaves. Warren Throckmorton adds:

Mr Barton is presenting a Jefferson that modern day evangelicals could love and identify with. The problem with that is, it’s not a whole Jefferson. It’s not getting him right.

Barton accuses Throckmorton and Coulter of being “academic elitists” posing as the “sole caretakers of historical knowledge”, and hostile toward his “personal religious beliefs”. It is a popular apologetic ploy to denigrate proper scholars in defense of Christian falsehoods.

The Rev Ray McMillian, pastor of Oasis Church in Cincinnati and president of Cincinnati Area Pastors, is boycotting the publisher of Barton’s book, Thomas Nelson. He says that by whitewashing Jefferson, and through him all the other slaveholding founders, Barton is rewriting history to make it palatable for white Christians today. He says frankly:

Thomas Jefferson hated African-Americans. He hated the color of our skin. He talked about how inferior we are, in both mind and body. All in their hearts they [Right wing evangelicals like Barton] are saying, “If we could just go back there, America would be right”. Right for who? Not for blacks, not for women, not for Native Americans. Only for white men.

Anyway no Christian golden founding age ever existed. John Fea, an evangelical himself, chairman of the history department at evangelical Messiah College and author of Was America Founded As a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction, says:

None of the founders were necessarily interested in promoting a specifically Christian nation. Many of the founders believed in something akin to separating church and state even though they didn’t use those terms. And in fact, most of the people in America were not regular churchgoers. So what is that great culture that we’re returning to?

Barton’s reply is:

I’m not trying to throw the nation back 200 years. I don’t want the technology to go backward, I love the health [care] stuff we got now. What I try to use is principles that are timeless.

He loves ObamaCare?! And what about the timeless Christian principle, indeed necessity that Christians should give all they have to the poor!

“Sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven, and come follow me.” At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

Mark 10:21-22

It means that Jesus required the rich to give all of their wealth to the poor to be saved. The treasure in heaven is obviously not gold nuggets or silver dollars, it is salvation itself, but the rich man preferred his material wealth to salvation. They all do! Not one of them can be a Christian and be rich. Jesus is quite clear about it. No rich Christian can be a Christian!

Christian Social Engineering or Building Tomorrow’s Dark Age

These scholars criticizing Barton are politically conservative evangelicals or Catholics, who agree with Barton’s belief that Christian principles played a major role in America’s founding, but reject the notion of a concoction called “Christian history” as something other than and superior to “history”. It ends up with books and videos full of “embarrassing factual errors, selective quotes, and misleading claims”. Barton finds the Constitution is a not a secular document, but is filled with biblical quotations. He told James Robison on Trinity Broadcast Network:

You look at Article 3, Section 1, the treason clause. Direct quote out of the Bible. You look at Article 2, the quote on the president has to be a native born? That is Deuteronomy 17:15, verbatim. I mean, it drives the secularists nuts because the Bible’s all over it! Now we as Christians don’t tend to recognize that. We think it’s a secular document. We’ve bought into their lies. It’s not.

When you do as he says you find that none of this is true. The Constitution of 1787 does not speak of God or religion except to prohibit a religious test for office. It is the First Amendment which mentions religion. John Fea says Barton is peddling a distorted history that appeals to conservative believers.

David Barton is offering an alternative vision of American history which places God, the providence of God, Christianity, at the center.

Fea sees Barton is a danger because he’s using a skewed version of the past to shape the future for political reasons:

He’s in this for activism. He’s in this for policy. He’s in this to make changes to our culture.

In short, it is cavalier social engineering with no thought for the future success of the USA, merely that it should be right wing and evangelical. For example, in 2010, the Texas Board of Education voted to publish more conservative and Christian friendly school history textbooks. David Barton was one of the board’s advisers. Later on the God show Chapter and Verse, he said it would take another 16 or 18 years before kids get through the entire curriculum, then another 10 years before those kids get elected to office and start doing things:

So we’re talking 30 years from now. But, it’s in the pipe coming down.

Asked about this, Barton agreed he wanted to shape future leaders like any educator, but he didn’t see himself as a particularly influential person, but just that “I’m going to be an active citizen and be involved and do everything I can to help move these principles forward.”

Barton even thinks the Founding Fathers had amazing powers of prophecy. It was prophecy to exceed the bible itself, as Charles Darwin was not born for another quarter of a century, in 1809, and it was three quarters of a century before he published his theory of evolution in 1859. He said on TV they opposed the theory of evolution:

You go back to the Founding Fathers, as far as they’re concerned, they already had the entire debate on creation-evolution. And you get Thomas Paine, who’s the least religious Founding Father saying, ’“You’ve got to teach creation science in the classroom. Scientific method demands that”.

It all goes to show that Christians will believe just anything that suits them!

Update: As this article was being composed Thomas Nelson decided to stop publication and distribution of The Jefferson Lies. See Warren Throckmorton”s website.

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Written by mikemagee

10 August, 2012 at 1:46 am

Beck and Barton! Congress Printed No Revolutionary Bible for Schools

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Let’s not confuse history with propaganda.

John Fea, Messiah College, Grantham, PA

The Republican Party mythmakers (more bluntly, liars)—Glen Beck and the “Reverend” David Barton, allegedly the historian of Christian America—pretend that the founding fathers of the US constitution founded a Christian Nation rather than a nation in which church and state was specifically separate, and so open to people of all faiths, or none. Chris Rodda, author of Liars for Jesus explains this in a videoed talk with illustrative clips, and several other informative videos too.

Written by mikemagee

12 May, 2011 at 8:04 pm

How the Jewish and Christian Religions Separated

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Dr Lindsay Wilson, Academic Dean and Lecturer in Old Testament, Ridley, Melbourne, has briefly reviewed for The Melbourne Anglican The Separation of Early Christianity from Judaism, by Marianne J Dacy (Amberst, New York: $119.99). Dacy is a Catholic.

He says her analysis is largely an historical one. That has to be good, for many Christians think fundamental theological differences between the Jewish and Christian religions were the reason for the separation. It is not so. The Jews, many Christians say, rejected God and murdered His son, so they were the people of the Devil, abandoning God, even though He had declared they were His Chosen Ones. Dacy does not think such theological factors had much, if anything, to do with it, and she puts little emphasis on them. Her thesis is that Christianity became Gentile not because of carefully argued theology, but largely because of the increasing number of Gentile converts, the marginalising of practising Jewish Christians, and the change in the balance of power in the Roman Empire.

Surely she is right. Christ was a Jew, and despite the supposed perfidy of the Jews, all the first Christians were Jews, though many were Hellenized Jews. It was through the increasing preponderance of Hellenized Diaspora Jews in Christianity outside of Palestine that gentile godfearers, mainly women at first, were drawn in, then men once the Pauline faction had abrogated the need for circumcision. Jewish Christians seem to have fought with the Romans in the war of 66-70 AD, and sympathized with the ambitions of Bar Kochba, while refusing to recognize him as messiah—how could they—and being unwilling to actually fight.

Even so it was in the period between the two Jewish wars that the Christians outside Judaea began to separate themselves from Jews generally. When Christianity was accepted by Constantine, things began to get harder for the Jews, as Christian prejudice against them was able to be expressed, and eventually the privileges given to Jews by Julius Caesar were lifted by Theodosius, and Jews began to be maligned like all the other non-Christian religions, and their synagogues smashed just as temples to the classical gods of Rome had been. Dr Wilson truly writes:

One of the striking features of this story was to see Christians, when they rose to political and social prominence (fourth to fifth centuries) using the law to impose Christianity and discriminate against other religions. This is the very practice used by Islam today, and widely condemned by Christians. There is value in reading church history!

Wilson is pointing out Christian hypocrisy, with the appropriate degree of coyness Christians feel is necessary when they ever so politely criticize others of their co-religionists, however objectionable their behavior might have been, or still be!

He continues that the rift between Christianity and Judaism was accelerated by the rise of Christianity to a position of political and social privilege. Once Christians had power, they no longer bleated about persecution like that they had received at the hands of a few emperors anxious that the decline of the empire curiously paralleled the growth of Christianity within it. Now they could mercilessly attack pagans, then Jews, then even each other—over metaphysical, nay mythical, doctrinal matters concerning the nature, substance and body of Christ.

Christianity had already declined beyond a savagery that had not been seen in civilized society for a very long time, but which was to persist for over a thousand more years of Christian darkness, before the glimmers of the Enlightenment were seen.

Written by mikemagee

9 February, 2011 at 7:55 pm