Things are getting bad enough for David Barton that even the Christian Reconstructionists are blasting his distortions of history. Joel McDurmon of American Vision, who does believe in “restoring America’s Biblical foundation,” takes Barton to task for several blatant errors.
For example, Barton argues that the First Great Awakening impacted young Jefferson, and “for well over a decade after it, Jefferson’s writings and statements on religious faith can be considered as nothing less than orthodox.”In 1776, Jefferson “affirmed that Jesus was the Savior, the Scriptures were inspired, and that the Apostles’ Creed ‘contained all things necessary for salvation.’” As his proof for this, Barton notes…
In 1776, Jefferson “affirmed that Jesus was the Savior, the Scriptures were inspired, and that the Apostles’ Creed ‘contained all things necessary for salvation.’” …
In 1776, as Barton notes, Jefferson wrote his personal “Notes on Religion,” but this is where Barton’s claim gets most egregious. He says these notes reveal that Jefferson personally “affirmed” that Jesus is Savior, the inspiration of Scripture, and that the Apostle’s Creed taught “all things necessary for salvation” (this would include, of course, the Trinity and the virgin birth of Christ). Is this true?
Turning to Jefferson’s “Notes” we do find such statements written, but they are not affirmations of Jefferson’s. They are, as the title of the work says, “notes”—in particular they are notes of other people’s affirmations, many of which contradict each other.
For example, in these notes Jefferson does refer to “our Saviour,” the “holy Scriptures,” and the Apostles’ Creed that contains “all things necessary to salvation.” But these are clearly in the context of descriptions of other people’s views.
In particular, Jefferson is making notes on the works of John Locke and the Earl of Shaftesbury—both very popular works on religion at the time, but also very rationalistic and unorthodox works as well. This is especially true of Shaftesbury’s work, and it is this work to which Jefferson devotes the vast majority of his attention in these notes.
The nature of Jefferson’s notes being so, Barton’s presentation of these comments as beliefs that Jefferson “affirmed” is simply untenable. It’s simply wrong, and as a piece of historical scholarship, it is beyond naïve, it is beyond a high-school level mistake. Among the first questions one should ask when interpreting a primary source document is “What is the nature of this document?” What is it, what is the context of it, why does it contain the text that it does in the way that it does? These are fundamental questions a historian would ask, and it does not appear in this case that Barton did.
Nevertheless, he rushed to present the text of this document as evidence of a highly controversial and radical claim—that Jefferson was nothing less than orthodox—and in doing so badly distorted its nature of context.
In some places, Jefferson’s comments are so taken out of context that Barton has to leave out actual words from the original quotation itself in order to make the case he presents. Note in particular Barton’s selective quotation of “contain[ed] all things necessary to salvation.” Reading this in Jefferson’s context, however, does not reveal that this was Jefferson’s view, but just the opposite: he specifically attributes this to others. Speaking of the early Christians, Jefferson writes, “The Apostles creed was by them taken to contain all things necessary to salvation, & consequently to a communion.” This changes the meaning entirely.
This level of misquotation cannot be a mere mistake. When important qualifying words are left out from the very heart of a quotation, it brings the trustworthiness and integrity of the author’s entire work into under suspicion. I hate to sound harsh, but there is simply no other explanation of the matter.
He’s right. This is not a mistake, it’s an intentional lie on Barton’s part. McDurmon concludes:
With all of these exaggerated and outright dishonest claims about Jefferson, there is indeed one thing about Barton’s book that is apt: its title, The Jefferson Lies. They abound not only from the “academic collectivists” and “deconstructionists,” but in this book as well.
There is a split among Reconstructinonists on the question of whether America is or was ever intended to be a Christian nation. Gary DeMar and others from American Vision argue the affirmative, while Gary North says the opposite, that the Constitution was written to destroy earlier covenants with God as part of a rationalist conspiracy.