Bart Gingerich writes an interesting, if too brief, article at the Institute on Religion and Democracy’s blog about David Barton and Wallbuilders. Gingerich was homeschooled and got his history degree from Patrick Henry College, which he entered as a big fan of Barton’s work. He is now a staunch critic:
The honest-but-sympathetic refer to David Barton’s claims as “exaggerations.” This is too euphemistic; they are lies. Since I built my historical framework on such a foundation, it came crashing down under the light of truth…
So, Wallbuilders fans, why do you support this harmful process by deluding the conservatives of the next generation? Everyone’s desires and rationalizations differ, but here is my guess. The American people are rightly worried, and Wallbuilders provides an outlet for them to combat harmful forces in the culture. Atheist and secularist complaints have stripped the public architecture of cross and nativity, public schools of prayer and Christian conviction, and primetime TV of Little House on the Prairie’s homespun domestic piety. Amoral sex education and comedies about the “New Normal” of single parenthood and homosexuality have filled their place. State and federal laws push harder and harder against public manifestations of religion. Any complaint about the ghettoizing of Christianity meets with the retort of “separation of church and state” accompanied by “sensitivity and tolerance.” Parents are worried for their children. They react to these arguments by grasping to whatever tools make sense and offer a devastating counter-narrative…
And as for the powerhouse spokespeople for such reactions, David Barton provides the material to meet the agenda. Thus, the “exaggerations” are propped up even more since they meet the requirements of a belly-aching pattern of decline and ruin. Unfortunately, the agenda comes at the expense of individual souls. Students—especially the scholastically adept—are hurt very badly by the misinterpretations, misportrayals, mistruths. I barely survived coming across the knowledge, and there are many who do not. David Barton isn’t helping by circulating lies. Those of Christian-cultural influence must realize that we their children are not just bullets in the culture war. I’m not really much for the metaphor in the first place, but if we’re really serious about protecting marriage, life, and the Western heritage, we ought never to stretch the truth to get our way. Proceedings have already gone underway; it’s time to court martial David Barton.
I’d like to hear more detail from Gingerich. I tend to agree with him (in a section of the article that I did not quote) that the story of religion and America’s founding is more complex and fascinating than either Barton or many secularists — folks on my side — like to pretend. The founding of the United States was neither the tale of a Christian nation nor the triumph of secularism over religion; it was a mixed bag, at best, filled with contradictions and compromises.
But let me suggest another reason why the Barton narrative is so powerful to many Christians: Because it echoes the two dominant themes of Christianity itself. The first is a classic “paradise lost” myth, which is, in the story of the Garden of Eden, the core of all three Abrahamic religions. And the moment that he is challenged, Barton falls back on a second narrative to which Christians are particularly susceptible: the persecution myth. When criticized, Barton immediately claims to be a victim of persecution, inflicted on him by liberals, atheists or “academic elitists.” Both of these narratives slip easily into the Christian consciousness because they are so familiar in form and so perfectly in tune with the song they already sing.
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