Politico on David Barton: What Will Evangelicals Do, Part Two

Yesterday’s Politico article by Stephanie Simon on evangelical support for David Barton could have been subtitled: Evangelicals Choose Pragmatism Over Truth.

In the last year, over 70 scholars (over 700 if you count the 650 votes The Jefferson Lies received for Least Credible History Book in Print) have expressed concerns about David Barton’s history.  Most of those 70 scholars teach history or social science at conservative Christian colleges.* Yet, the Politico article reveals an approach to historical scholarship that is disturbing.

Stephanie Simon told the tale. Although I have some skepticism about Barton’s sunny disposition, he says he is back and better than ever. Evangelical Senator, and probable contender for the GOP presidential nomination, Ted Cruz said he was not in a position to opine on academic disputes. However, there is really no dispute about which to opine. The verdict has been in for some time. Thomas Nelson delivered it just over a year ago. As noted, multitudes of scholars have united to send the same message. Where are the scholars defending The Jefferson Lies, or the claim that Congress printed the first English Bible, or that the Constitution quotes the Bible “verbatim?” We don’t need Mr. Cruz to opine on a dispute, we need him to open his mind to reality. About Barton’s lessons, Cruz said:

David’s historical research has helped millions rediscover the founding principles of our nation and the incredible sacrifices that men and women of faith made to bequeath to us the freest and most prosperous nation in the world.

Doesn’t it matter that much of Mr. Barton’s “historical research” has been deemed to be off the mark? Mr. Cruz, aren’t you concerned in the least that these millions are now seriously misinformed? The same questions can be posed to Christian right organizations which use Barton’s work even though they know it is off the mark.

There is not even a question about the accuracy issue any longer. To their credit, the Family Research Council acknowledged that they removed the Capitol Hill video due to errors. And Focus on the Family felt the need to stealthily edit error-filled portions of Barton’s speeches. There are other aspects of the Focus broadcast (of which they are aware) that are incorrect; those remain a part of the broadcast.

Instead of integrity, accuracy, correction and stewardship, evangelical groups are openly discussing the value of content and consultants in utilitarian terms. If Mr. Barton can deliver a certain segment of evangelicals then the standards will be different for him. Mr. Barton gets a pass because he has a big audience and is perceived to be helpful politically.

In February of this year, I reflected on World magazine’s coverage of the Barton controversy and asked how evangelicals might respond. Now, I rephrase slightly.

World Magazine Politico has now put these matters on the front burner. My question is what will evangelicals do about it?

 

*Many more than 70 scholars have expressed concerns but some did not want to sign a letter or write an essay. Some were told not to do so by their college or university administration; others said they did not believe Christian political groups would listen. Perhaps they were right.

  • Lynn David

    Your end note: Many more than 70 scholars have expressed concerns but some did not want to sign a letter or write an essay. Some were told not to do so by their college or university administration; others said they did not believe Christian political groups would listen. Perhaps they were right.

    Would seem to bespeak to a not small part of the problem. Like many a gay man in the closet in past years; your fellow academics seem to be afraid to ‘come out’ and speak against the inaccuracies in Barton’s non-scholarship. Does being labelled as “academic elites” and considered to be inconsequential by Barton and other Christians of his ilk scare them that much? That Christian political groups would not listen is no reason at all not to speak against bad (or non-existant) scholarship is no reason not to raise one’s voice against such inaccuracies when they are being held up as dogmatic reasons for political gain.

    Your fellow academics should come out of their closets – ivory towers and speak. It is where their power exists. The power for Barton and his ilk is keeping them silent.

  • Lynn David

    Your end note: Many more than 70 scholars have expressed concerns but some did not want to sign a letter or write an essay. Some were told not to do so by their college or university administration; others said they did not believe Christian political groups would listen. Perhaps they were right.

    Would seem to bespeak to a not small part of the problem. Like many a gay man in the closet in past years; your fellow academics seem to be afraid to ‘come out’ and speak against the inaccuracies in Barton’s non-scholarship. Does being labelled as “academic elites” and considered to be inconsequential by Barton and other Christians of his ilk scare them that much? That Christian political groups would not listen is no reason at all not to speak against bad (or non-existant) scholarship is no reason not to raise one’s voice against such inaccuracies when they are being held up as dogmatic reasons for political gain.

    Your fellow academics should come out of their closets – ivory towers and speak. It is where their power exists. The power for Barton and his ilk is keeping them silent.

  • http://www.increasinglearning.com Bill Fortenberry

    Just out of curiosity, how many of those 70 scholars were referring only to Barton’s most recent book as opposed to his positions in general?

  • http://www.increasinglearning.com Bill Fortenberry

    Just out of curiosity, how many of those 70 scholars were referring only to Barton’s most recent book as opposed to his positions in general?

  • stephen

    It’s a cargo cult: let’s build a pretend plane and make the real planes land: let’s build a pretend university and make real scholarship follow: let’s make pretend history and set up a for-profit online ‘university’.

    Barton isn’t the issue. The issue is why he’s followed.

  • stephen

    It’s a cargo cult: let’s build a pretend plane and make the real planes land: let’s build a pretend university and make real scholarship follow: let’s make pretend history and set up a for-profit online ‘university’.

    Barton isn’t the issue. The issue is why he’s followed.

  • http://www.wthrockmorton.com Warren

    Bill Fortenberry. Some were focused more on the book but the vast majority have concerns across the board.

  • Tom Van Dyke

    Barton is a symbol, a totem of the Religious Right and what they now sneeringly call “Founders Chic.”

    Why, they even gave it a name, to make it easier to dismiss, and mock.

    http://tinyurl.com/oj6jt5z

    Barton himself is usually condemned in general terms by the academic establishment, since frankly he’s not really worth reading on the professional scholar’s level. They take the word of a handful of industrious Barton critics [whose criticisms of Barton's sub-scholarly work are often fair and accurate] and pile on in the name of historical “truth.”

    Doesn’t it matter that much of Mr. Barton’s “historical research” has been deemed to be off the mark?

    writes Warren, an industrious Barton critic.

    Yes, it does matter. But the word “much” is so problematic here. 25%? 50%? 75? 99 per cent!!?

    Ever listen to an album by Queen or The Police? MUCH of those albums truly suck.

    Does it matter that “much” [or let's just say "some"] of what Barton writes is accurate, and helps make the case for a more religious American Founding than scholarly “common knowledge” realizes?

    No, that doesn’t seem to matter. Barton has become a political symbol and is treated as such. So too, the late Prof. Howard Zinn of Harvard University, who is the left-wing analogue of Barton, and whose “A People’s History of the United States” finished in 2nd place just behind Barton’s “Jefferson Lies” for Crap History.*

    How many of the 1000+ voters actually read Barton’s “Jefferson Lies”? Let’s get real here. They voted to trash David Barton and the Religious Right.

    Now 30 years after the fact, now that Zinn-ism has infected our schools

    30 years after the fact, there are finally academic scholars speaking up about what crap history Howard Zinn wrote. Not that it will keep Zinn out of our schools.

    http://zinnedproject.org/

    __________________

    *http://hnn.us/article/147149

    “Readers of the History News Network have voted David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believe About Thomas Jefferson the least credible history book in print in a week-long HNN poll. The book edged out Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States by nine votes at the end of polling — 650 votes versus 641. – See more at: http://hnn.us/article/147149#sthash.3nAlJaf3.dpuf

  • Scotty G.

    Interesting that a ‘liberal history book’ and a ‘conservative Christian history book’ were both in the top tiers of ‘least credible’; with Barton’s ‘winning’ by a whole nine votes more. I don’t see how we could possibly miss the fact the Barton is being picked on by liberals and their ‘allies.’

    That Howard Zinn’s book has garnished this dubious distinction along with Barton’s could only come about by one of three ways.

    1) It could be that either conservative and/or Christian media outlets are deriding Zinn’s work for political reasons, or out of genuine scholarly knowledge he is wrong.

    2) And/or it could be that history scholars [read “academic elites”] are equally pointing out Zinn’s inaccuracies along with Barton’s. This would mean the ‘fence riding’ needs to be shown the door.

    3) It could also be that liberal leaning ‘scholars’ or political activist are minding their own house by correcting ‘their own.’ Not unlike what Warren is doing. I’d be curious to know if Zinn has resorted to ad hom attacks on his critics like Barton.

    Whatever the case, it is obvious that the truth is out there and being heard. An encouraging thought. This, of course, adds some weight to Tom’s argument that no real damage is being done to our historical acumen.

    But I wonder more often about the collateral damage being done to the faith. Even Barton’s most strident followers are beginning to see, and obliquely acknowledge that he is not entirely accurate. Yet Barton’s critics are still mocked as ‘Barton Haters’ even as they are proven right. Is this the face of Christianity that the world needs to see?

    Moreover, why does Christianity need to be put on a pedestal at all; or given preferential treatment? Has God become an impotent deity that needs to be bolstered and protected? Has He become so unfaithful that we need governmental influence and intervention to fill in the gaps? When it becomes time to crucify the next radical I wonder if we Christians will do it ourselves or go to President Pilot.

  • Tom Van Dyke

    Whatever the case, it is obvious that the truth is out there and being heard. An encouraging thought. This, of course, adds some weight to Tom’s argument that no real damage is being done to our historical acumen.

    I’m not saying that Barton is doing no damage, although at this point his sloppiness and overreach is more damaging to his own side than to the academic consensus that sees a far less religious American Founding than he does [preferring more Marxist/marxian methods of race/class/gender and the Founders more interested in feathering their own nests than any actual principle*].

    Of course he should be corrected.

    However, Zinn’s book has been given a mostly free ride in the 30 years since it was written, so much so that it’s being used in our schools. But since his is of the leftist/skeptical bent, it’s only recently that it’s receiving the brickbats that are way overdue.

    http://reason.com/archives/2010/02/03/the-peoples-historian

    Much of the criticism of Zinn has come from dissenters on the left. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. once remarked that “I don’t take him very seriously. He’s a polemicist, not a historian.” Last year, the liberal historian Sean Wilentz referred to the “balefully influential works of Howard Zinn.” Reviewing A People’s History in The American Scholar, Harvard University professor Oscar Handlin denounced “the deranged quality of his fairy tale, in which the incidents are made to fit the legend, no matter how intractable the evidence of American history.” Socialist historian Michael Kazin judged Zinn’s most famous work “bad history, albeit gilded with virtuous intentions.”

    Too late, however, for the most part.

    http://zinnedproject.org/

    ______

    *Such as

    http://eh.net/book_reviews/forced-founders-indians-debtors-slaves-and-making-american-revolution-virginia


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X