SALON – Rise of a right-wing quack: Faux-historian David Barton’s shocking new influence

Selected Article Excerpt:

“The problem with David Barton is that there’s a lot of truth in what he says,” said Derek H. Davis, director of church-state studies at Baylor University, a Baptist institution in Waco, Tex. “But the end product is a lot of distortions, half-truths and twisted history.”

That’s a very generous way of putting it. Unfortunately, his notoriety also brought new scrutiny to his alleged scholarship and that didn’t work out too well as you might imagine. Here’s just one example of his so-called scholarship being debunked by Chris Rodda, the senior researcher for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, via Media Matters. She challenged Barton’s insistence that Thomas Jefferson dated his presidential papers with the phrase “in the year of our Lord Christ,” which indicated that the notorious theist was really a super-Christian (what with the added “Christ” and all).

According to Rodda, the truth is quite different: Jefferson took pains to omit “in the year of our Lord” in his documents, instead using phrases like “in the Christian computation,” and “of the Christian epoch.” Further, according to Rodda, the evidence Barton provided of Jefferson purportedly using the phrase is, in fact, a preprinted form that Jefferson had no input into creating.

This is the quality of constitutional scholarship that pervades the conservative movement these days: simple, outright lies that allege that this country was not founded on certain Enlightenment principles and the hard won experience of men and women who were exceedingly familiar with the bloody consequences of church and state being entwined.  It was, in their reckoning, conceived as a straight-up Christian nation, full stop.

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1 Comment

  1. Etaoin Shrdlu

          Actually, Barton is (for once) quite correct. Jefferson was a Christian. The problem is he was a very liberal Christian, with views that would make Barton’s head explode (if the guy ever bothered to learn them).

          Let’s start with this short and simple declaration of Jefferson’s Christianity:

    I am a Christian, in the only sense in which he [Jesus] wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every HUMAN excellence; and believing he never claimed any other.

    Letter to Doctor Benjamin Rush (4/21/1803) – The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson (Random House 1972) page 567. Emphasis by Jefferson on the word “human”.

          Not exactly a “good” little fundamentalist Evangelical, is he?

          Next, let’s examine Jefferson’s views of some fundamental Christian doctrines.

    The establishment of the innocent and genuine character of this benevolent Moralist, and the rescuing it from the imputation of imposture, which has resulted from the artificial systems,* invented by ultra-Christian sects, unauthorized by a single word ever uttered by Him, is a most desirable object, . . . .

    * E.g. The immaculate conception of Jesus, His deification, the creation of the world by Him, His miraculous powers, His resurrection and visible ascension, His corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity, original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy, etc. [Jefferson’s note.]

    Letter to William Short (10/31/1819) – The Life and Selected Writings of Thomas Jefferson (Random House 1972) page 694 (emphasis added).

          Hmm, wanna bet Jefferson was referring to the “spiritual ancestors” of today’s fundamentalists when mentioning “ultra-Christian sects”?

          But let’s finish up with this “tribute” to one of the foundational beliefs of “conservative” Christians.

    The truth is that the greatest enemies to the doctrines of Jesus are those calling themselves the expositors of them, who have perverted them for the structure of a system of fancy absolutely incomprehensible, and without any foundation in his genuine words. And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter.

    Letter to John Adams (4/11/1823) – The Adams-Jefferson Letters (The University of North Carolina Press, 1959) page 594 (emphasis added).

          Yup, Jefferson was some kind of Christian, just not David Barton’s kind!

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