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Sep 04 2012

Even the Reconstructionists Reject Barton’s Lies

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.”[4] 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.”[5] 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.

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  1. 1
    Zinc Avenger (Sarcasm Tags 3.0 Compliant)

    Could it be true? Is there a point where telling bigger and bigger lies gets self-defeating?

  2. 2
    morgandourif

    Is this the same American Vision whose president supports the “occasional execution of sodomites” under a reconstructed theocratic government to drive gays back into the closet? Who has called for the execution of any doctor who provides an abortion?

    Even if they disagree with Barton, they’re just as bad, if not worse.

  3. 3
    Stevarious, Public Health Problem

    Deep Rifts® in the Wingnut Community!

    Don’t they know that it’s more important to present a united front, than to let their venomous spitting infighting squabbles show to the public?? I for one cannot STAND the Hivemind Mentality™ among those whining idiots who think that ‘telling the truth’ is more important then ‘winning the spiritual warfare against the enemies of god’!

    Richard Dawkins must be laughing all the way to the bank!!1!!1!

  4. 4
    Matrim

    @ #2> Well, yeah, that’s kinda the point: even the overt wing nuts aren’t buying this tripe.

  5. 5
    Michael Heath

    Do you think this reconstructionist will next take on the lies he tells about liberals and historians? Will he advocate that Christian fundamentalists, including reconstructionists, take on the contradictions in the Bible or the lies creationists/global-warming-denialists tell about science and what it’s discovered?

    Obviously not; so the interesting question is what motivates them to sacrifice one of their own like David Barton when they do such sacrifices? I find no coherent pattern, which perhaps points back to incoherency being a key attribute of Christian fundamentalism.

  6. 6
    eric

    At this point I think its just bandwagoning. Piling on now that they see its safe to do so. It would’ve been impressive and admirable if these conservative scholars came out against Barton 10 years ago. Now that he’s been panned in the media and no public group has voiced an outcry in his defense? Not so much.

  7. 7
    lofgren

    This Barton thing is really interesting. That plus I feel like I have seen more coverage of Romney’s mendacity, with less permissive euphemism. Could this be a sign of a fundamental shift in our society’s narrative? Is lying recklessly finally on the verge of becoming a hindrance rather than a boon? Are rationalism and critical thinking about to become civic virtues again? It’s happened before. It could happen again.

    the Constitution was written to destroy earlier covenants with God as part of a rationalist conspiracy.

    I have heard rationalist, specifically enlightenment-age thinkers, referred to as a “conspiracy” or a “cabal” before, but it always seems, as in this case, that the “conspirators” were conspiring entirely openly and honestly. I have begun to wonder: if a person says, “I am going to create a rational form of government that destroys the covenant with god style government (i.e. ‘Kings’),” and then proceeds to work openly with others who are also invested in rational government, and spreads his ideas by writing “Declarations” of “Independence” defending his arguments for rational government, and well-documents his allies and his inspirations, can it really be said that person is “conspiring?”

  8. 8
    Chiroptera

    lofgren, #7:

    Not to mention that the Constitution of 1789 wasn’t just imposed on the nation. It was publicly debated; in fact, The Federalist Papers, which anyone can buy in just about any book store, is a collection of essays published in newspapers at the time advocating for adopting the Consitution. Anyone at the time could have read these essays and notice that the God-talk was very much absent.

    Yeah, “conspiracy” is a pretty strange choice of words.

  9. 9
    Chiroptera

    Oops. That should have been “Constitution of 1787.”

    As distinct from the previous Constitution, the Articles of Confederation.

  10. 10
    ArtK

    WTF is an “academic collectivist?” Is that someone who has co-authors on a paper?

  11. 11
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    In this context, probably an academic who espouses ‘collectivist’ theories, as opposed to godly individualistic theories.

  12. 12
    machintelligence

    lofgren @ 7

    writing “Declarations” of “Independence” defending his arguments for rational government, and well-documents his allies and his inspirations, can it really be said that person is “conspiring?”

    It all depends on who wins.

  13. 13
    bryanfeir

    @eric, #6
    Probably part of it is bandwagoning. He’s been called out on it enough times that he’s an acceptable target now.

    Part of it may also be that his lies were so blatant and so easily refuted by anybody who took the time to look, he’s making the rest of the movement look bad by its attachment to him.

    To quote St. Augustine:

    Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of the world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn.

    Now, if only some of these people would pay attention to these words a little more often…

  14. 14
    godlesspanther

    @ Michael Heath,

    There is clearly a hierarchy of lies, some more precious than others. The Bible being some sort of unique and magical book has to be kept no matter what. They can’t let this be questioned at all or the whole religion goes down the tubes.

    Obviously, the formation of the US after the revolutionary war, contrary to what David Barton might tell you, is not written about in the Bible at all. This may be the explanation, at least in part, as to why they chose to throw Barton under the bus. Ken Ham is also a pathological liar, but creationism is based on what it says in the Bible. They can’t afford to throw Ham out for that reason alone. Ham is in a position to say “if you call me a liar, you are calling the Bible (word of God) a liar.” Barton can’t say that. Thomas Jefferson is not a biblical character.

    This explanation doesn’t totally cover it. Though Barton’s lies are easily exposed and have, for some time, been an embarrassment to the xtian right, he has also been an important political figure and backed by several right-wing heavy-weights like Gingrich, Huckabee, etc. Not only that but Christian home-school history is based on Bartonist history revisionism specifically.

    Why did they throw him to the wolves?

    The historical parallel that stands out to me is that of McCarthyism. I see Barton as a contemporary Joseph McCarthy, complete with lists of non-existent people that he refuses to show anyone. Like McCarthy, Barton is sticking to his delusions alienating more and more people and heading toward complete and utter self-destruction of his own lie factory.

    McCarthy died a few years after he was totally discredited. Barton? We have yet to see.

    McCarthy died of alcoholism. Barton, as far as I know, does not have a reputation for heavy drinking. Perhaps now would be an ideal time for him to take up such a hobby.

  15. 15
    democommie

    Perhaps Monsieur Barton is Madame DeFarge in guydrag? He will be the ravening mobs scapegoat when order has been restored and the monarchy is once again ascendant.

    OT, but you know how they say that you learn something new every day? Well, last evening I and my team were playing for the undisputed Trivia Championship of G.S. Steamers debatery and drinkhole and everything turned on the final question of the Summer Classic.

    That question, “Who was Abraham Lincoln’s FIRST vice-president?” had every other person in the room goin’, like, WTF? I told our team’s recording secretary that the answer was “Hannibal Hamlin”. He gave me one of those WTF looks hisself and said, “How do you know that.”. I said, “I read it on a blogpost, yesterday.”. So, thanks to intertoobz skollarship, we won the tournament and I got my free single malt victory drink–and we get SNACKS, next week. Is life good, or what?

  16. 16
    patricksimons

    While there are no legal standards in regard to calling ones self a historian, David Barton couldn’t get a job as a history professor at any university in the country. (With the possible exceptions of Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell’s faux institutions of higher learning.) In fact, Mr. Barton lacks the requisite education to teach American history at the grade school level and, may as well be calling himself an astronaut. David Barton is just one more, in a long, long, line of religious con men, getting rich on the ignorance and gullibility of others.

  17. 17
    kermit.

    Michael Heath: so the interesting question is what motivates them to sacrifice one of their own like David Barton when they do such sacrifices? I find no coherent pattern, which perhaps points back to incoherency being a key attribute of Christian fundamentalism.

    I suspect in most of these cases it is something behind the scenes. Perhaps a personal slight; perhaps a challenge to, or defiance of, somebody in a position of power.

    They lie so much, and so fail to understand other positions, that it is unlikely that they recognize when somebody is over the top, but perhaps they have social savants on hand to clue them in on occasion.

  18. 18
    hypatiasdaughter

    I think that this is a squabble between two factions of the religious right.
    One faction are purists who reject anyone who doesn’t embrace the one true faith, fundamentalism. They think the Founding Fathers were non-xtains, by their definition, and created a godless secular government that must be overthrown and replaced by a xtain one.
    The other faction, which Barton caters to, believes that the Founding Fathers were creating a xtian nation. Of course, one has to manipulate their words and overlook that they weren’t fundies in the modern sense of the word to accomplish this. This group are sort of religious right ecumenicals who will work with anyone who uses the word “god” (Methodists, Catholics, Mormons, JW’s) as allies in creating a theocracy. After all, when the fundies eventually gain power, these false xtians can be purged.
    Generally, fundies don’t give a rat’s ass about people lying for Jesus. I suspect Barton has run afoul of the first faction who only care because he is promoting a historical viewpoint they reject.
    And as godlesspanther (#14), they have more leeway in attacking bad American history than they do bad creationist science, which usually gets a pass.

    (To be fair, some Reconstructinonists might just be good, honest historians with academic integrity. Miracles do happen.)

  1. 19
    Even the Reconstructionists Reject Barton's Lies – Freethought Blogs | Christian Dailys

    [...] the original: Even the Reconstructionists Reject Barton's Lies – Freethought Blogs ← Alive in Christ Radio :: 090412 – Alive in Christ Radio [...]

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