Former Fan Hammers Wallbuilders Supporters


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.

Comments

  1. morgandourif says

    I’m not sure what to think of Gingerich. He criticizes Barton for his dishonesty, which I applaud, but he appears to largely have the same end goals as Barton and his ilk (“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”). Funny, because, to name one example, “protecting marriage” often involves deception, no matter how “truthful” someone on the Right tries to appear. Am I simply misunderstanding his position?

  2. eric says

    Barton falls back on a second narrative to which Christians are particularly susceptible: the persecution myth.

    But they get the lessons of the persecution stories so very very badly wrong. Christ’s reponse to persecution was to not defend himself, even against false accusations. He famously remonstrates Thomas for Thomas’ denial in the face of potential danger (Roman soldiers). What makes the aprocryphal stories of Christian martyrs being thrown to lions so powerful is that in such stories, the martyrs didn’t lie to escape their fate.

    In all these stories, when the choice comes down to lying and prospering vs. telling the truth and losing, every Christian role model tells the truth and loses – often, they lose their lives. That’s the moral lesson that’s supposed to be taken away: don’t lie, even if it costs you.

    To creationists or fundies considering political action, the message should be obvious. You shouldn’t lie to judges about your motivation for wanting ID taught or student-lead prayer or whatever. You should tell the truth, even if you know its going to lose you the case. Lying to win is failing the narrative of the persecution myth, it isn’t exemplifying it.

  3. DaveL says

    He famously remonstrates Thomas for Thomas’ denial in the face of potential danger (Roman soldiers).

    I thought that was Peter.

  4. jesse says

    I’ll throw out an alternative (of sorts) to the persecution idea — or maybe something related.

    Christians (very broadly speaking) and white people have been in a privileged position for a long, long time. I notice that the people who complain a lot about “political correctness” are the ones who get positively upset that they can’t say stuff that’s simply wrong and hurtful without getting pushback. (I notice this among some ostensibly secular people too).

    It’s this attitude of, “I never had to think about you people before, why should I have to do it now?”

    It’s a reaction to suddenly not being able to engage in all the little behaviors that drive minority groups of any stripe crazy, because it is hurtful and dehumanizing.

    So all of a sudden you can’t make dumb racist jokes anymore in polite company. All of a sudden your religion doesn’t get pride of place. All of a sudden you can’t just assume everyone in the room thinks and sees the world just as you do. And now you have to think a little about your behavior.

    Some people are deeply threatened by that. It’s a shock; it goes after what they thought made them important. And they react badly.

    I’m not always successful, but at least I try to rethink stuff these days. Moreso than I once did. Because I figure that what the hell, maybe someone else doesn’t like being dehumanized. An that includes religious people. I see it as part of not making the world a worse place for my presence. (Shorter: I don’t have the energy to be a dick anymore; I am too tired after a long day).

    But some folks have a tough time with that, I guess.

  5. plutosdad says

    Indeed, after I became an Atheist, one thing that infuriated me was all the lies I read in apologetics texts. All the bad old arguments that were disproved decades ago, yet still being printed as if they are new. All the distortions and misrepresentations. These were people supposedly defending their faith, trying to reconcile it with modern science; but instead of doing so they just spread lies to trick people. I get angry every time I think about it. They are actively driving people farther away from faith when they find out they’ve been lied to. Why do they try to trick people if they have faith and think they are right? Unless they believe the ends justify the means.

    When I was a Christian, i was fond of pointing out in Romans the part where Paul talks about the “Spiritual Armor” and in that he had “the belt of truth”, and I took it to mean, without truth, your armor falls off. That truth was the most important.

    Incidentally Merlin agreed in the movie Excalibur, when Arthur asked him “what is the greatest quality of a knight? Mercy? courage?” and Merlin said “Truth, it is always truth. When a man lies he murders some part of the world”

  6. d cwilson says

    I would add a third theme that may or not be unique to Barton’s particular brand of fundjelical Christianity: Dominionism. This is the belief that there is no such thing as a legitimate authority that is purely secular. All authority must flow from gawd, therefore, the only legitimate form of government is one that acknowledges their particular interpretation of religion as the One True Faith ™. Since these same people tend to also believe in American exceptionalism in the extreme, the only way for America to be legitimate is if it were founded on Babble. Because there is no way to reconcile this belief with a Constitution written as a secular document, they have to find some proof that the Founding Fathers really, really did found the government on the Babble. If they can’t find it (because it doesn’t exist), they’ll manufacture it.

    This dovetails nicely to both the Paradise Lost and Persecution memes as it implies that our Babble-based government has been stolen by atheist Muslims.

  7. jamessweet says

    Atheist and secularist complaints have stripped…primetime TV of Little House on the Prairie’s homespun domestic piety.

    A side note here: While Gingerich is more or less fair in blaming giving credit to “secularist complaints” for the other things he attributes them to (to the extent that they are true, of course; how to interpret “no prayer in schools” has been discussed to death on this blog already), but the lack of Little House on the Prairie-like programming has nothing to do with secularist complaints. This is pure free market forces at work here, so beloved of Supply Side Jesus.

  8. says

    The second part of Gingerich’s article is barely distinguishable from the stuff Barton writes. He talks of the “cruel arms of liberalism” and then goes on the following rant:

    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.”

    There is nothing in there that hasn’t come out of Barton’s mouth many times over. So while he may have be brought to his senses about Barton’s gross mendacity while at college, the deprogramming only took him so far. Certainly he’s still willing to regurgitate Barton’s lies about the “ghettoizing of Christianity” in America with a gusto that would make Barton proud.

  9. Sastra says

    It goes without saying of course that atheists and secularists aren’t actual citizens (for reasons d cwilson notes at #7) — but now the “American people” don’t watch television either?

  10. skinnercitycyclist says

    I like to listen to Barton’s (really Rick Green’s) show Wallbuilders for camp value, and they have been discussing the issue of criticism of Barton’s book on numerous episodes. Their response is fascinating. They mention people like Throckmorton by name and deride his credentials as a historian while never mentioning Coulter, risky territory for a guy with a BS in religious education. The Wallbuilder’s line is that this is an ad hominem (they don’t use big words like that) attack on Barton by professional historians who are jealous of his success with the general public. They never address specific critiques. So defending themselves from putative ad hominem attacks by making ad hominem attacks. Heh.

    I have wondered for years whether Barton, Green, et al. are slick con men or just really, really stupid. I now have to go with con men, since it is hard for me to accept that human beings can be as stupid as this.

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