David Barton is much beloved by the Christian right, his biggest fan being Mike Huckabee, who claims that contrary to established scholarship, historical records say that the founders of the United States envisaged a Christian nation. His way of operating is to drop citations left and right, giving him an air of authority. He claims to be in possession of over 100,000 original documents from the time of the Founding Fathers and he is fond of inserting copious citations to them, running into the hundreds. He and his followers then keep referring to these documents and the number of citations to them as conclusive proof of whatever assertion they make. Jon Stewart was one Barton’s victims last year, falling prey to this intellectual bullying in which Barton once again boasted about his documents and the number of citations.
But in this unsympathetic profile from a couple of days ago, NPR’s Barbara Bradley Hagerty gives Barton’s claims a close look and finds them wanting.
For example, you’ve been taught the Constitution is a secular document. Not so, says Barton: The Constitution is laced with biblical quotations.
“You look at Article 3, Section 1, the treason clause,” he told James Robison on Trinity Broadcast Network. “Direct quote out of the Bible. You look at Article 2, the quote on the president has to be a native born? That is Deuteronomy 17:15, verbatim. I mean, it drives the secularists nuts because the Bible’s all over it! Now we as Christians don’t tend to recognize that. We think it’s a secular document; we’ve bought into their lies. It’s not.”
We looked up every citation Barton said was from the Bible, but not one of them checked out.
(I looked up the Deuteronomy 17:15 citation myself and found that it says “Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the Lord thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother.” Clearly Barton not only does not know what the word verbatim means, it is a quite a stretch to identify the word ‘stranger’ or ‘not a brother’ with someone who is not a ‘natural born citizen’.)
What is interesting is that Hagerty brings out a whole slew of historians and theologians from evangelical colleges to dispute Barton’s claims.
Chris Rodda, author of Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right’s Alternate Version of American History has been on Barton’s case for some time now, doggedly documenting Barton’s shoddy ‘scholarship’, and it is nice to see that kind of information getting out to a larger audience.
Coming from academia, I am naturally a big fan of giving citations. People need to be pointed to source material so that they can check on accuracy and learn more about the topic. But I also know how citations can be abused. One way is to refer to documents that do not exist or that people cannot get hold of easily. Another is to claim that source materials say things that they do not, and assume that people will take your word and not bother to check. In academia, it is a high crime to abuse that trust. Rodda is doing everyone an invaluable service by checking them out.
Barton’s latest book The Jefferson Lies that apparently claims that Thomas Jefferson was a religious man who opposed slavery, has been pulled by its publisher Thomas Nelson, which describes itself as “the world’s largest Christian publisher and one of the largest trade publishers in the United States”. They said that they had “lost confidence in the book’s details” and that “in the course of our review learned that there were some historical details included in the book that were not adequately supported. Because of these deficiencies we decided that it was in the best interest of our readers to stop the publication and distribution.”
Having your book pulled by your own publisher is a major slap in the face. Rick Green of WallBuilders, Barton’s radio co-host, has tried to salvage Barton’s credibility by issuing a public challenge on his blog to his critics, accusing them of using the innuendo tactics of Saul Alinksy and Hitler (yes, he actually went Full Metal Godwin) asking them to show specific criticisms. If they can, he said that he would post them on his blog.
Rodda has accepted the challenge but her comment is still “awaiting moderation”. Green seems to trying to find ways to avoid posting her criticisms of Barton.
If I were a betting person, my wager would be on Rodda. Barton has no chance against her.