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Aug 13 2012

David Barton exposed

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.

20 comments

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  1. 1
    Pierce R. Butler

    Barton has no chance against her.

    Not in the arena of facts.

    But on his own blog? No such rules apply there.

  2. 2
    slc1

    Thomas Jefferson was a religious man who opposed slavery,

    1. Depends on what is meant by a “religious man”. Jefferson was certainly not a believer in Christianity, having rejected the Virgin Birth, the divinity of Jeshua of Nazareth, the miracle stories in the scriptures, the Resurrection, and the Trinity. His view of Yeshua was, in fact, much closer to the Islamic view then to the Christian view. On the other hand, he did believe in an intervening deity of some sort so he was not an agnostic.

    2. Jefferson’s position on slavery was mixed and inconsistent. He attempted to have slavery abolished in Virginia when the constitution for that state was being written, but, on the other hand, he personally owned numerous slaves, including Sally Hemmings with whom it is alleged that he had 6 children.

  3. 3
    gworroll

    While it’s certainly not verbatim, Deuteronomy 17:5 does seem like a plausible source for the natural born citizen clause. The Constitution is stricter, but the ideas are fairly similar overall. Of course, similar ideas doesn’t mean one was the source of the other. It would require more information to establish sourcing, but it’s plausible enough I wouldn’t call someone an idiot for looking into it(don’t know what other details Barton may have used to make the case on sourcing).

    That said, even if that was the source… so what? There are ideas in the Bible that are useful in the context of other religions and in purely secular contexts. Using a few of these ideas doesn’t mean you wanted to use the whole thing. That whole Golden Rule thing is pretty good, and I try to employ it whenever I deal with people(admittedly, I fail more than I’d like, but I try). Just because I got that idea from Christianity doesn’t mean I want to be a Christian. All it means is I’m not too prideful to ignore a good idea from an otherwise unfavored source.

  4. 4
    Ace of Sevens

    Chris posteed on Facebook last night that her challenge was rejected because she is trying to sell a book. That’s serious goal-post moving, irrelevant, and she’s giving the book away free.

  5. 5
    Kevin

    I’m trying to figure out the logical fallacy that Barton is engaging in. I’m having trouble categorizing it.

    Barton: “George Washington went to church, therefore the US today should totally oppose birth control for women, all abortions, stem cell research, and HPV vaccination.”

    Or maybe: “Thomas Jefferson owned a Bible, therefore we should have organized official prayers to Jesus in public school every day.”

    What?

    I don’t get it.

  6. 6
    Mano Singham

    But the constitution also allowed for citizens who were not ‘natural born’ but were US citizens at the time the constitution was adopted. So the Deuteronomy passage should also allow for non-natural born citizens.

  7. 7
    slc1

    Ole George went to church alright but he always left before the communion service.

    Ole Thomas owned a bible alright but he cut out all the stuff that referred to miracles and he also owned a Quran.

  8. 8
    Kevin

    Yes, I’m aware of both. But my point was that according to Barton, the mere fact that GW stepped foot in a church obligates us today to follow right-wing evangelical sexual and social mores.

    Makes no sense.

  9. 9
    Chuck Doswell

    I know some people who use similar tactics. When you first encounter them, as Jon Stewart discovered, it can be disconcerting. I saw the Daily Show’s interview with Barton and it was sad to see Jon so overwhelmed. I’ve had a similar experience, and it’s embarrassing. Be prepared to recognize this tactic in your arguments with believers.

    If someone is going to cite sources in an argument, they should be prepared to provide access to those sources for their “opponent” to see and review before responding. Without doing so, this is an intimidation and humiliation tactic that allows someone to “win” a face-to-face argument without actually demonstrating anything at all. When you have a chance to do some digging afterward, a lot of these citations turn out to be inaccurate and/or misleading, as the examples above show. But an argument in real time is “lost” in this way.

  10. 10
    Shawn Mann

    My greatest concern about history has alway been about whose version gets
    published and how factual is the source. Many Americans know liittle about their history.
    The fifth estate or journalistic community have fallen into corners political idealism leaving too much
    opinion as related fact. One thing stands out from this article. The founding fathers including my Great Grandfather ( 4x) Roger Williams fought against the Monarchy and organized religion. The Mason or Free Mason belief of separation of church and state came directly from my families history. This not only provided guidence in a new nation, but also gave the constitution fighting chance to be forthe people and by the people. The religious “wrong” as opposed to right, wants the lack of a library card for the “one book” only readers to be tilted to only reading a history of further fabrication to justify prejudice. As a white male, I can honestly say this movement starts to scare me. The idea of rewriting history to justify advancing a religious agenda against all other religions sounds facist.
    When we ask how can scholarly people participate or condone this movement I shutter with the idea of how hollow we have become as a society. Jobs, careers, our childrens opportunities are all based upon obedience or willful following without question. The reward is a closed society of wealth creation and opportunity. I have seen this with my own eyes, I reject its premise and say enough!
    We need to focus on what hidtory has taught us, mistakes of the past need mot be repeated!
    The GOP caters to a small faction of money grubbing church folk who have difficulty marrying outside the family gene pool! Let’s just say, maybe we need to have fact police on the internet to stop the history poachers!

  11. 11
    mlshatto

    I also have had a comment “awaiting moderation” for nearly 24 hours, while at least four more recent comments have been posted. I specifically refuted the two claims that quotes from the Bible are included “verbatim” in the Constitution. Green’s reason for holding up my comment may be that I cited a recorded interview that Barton gave to James Robison on Trinity Broadcast Network rather than a claim from his most recent book, which I do not own.

  12. 12
    Urban

    Should be the non sequitur fallacy.

  13. 13
    Joe Cogan

    Jefferson was a vague Deist at best; he accepted the idea of a creator, but not one that intervened in the world.

  14. 14
    Ace of Sevens

    I’d recommend reading Chris Rodda’s book. Jefferson believed in divine providence and an interventionist god. He was not a deist as the word is currently understood.

  15. 15
    Crommunist

    it is a quite a stretch to identify the word ‘stranger’ or ‘not a brother’

    I’ve seen translations that explicitly define those as being non-Israelites. Verbatim, absolutely not; but similar? Definitely. In either case, it’s entirely irrelevant. If you made decision for reason A and the bible makes that decision for reason B (where B is short for BS), that doesn’t mean you’re inspired by the bible.

  16. 16
    Doug Little

    I guess he doesn’t know the difference between a king and an elected representative that is just one part of a system of checks and balances. I would say that the founders would be turning over in their graves with that comparison as they were pretty clear on not giving any one individual absolute power.

  17. 17
    Joe Cogan

    I have never seen a quote attributed to Jefferson to indicate that he believed in an interventionist deity. Can you cite some?

  18. 18
    Ace of Sevens

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Jefferson_and_religion

    References 27 & 28 are particularly relevant.

  19. 19
    michaelrollins

    David and the rest of the right are right on the fact that America was founded by Christians and their government was based on their religious principles. Barton and the rest were a 140 years off the mark. The founders were Puritans and Anglicans, their religious principles consisted of mutilating, brutalizing(what the right now calls: Enhanced Interrogations), and a lot of killing of those who didn’t follow their religious script. All in the name of ecclesiastical domination. That is why Jefferson, and other founders, left God and religion out of the constitution.

  20. 20
    gworroll

    That could be a concession to the facts on the ground when the country first started. Could you even have a natural born citizen of the United States when the United States had just started? They’d pretty much be required to accept non natural born citizens for a little while, unless they wanted the office to be vacant for a few decades. Every possible candidate was born the citizen of another country.

    Of course, Crommunist had a good point that similarity doesn’t mean common motive, and as I said, even if it was a direct inspiration, taking one good idea doesn’t mean you meant to take all of it.

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