Ed Kilgore is fully justified in doing a dance on the grave of David Barton’s reputation. It turns out that Barton, famous as a “Christian historian” (where “Christian” means “fundamentalist”), is not much of a scholar: the title of his latest book, The Jefferson Lies, turns out to be self-referential, and “Christian” publisher Thomas Nelson has withdrawn the book. That leaves Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, and Michelle Bachmann looking pretty silly, and I’m happy to join Kilgore in chortling about that.
But it’s worth noting that the publisher was reacting in part to the fact that other “Christian” historians denounced Barton’s work, rather than rallying around their teammate. It’s hard to overstate how much that matters. It means that they and I are – across a wide gulf of disagreement – still engaged in the same basic enterprise, along with the classicists and the microbiologists and the social psychologists: trying to make sense of the world and trying to tell the truth about what we have found. In a world where “Christian” politicians have mostly forsaken the liberating power of the truth and embraced in practice the post-modern notion that – since everything is contestable – there is no actual bedrock of fact and logic on which we can all stand together – it’s good to know that some “Christian” academics are still scholars first.
Footnote I put “Christian” in scare quotes not to challenge the sincerity or the orthodoxy of anyone’s beliefs, but to reject the market-segmentation strategy that would deny the term “Christian” to most of the Christian legacy. According the the current spurious categories, “Christian” books don’t include the works of Augustine or Erasmus or Tillich, and neither Byrd nor Bach wrote “Christian” music.