Credit where due: “Christian” historians reject David Barton

Some people still believe that the truth will set you free.

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of his latest book, The Jefferson Lies, turns out to be self-referential, and “Christian” publisher Thomas Nelson has withdrawn the book.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.



Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

14 thoughts on “Credit where due: “Christian” historians reject David Barton”

  1. The Christian worldview sees all human activity as constrained at its roots by original sin, in which all we do is affected by pride, envy, malice, and the other sins.

    Glenn Beck, Michelle Bachmann, David Barton, and Mike Huckabee are heretics who deny that all our endeavors are conceived in sin and insists that the conception of the United States of America was immaculate, unstained by sin of any kind. No serious Christian thinker of any era would give a moment’s credence to their doctrines. The USA is the sole exception to the law under which the entire creation is groaning in travail as it awaits redemption.

    Naturally, it would be serious Christians who call these people out on their false teachings. In their frame of reference, heresies do poison minds and corrupt the hearts of men and women. This is not surprising in the least.

  2. Why does it have to be other “christian” historians who are used to discredit this nut? Seems to me that we should not care what the religious bent of the jury is so long as we know that they are objective and apply the same standards to every one. This is just like the notion that we used to always have to appoint republicans to be independent prosecutors, even if the target, especially if, the target was a republican. But I don’t ever recall democrats being appointed to investigate democrats. WTF?

    1. “Secular” and religious historians have been calling Barton out as fatally flawed since his fantasies first began appearing in print and the broadcast media. The criticisms failed to gain any traction, mostly because they were dismissed as “turf protecting” rather than legitimate critiques. The fact that Barton completely lack any sort of background in history seemed to support the sour-grapes defense.

      What has changed is that this set of critiques come from within Barton’s (larger) community. In this case, the critics are not academics with religious axes to grind and academic turf to protect. These critics share important components of Barton’s worldview: this is the courtiers saying the emperor has no clothes.

      1. This is the important subtext. When fruitcakes like these and Skousen are being explicitly referenced by the mainstream right, with nary a peep from fellow conservatives, things have gotten out of hand.

        As for “Christian”: I don’t know how to do the code for superscript, but I think something like Christian(TM) might be what Mark is after.

        1. Barton seems to come from that sect of Christianity called Christian Capitalism – it has nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth!

          Instead, he has sought profit by making things up for the feeble-minded within Christianity’s greeter flock! Along the way he has begun to take his own shit to heart, and is now border-line delusional about what it is to seek the truth.

          Socrates wouldn’t have much need for the thoughts of Mr. Barton for Barton’s examined life may rest in Zombie-land, not among the living!

          1. This is Christian jingoism. Again, it is the heresy of an immaculate conception for a work of fallen man.

            Isaiah 14:17 says, “All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.”

            The exception, to the Christian jingoists, is the United States of America. While kevo is correct to say that Barton comes from the sect of Christian capitalism. It is the idea that a nation was conceived without sin which more aptly identifies their heresy.

            Anyone for an auto-da-fe?

        2. Well, yes, but I don’t concede that Jerry Falwell has any just claim on the trademark “Christian.”

      2. I understand all that…..still…..who cares? He’s been discredited prior to these “new” critiques from his “own community” and that should be good enough. The folks who care about this stuff should stand up and say “We don’t care if a bunch of christian historians say this or that and have finally reached the truth. We already knew the truth.”

        And besides……wtf is a christian historian anyway? That’s like saying you go to a christian college. History is history and science is science and math is math. It’s got nothing to do with being a christian or jew or muslim or any other superstitious belief.

  3. “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.”

    Maybe. Or maybe it means they realized that Barton’s claims were so transparently spurious that all attempts to defend them would fail and undermine their own reputations, and so it was better to throw Barton under the bus.

  4. That does leave Huckabee, Gingrich and Bachmann looking pretty silly. But they were already looking pretty silly and it never slowed them down for a minute before this.
    What do you want to bet all these Teavangelical whackjobs will continue to site this crap or more likely double down on it? They don’t need no stinkin’ facts ’cause they believe! Besides, who the heck ever checks besides pointy headed libruls enyways?

  5. In that many self-proclaimed “Christians” actively promote the Party of Mammon, the scare quotes are entirely appropriate.

  6. “That leaves Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, and Michelle Bachmann looking pretty silly”

    Especially Gingrich, because he’s got a Ph.D. in history and used to be a professor in the subject.

  7. How can ‘Christian’ books not include Augustine? Because the Saint was Catholic (but helpfully did believe in predestination)? Because he was Tunisian?

  8. Out of all the criticisms and ad hominen directed to Barton on his FB page. He urgently deletes post like the one below. Perhaps this is something that needs to be perpetuated.

    “Barton noted that if Jefferson cannot be upheld as a”racist” and “anti-Christian secularist,” then liberals have noother Founding Father on which to lean.”

    The problem is how David is trying so hard to discredit the secular
    government by claiming that some of the deists architects of the
    constitution are professed Christians. Next He attempts to combat the
    idea of secularized government with Religious syncretism. Which is
    ironic and hypocritical.

    David uses omissions and blatant lies in order to turn deists into
    theists, while completely ignoring earlier founders of this country, who
    unlike the founding fathers, were professed Christians. David knows
    who these men were, but refuses to share their part in his version of
    history, which doesn’t meet his agenda, forcing his morality on others.
    Who were these men? They were the founders of Rhode Island and Baptist
    Churches all over the Colony. The men Barton refuses to acknowledge are
    men like Roger Williams and John Leland.

    A term used in the political brainwashing of Christians is known as
    “Individual Liberty”. This term was used by the founders and most
    Baptist in the 18th Century, but Barton and many others have taken this
    term completely out of context by defining it as the liberty for free
    market to operate without government intervention, to perpetuate greed.
    This is how the term was intended to look in its entirety, “Individual
    Liberty of Conscience”.

    Individual Liberty of Conscience was the hallmark of the Baptist
    Mission of Faith for over 300 years. During much of the Baptist Faith is
    was believed that all men had the right to worship as they please. It
    did not matter the gods name, or if there was more than one god, or no
    god. They just believed it was the right of everyone to believe in
    whatever they wanted without the intervention of any institution, be it
    Church or State. A lovely idea that is rarely mentioned in Baptist
    Churches today.

    To say the real christians did not support the idea of a secular
    government, and the omission of God and religion from the constitution
    is historical and theological fallacy. The Baptist were strong
    proponents of a secular Government. John Leland would not ratify the
    Constitution without an amendment to separate church and state.

    It is time to put an end to turning deists into theist, it is time to
    look to the Christians who weren’t ashamed to profess their faith, the
    ones who were mutilated, and murdered for their faith. The early Baptist
    of America.

    I am liberal and the founding fathers I lean on are men like Roger Williams and John Leland.

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