So now historian fraud, David Barton, is suing two former candidates for the Texas Schoolboard and writer W.S. Smith for defamation of character over videos on Youtube attacking his historical perspective. A true academic historian who disagrees with another would debate academically in scholarly articles or at conferences hosted by historical academia, not sue each other. Besides, as I, a humble history graduate-to-be will show below, he does not deserve the title ‘historian’ by any academic standard.
The Christianization of Early American History and the Perpetrating Fraud David Barton
At what point in history did Benjamin Franklin reject science and embrace biblical creationism? When did Thomas Jefferson renounce Deism and embrace evangelical Christianity? The answer to those historical mysteries is when David Barton exploded onto the scene and claimed to be in the business of “historical reclamation” and a “curriculum authority” (The Daily Show with Jon Stewart – 5/4/2011). Barton has made several false claims that all the Founding Fathers were, in fact, devout Christians. In a recent interview, Barton theorized that Benjamin Franklin, noted scientist, publisher, philosopher, Deist and Founding Father would completely reject Darwin’s theory of evolution and embrace creationism. No citation was given for that extraordinary claim, and there is little in the Papers of Benjamin Franklin to suggest that the scientist-skeptic would have been so dismissive of evolution, or any scientific theory in favor of New Testament writings. Maybe Barton overlooked Franklin’s passage “I have found Christian dogma unintelligible. Early in life I absented myself from Christian assemblies” he had written in Toward the Mystery. Or Franklin’s quip that “Lighthouses are more helpful than churches”.
Unlike other evangelical historical revisionists, David Barton is particularly dangerous because he has also been a consultant and advisor in creating a new history curriculum in Texas. A curriculum recently changed to deemphasize Thomas Jefferson and his role as a Founding Father and false vindication for Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare of the early 1950′s. Barton also has a website titled Wallbuilders.com which makes the claim they are “presenting America’s forgotten history and heroes with an emphasis on our moral, religious and constitutional history” (www.wallbuilders.com). Another slight-of-hand by evangelicals is to label David Barton as a “historian” with Mike Huckabee leading the way by stating, on several occasions, that Barton “is the greatest historian in America today.” Never mind that America has an abundance of PhD accredited historians or that Barton does not hold any academic accreditation in the field of history. The diversion tactic is perpetrated by a former presidential candidate, ordained minister, and current host on Fox News lavishing high praise and allowing Barton a platform to spread his lies to a receptive audience without counterpoint or fact-checking. If not for the power Barton yields in curriculum revision with far right politicians, or that Barton believes all U.S. policy should be based on biblical interpretation, it would be comical to even lend credence to his fallacies. However, since Barton does bend the ears of influential people, he must be challenged on his many lies and misinterpretations.
Barton claims that Thomas Jefferson was a devout Christian because he would sign personal papers with “In the year of our Lord…” The fact is that such a closing salutation was as commonplace in the eighteenth century as “Sincerely,” “Love” or “Your BFF” is used in contemporary correspondences. Another ‘fact’ that Barton claims proves Jefferson’s apparent Christianity is that Jefferson talked about “endowed by their Creator” in the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson, along with Thomas Paine, was the foremost Deist of revolutionary America. In Deist philosophy the divine, or ‘Creator’, is ‘God,’ but not in the Biblical definition. Deists believe there is a supreme being in nature, but that humans are of self-determination and not influenced by divine intervention nor is there a holy trinity. This bears out when taking the aforementioned line in full context. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Equality of man, self-determination, liberty from the divine-right monarchs of the eighteenth century are all Deist principals written a century earlier by philosophers like John Locke and Voltaire and are not derived from any scripture. Earlier in the preamble, Jefferson also wrote about “laws of nature and nature’s God.” Clearly, in Deism, nature has precedent over Jesus. All the above beliefs can be found easily in Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason. This explanation could be considered interpretive, so instead of theorizing Jefferson’s religious preferences, why not let Jefferson speak for himself.
“Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law.”
Thomas Jefferson, in an 1814 letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper
“And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But may we hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this most venerated reformer of human errors.”
Thomas Jefferson, Letter to John Adams, April 11, 1823
“The clergy converted the simple teachings of Jesus into an engine for enslaving mankind and adulterated by artificial constructions into a contrivance to filch wealth and power Themselves…these clergy, in fact, constitute the real Anti-Christ.”
Thomas Jefferson speech
In fact, Jefferson so despised organized Christian religions and followed the Deist belief that Jesus was a great philosopher, but not divine, he wrote The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth: The Jefferson Bible in which all divinity is stripped away but the teachings of Jesus are shared.
Another Barton fallacy easily disproved is that the U.S. Constitution explicitly favors Christianity and that favoritism is implied. The problem with this argument is that there is only one instance of religion mentioned in the original Constitution ratified on September 17, 1787 and one instance throughout the amendments. The one instance in the original Constitution is found in Article VI where it states “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers…shall be bound by Oath of Affirmation, to support the Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public trust under the United States.” Even the executive oath, explicitly prescribed in Article II is devoid of any religious litmus. “So help me God” was first affirmed verbally by George Washington and since repeated as customary tribute to our first President.
Barton also argued, in an interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart (May 4, 2011), that the Founding Fathers did not want separation of religion from state. While there were ardent religious believers like Gouverneur Morris of Pennsylvania, others like George Mason of Virginia believed that there needed to be an explicit right to religious freedom. Mason was so disheartened that no guarantee of individual freedoms were included at the convention, he dissented and refused to sign the Constitution and became a leading Anti-Federalist voice. Richard Beeman, a PhD Constitutional Historian at the University of Pennsylvania, in a counterpoint interview on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart (May 18, 2001), also pointed out that nowhere during the Constitutional debate was scripture ever cited or used in debate. This is borne out by the Madison Papers, the records of the proceedings as scribed by James Madison. The Madison Papers is the universally accepted primary document for interpretation of the Convention delegates by constitutional and other historians.
It is revolting enough that the evangelical right continues to exert great influence in the political process of present-day America and continues to manipulate voter influence from the pulpit to direct the future through reprehensible acts based on interpretive Christian law. But now we are witnessing the beginning of attempts to commandeer our nation’s past and portray our country’s founding that fits their ultra-right’s ideological beliefs. The only saving grace is a nine credit graduate student of history, with a playlist of The Cure serenading the background, can take a little more than one hour to present undeniable academic evidence contrary to Barton’s misleading and falsified claims. If one inspired and persistent student of history can offer refuted evidence in such a short time, imagine what a true PhD of history could do to end this “historical reclamation” nonsense. I sincerely wish more academics would do so.
Originally published on The Fighting Democrats in August 2011.
In many academic circles, Thomas Jefferson is commonly associated with Christian Deism. This is still a topic of debate amongst historians. However, in no way does the term imply that Jefferson believed in the divinity of Christ nor in any organized church that follows Biblical deity. It means that Jefferson believed in the teachings of Jesus, but does not accept him as God, nor divine but only as a wise philosopher.
All cited interviews with David Barton and Richard Beeman are available unedited on www.thedailyshow.com.
The Huffington Post article referenced in the foreword can be found at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-rodda/defendant-in-most-ironic-_b_994249.html?ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false#sb=1256833,b=facebook