Monday, June 16, 2008

David Barton is at it again

Since we have been on a recent video kick, I figured that I would try to get in on the action. In the video that I have posted below, David Barton discusses why our founders were strict Christians and why American historians -- who by the way have MUCH more training in this field than Barton -- are destroying our "godly heritage."

Right from the start, Barton argues that those who seek to eradicate religion from our heritage have essentially hijacked American history. Barton points to the Mayflower Compact, which he argues is proof that the Pilgrims desired to "propagate the Christian religion in the New World." Obviously Barton has little to no historical knowledge of what the Pilgrims -- a more correct title being Separatists -- actually desired. After all, these Separatists actually wanted to ensure that their religious communities were kept pure from heathen influences, thus the spreading of the gospel to the "savages" of America was never as big of a goal as people like Barton might think. In addition, the Mayflower Compact was NOT created to instigate the "propagation of Christianity" as Barton argues, but was created to ensure that the settlers would be free from contractual servitude. Since the Mayflower was landed in Plymouth and not Virginia -- its original destination -- those on board felt that a contractual agreement needed to be created. It was essentially a social contract that was drawn up by the colonists for survival's sake.

Following his comments on the Mayflower Compact, Barton proceeds to point out that even our national holidays, specifically Christmas, Thanksgiving and the 4th of July, serve as evidence to support America's godly heritage. While he is right to point out that Washington and Adams called for national days of thanksgiving, he forgets to mention that Jefferson unequivocally refused to do the same during his presidency. As far as Christmas is concerned, Barton is again showing his terrible lack of historical literacy. If he understood early American history at all, he would have known that Christmas was not a major holiday. In fact, early Puritan communities forbade the celebration of Christmas, since there was no reference to it in the Bible. After the establishment of the American republic, Christmas remained nothing more than a mere side note. In fact, the celebration of Christmas as we know it today has its origins in 19th century America, NOT with our founders (for more on the celebration of Christmas in colonial America click here).

As far as Barton's references to Gouverneur Morris, I think Jon Rowe's posting on Morris' character is the best source to refute Barton's assertions.

I also found it interesting when Barton stated that American universities are teaching that our founders are nothing more than "agnostics and atheists" and that "not one believed in God." While I cannot speak to the curriculums of every university in America, I am still inclined to disagree with these claims. Having attended three different college institutions -- not to mention a number of additional lectures at other colleges and universities -- I have NEVER heard this claim being made by a single professor of history. Again, I could be wrong, but I find it hard to believe that a legitimate professor of early America would make such a silly assertion as Barton suggests. But then again, I am no expert.

Barton also mentions that the founders would be appalled that we today are arguing over whether or not "In God we Trust" should be included on our money. Again, Barton's historical ignorance is shining through like a bright star on a clear night. Obviously Barton does not realize that "In God We Trust" was not conceived by our founders, but was first inspired during the Civil War (click here for more info on this topic). In fact, the only motto that our founders embraced was "e pluribus unum," which means "From many, one." A far cry from what Barton suggests.

"Of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, 27 had seminary degrees." This ridiculous statement by Barton YET AGAIN illustrates his lack of accurate historical knowledge. Chris Rodda, an avid Barton-debunker, effectively points out the errors in Barton's argument when she writes the following:

The use of the word "seminary" in this statement can have no other purpose than to take advantage of the fact that almost nobody today would associate the word seminary with anything other than a theological seminary, and would assume from this synonym for college that almost half the signers studied for the ministry. While it is true that all of the colleges attended by the signers of the Declaration had been founded by religious denominations, none of them were strictly theological colleges when the signers attended them. They all had schools of law and/or other sciences. Few adults, let alone children hearing the word seminary in their Bible literacy class, will realize that this word can mean any kind of school...

David Barton points out that of the fifty-six men, definitely twenty-four, possibly twenty-seven, had seminary degrees.

All this means, of course, is that twenty-seven of the signers of the Declaration went to college -- twenty at a total of five different American colleges, and seven in Europe. Twenty-four definitely received degrees; three don't appear to have graduated. Almost all of the twenty-seven studied either law or business, and one studied medicine.
One thing that Barton does very well is to illustrate that the overwhelming majority of the founders were NOT Deists. On this claim I am in complete agreement with Barton. However, Barton simply assumes that since the founders were not deists, they must therefore be orthodox in their Christian views. This claim is not only ridiculous but is utterly false based on the evidence that Barton himself presents. Though Barton effectively points to a very small number of orthodox Christians -- Sam Adams, John Jay and Charles Carroll for example -- this does not prove the orthodoxy of the rest.

Another ridiculous point that Barton attempts to make is when he points to Franklin's admonition that Congress pray before beginning the business of the day. While he is right in citing Franklin's petition for prayer, Barton forgets to mention the fact that the other founders present at this particular meeting rejected Franklin's suggestion. Again, this is another example of Barton's propensity to only promote half-truths.

Another example of Barton's half-truths is when he suggests that the founders never advocated a separation of church and state. He supports this argument simply by stating that the church/state phrase is not present in the Constitution itself. However, Barton obviously forgets the fact that Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance, Jefferson's Notes on Virginia, and George Mason's Declaration of Rights all petition for a separation of church and state

In the end, David Barton is a very effective public speaker and preacher of religion, but he is a lousy historian. His distortions of historical fact are staggering to say the least. What is even scarier than Barton's obvious falsehoods is the fact that a large number of people believe him and take his work to be absolute doctrine, and at the same time are willing to disregard the legitimate scholarly work of the overwhelming majority of historians across this nation. Who exactly is the hypocrite?

19 comments:

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

Barton has virtually no credentials as a historian. He is simply a right wing Christian progagandist. Unfortunately he has a large following in a nation that is largely historically illiterate. Most don't know the history of our mottos and their placement.

It's unfortunate that any time must be spent refuting a Barton. It's a bit like having to deal with Ken Ham -- another right wing propagandist. Two peas in a pod.

Brad Hart said...

I am in complete agreement, Pastor Cornwall. As I have often stated before, Barton has jumped off the boat and missed the ocean! I don't think that there is a writer out there that is more irritating that Barton.

Pinky said...

"Jumped off the boat and missed the ocean".
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That's pretty good.
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If Barton were arguing for our heritage as a society heavily influenced by religiosity, I think he would be making a decent case.
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But, to argue that we are founded as a Christian nation makes him out to be a purposeful fraud.
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Even so, some of the arguments he gives need to be better understood.
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He sure is good at putting out his points. .I've seen his on other occasions. He seems dishonest to me.

Caitlin GD Hopkins said...

Great post. I had never heard of Barton before reading about him on this blog, but I will definitely make an effort to go out and familiarize myself with his work now that I have! Even though it seems that he is not engaging in scholarly debates, it is vital that historians be aware of this type of thing since we are teachers as well as students. I am often bowled over by the misconceptions I hear from students (and alumni, and administrators, and TV pundits . . .). As Pastor Cornwall notes, many Americans don't know enough history to evaluate poor arguments. Thanks for pointing out these!

sbh said...

The trouble is that no matter how many times these lies are debunked people like David Barton keep on repeating them. It is, to say the least, tiresome.

Matthew said...

Barton's argument seems to be a pretty straight-forward application of the is/ought fallacy. For the sake of argument, if we accept Bartons premise that the founders were as rabid and foaming of the mouth fundies like himself, it does not make the U.S. a Christian republic by fiat. (Especially true when you can site the Constitution as evidence to the contrary.)

Ed Darrell said...

I don't think Barton has much regard for the law. That tie he's wearing is close enough to a violation of the Flag Code that he should fear Congress will indeed pass a Constitutional Amendment to get at those who desecrate the U.S. flag.

But then, I've found the wearing of such garish, flag-disrespectful garb is often a warning that the tie represents the entire depth of the person's knowledge of American history.

Brian Tubbs said...

And the Barton-bashing just rolls on.

Ed Darrell said...

Hey, if Barton doesn't want to be used as a pinata, he shouldn't cover himself in colored tissue, hang from a tree, and act so much like a relative of a donkey.

Maybe bashing Barton will produce a shower of candy! God knows he's not full of history . . .

Leo said...

Mr. Barton plays fast and loose with the facts and the truth. For example with regard to his reference to the Karl S. Chambers murder case he falsely states that the court reversed that "conviction" which is false. In this 1989 case the Penn. Supreme Court rightly said, "More than allegorical reference, this argument by the prosecutor advocates to the jury that an independent source of law exists for the conclusion that the death penalty is the appropriate punishment for Appellant. By arguing that the Bible dogmatically commands that "the murderer shall be put to death," the prosecutor interjected religious law as an additional factor for the jury's consideration which neither flows from the evidence or any legitimate inference to be drawn therefrom. We believe that such an argument is a deliberate attempt to destroy the objectivity and impartiality of the jury which cannot be cured and which we will not countenance. Our courts are not ecclesiastical courts and, therefore, there is no reason to refer to religious rules or commandments to support the imposition of a death penalty." Interesting that Mr. Barton does not have anything to say about the death penalty itself...

Leo said...

So sorry, with all the creating an ID and so forth and it losing my original comment, I forgot to include the following from that Chambers case: "Accordingly, the conviction of murder of the first degree and the conviction and sentence imposed for robbery are affirmed, the sentence of death is vacated and the matter is remanded to the Court of Common Pleas of York County for a new sentencing hearing."

Leo said...

I can't find any case in California other than the Soledad Cross controversy that has been going on for maybe 17+ years now and without some elaboration by Mr. Barton. I couldn't figure out how to spell the case name he provided and tryed all kinds of search methods to no avail. Anyone know the name of the case he cites?

Leo said...

The passage excerpted by Mr. Barton from Stone V. Graham by the majority opinion in context is as follows: "The preeminent purpose for posting the Ten Commandments on schoolroom walls is plainly religious in nature. The Ten Commandments are undeniably a sacred text in the Jewish and Christian faiths, and no legislative recitation of a supposed secular purpose can blind us to that fact. The Commandments do not confine themselves to arguably secular matters, such as honoring one's parents, killing or murder, adultery, stealing, false witness, and covetousness. See Exodus 20:12-17; Deuteronomy 5:16-21. Rather, the first part of the Commandments concerns the religious duties of believers: worshipping the Lord God alone, avoiding idolatry, not using the Lord's name in vain, and observing the Sabbath Day. See Exodus 20:1-11; Deuteronomy 5:6-15.

This is not a case in which the Ten Commandments are integrated into the school curriculum, where the Bible may constitutionally be used in an appropriate study of history, civilization, ethics, comparative religion, or the like. Abington School District v. Schempp, supra at 374 U. S. 225. Posting of religious texts on the wall serves no such educational function. If the posted copies of the Ten Commandments are to have any effect at all, it will be to induce the schoolchildren to read, meditate upon, perhaps to venerate and obey, the Commandments. However desirable this might be as a matter of private devotion, it is not a permissible state objective under the Establishment Clause." I agree.

Leo said...

Mr. Barton's misinformation based on the 1952 case of Zorach v. Clauson makes no sense at all - again lack of context. Justice Douglas who is in my estimation one of the most in not THE most freedom-loving and protection of individual rights judge in Supreme Court history said that the scheme whereby New York City permits its public schools to release students during school hours, on written requests of their parents, so that they may leave the school buildings and grounds and go to religious centers for religious instruction or devotional exercises; and makes school attendance compulsory; and students not released stay in the classrooms; and the churches report to the schools the names of children released from public schools who fail to report for religious instruction involves neither religious instruction in public schools nor the expenditure of public funds. Held: This program does not violate the First Amendment, made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment.

But give an inch take a mile is the religious fundamentalist's approach. During the ensuing years, those with views like Mr. Barton have tried every way imaginable to insinuate religion into the secular public school system, even to the ridiculous extreme of NY gerrymandering a small village of Satmar Hasidim, practitioners of a strict form of Judaism, into its own exclusive school district. See BOARD OF ED. OF KIRYAS JOEL v. GRUMET (1994). And, so it goes.

Leo said...

I don't think I have any need to further analyze and dispute the pathetic pseudo-history offered by Mr. Barton, but his dispicable and flippant potshot at Justice Souter's scholarly concurrence in Lee v. Weisman (1991) is so over the top as to finally reach the end of my patience for such a sower of lies and discord as Mr. Barton. For those interested, Souter's comments are too long to quote here, but suffice it to say that Souter describes the long back and forth debate and wordsmithing by the Founders as they modified over and again what ultimately became the 1st amendment, providing a remarkable insight into their intent, one that Mr. Barton plainly ignores.

Leo said...

Couldn't find the actual case but with regard to DB's reference to Warsaw v. Tehachapi:

In September, 1990 a federal judge ordered a "public" cemetery in Tehachapi, California to remove a "75-foot-tall cross" because it created "a political division along religious lines in violation of the Constitution."

Judge Edward Dean Price issued the ruling on a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of a Jewish family who had a member buried in the "public" cemetery.

The family was offended by the dominating cross and filed objections with the cemetery board. The board claimed the cross wasn't a religious symbol and refused to remove it.

Some Christians and Native Americans joined the Jewish family in the suit.

Carol Sobel, an ACLU lawyer said, "When you put up a 75-foot cross in a community and it's on public property, that sends a message that says unless you adhere to what [the cross] represents, you're an outsider."

Anonymous said...

Rather than nitpicking people such as David Barton, why don't we look at the big picture. Since prayer, Bible reading, and the Ten Commandments have been removed from our schools, and the legalization of abortion, our Nation has been in a decline, morally and spiritually speaking. We see and hear about the school shootings and violence through the news.

We have removed the Ten Commandments from the courthouse and replaced it with government sponsored diversity programs such as recognition and celebration of LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) Pride Month. It's right here in the Department of Labor building.

I think David Barton's overall purpose is to bring us to the realization that we as a Nation have moved away from God and toward doings things our own way.

We will reap what we sow. We already have seen the results.

Leo said...

Anonymous: Nitpicking? To use your own vernacular, I'd say that Mr. Barton is a "false prophet" of the worst intellectual order. You may not be too far behind, given that you flatly state as if true when false that the Ten Commandments is no longer on display in courthouses. I practice in numerous courthouses in Georgia and every one of them has it on display, along with the Magna Carta, Declaration of Independence, and Bill of Rights. You are clearly intolerant of LGBTQIQ folks likely using the same Biblically based reasons offered to justify legal slavery, and suppression of a woman's right to vote and government intrusion into her right to medical privacy. There has always been violence and "decline" of the worst sort throughout human history, including the 200+ year blip of American history. You should consider joining the noble effort of those of us who advocate for a more perfect union.

bpabbott said...

Anon, while Leo has beat me to a response, I'll still follow up. Leo is correct violent crime is on the decline. Especially firearm-related crime.

Regardiing murder rates, the US ranks 24th from the worst. Safer nations include multible Buhdist, Hindu and Muslim nations; some are India, Yemen, Indonesia, Malaysia Saudi Arabia, Japan. Some like China don't show ... perhaps due to a lack of data. However, others like Singapore and Taiwan don't show for some reason, but they are ranked here.

In any event, I find your implication that violent crime is causilty related to the posting of the 10 Commandments or recognition of alternative lifestyles to be rediculous.

However, I do think violent crime rates are inversely related to a society's level of tolerance and respect for their fellow humans.