Tuesday, July 15, 2008

More David Barton: Blah, blah, rabble, rabble

More from the self-proclaimed expert on American history, Christian Nationalist David Barton:




As Ed Darrell stated, "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." I apologize to my conservative Christian friends for being so strong here, but in all seriousness this guy just doesn't get it.

16 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...
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Tom Van Dyke said...

I find this a very unfair hit and run on David Barton, Ms. Shuman. [Sorry, Lindsey, corrected for gender from above deleted comment.] If there specific errors on his part you'd like to point out, I'm very interested.

But his basic thesis, that America of the 18th and 19th centuries had a strong sense of Divine Providence, should be relatively uncontroversial. See "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" or "John Brown's Body" [both of which are sung to the same tune, BTW].


I defend David Barton more on principle than specifics, but if his charge is true---that the abridged version used in schools today of Tocqueville's Democracy in America is shorn of much of the argument that the American system and early republic was heavily founded and sustained on religious belief, that's enough for him to earn his place at the table. Lord knows it's an argument few others are making these days.

Barton should be corrected if necessary, but firstly, he should and must be heard.

Roger Saunders said...

I think the difference when it comes to the controversial aspect of Divine Providence is that when someone says "that America of the 18th and 19th centuries had a strong sense of Divine Providence", people start to "freak out" because they think that present day Americans who point that out are trying to set up a New "Evangelical Fundamental Theocracy". While there may be those who do have that in mind I must say that I think they are in the minority and that at least from the evidence in these two videos, Mr Barton isn't one of them.

Is it wrong to say that there was a sense of Divine Providence? If so then we must throw out many statements made by many of the founding fathers who clearly talked about this.

Some Americans having a sense of divine providence, and having the government certify that this aspect of faith is true are two different things. Yet, it seems that many are wanting the government to certify that there is NO truth to this aspect of faith. This action would be just as wrong and just as mammoth a violation of the first amendment as would be the former!

I have heard a lot of talk about Barton's lack of scholarship in some areas but I would be very interested to find out just exactly what, if anything, was taken out of De Toqueville. There just might be a little bit of scholarly manipulation and censorship, which is just as dangerous as the scholarly carelessness of which Barton has been accused.

Brad Hart said...

eeek! More Barton on this blog.

While I have been an ardent opponent of Barton's "scholarship," I also agree with the previous to commentators. It is unfair to simply "bash" Barton without providing specific examples of where he goes wrong.

Brad Hart said...

One other point:

Isn't it amazing how quickly Christian Nationalists are willing to attack an accomplished historian like Gary Nash -- see posting on Nash below -- but get really mad if and when Barton, Lillback, etc. is attacked, even though their "scholarship" is pathetic compared to someone like Nash.

BTW, I am in no way pointing to the commentators above when I write this. I am only speaking about general trends.

Ed Darrell said...

"I defend David Barton more on principle than specifics, but if his charge is true---that the abridged version used in schools today of Tocqueville's Democracy in America is shorn of much of the argument that the American system and early republic was heavily founded and sustained on religious belief, that's enough for him to earn his place at the table. Lord knows it's an argument few others are making these days."

Barton's wrong about textbooks -- I wonder, has he looked at any U.S. history text in the last 20 years? Has he bothered to look at the state and national standards?

But more to the point, he's wrong about de Tocqueville. The Frenchman's points about religion were not that it guided the government, but that the separation of church and state made both institutions stronger. de Tocqueville wondered why Americans seemed so much more religiously devout than Europeans, and reported that American clergymen attributed Americans' great faith to the separation of church and state, which meant it was the duty of each man to make his own peace with God as each man saw fit.

That's exactly the contrary of Barton's claims.

Ed Darrell said...

It is unfair to simply "bash" Barton without providing specific examples of where he goes wrong.

I think it's unfair to defend Barton without offering a case of where he goes right. That being the lesser occurrence, it would be a shorter argument.

IMHO, of course.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Sorry, Mr. Darrell. I find your model of discourse unacceptable. I'm tempted to summarily reject anything Ed Darrell has to say, but the pursuit of truth obliges me to lend him an ear.

Ignore David Barton if you choose, but you have not answered his charge---the case in point per the videos posted here---that Tocqueville's Democracy in America as abridged in school textbooks cuts out a lot of the religious belief part.

Until you do, you are being aggressive without being probative, adding only noise in an otherwise sincere inquiry hereabouts. IMHO of course.

---Brad, your point is well taken. I would offer that although David Barton's agenda and position as an advocate is clear, Gary Nash offers himself as an impartial scholar and therefore makes a claim to scholarly authority. Sort of like The New York Times, which professes journalism, which is akin to scholarship, only with a dateline of 2008. I accept neither the NYT nor Dr. Nash at face value, sorry.

I previously objected that the preface to Dr. Nash's thesis [reproduced on this blog] seemed to me more a manifesto. I admit I am unfamiliar with his work, but he raised a flag as red as David Barton's.

In my humble opinion, of course. Raising a red flag on someone else's red flag starts a snowball rolling downhillishward, and risks absurdity on its face. But I'll risk it.

Pinky said...

It seems to me that Barton is being reasonable in these two videos.
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There is a big difference between what our First Amendment dictates and the question of whether or not we are a society that is and has been---from the get-go---heavily influenced by Christianity.
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Maybe the personal perspective of the viewer has the tendency to influence what we think we see. And, this points at the problem so many Americans develop when they hear men like Barton speak on this subject. Many people think he is proving that we are a Christian nation by law and, therein is the problem. Zealotry takes that ball and runs with it as though our government is shirking its duty to promote Christianity. Seeing we are a Christian nation--according to Barton, that is.
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Ed Darrell said...

Sorry, Mr. Darrell. I find your model of discourse unacceptable. I'm tempted to summarily reject anything Ed Darrell has to say, but the pursuit of truth obliges me to lend him an ear.

Truth hurts? I didn't know it would offend.

Take that first video, for example -- is there anything accurate in it? I think each of his claims is exactly wrong. Even the worst of the U.S. history books used in Texas is significantly deeper than Barton alleges, each of them containing more than the six volumes of data in that outdated set Barton extolls. I complain about the accuracy of the Texas books, too -- but each of them is more accurate than Barton's claims.

I'm sorry you find my correction of Barton's errors unacceptable. You're going to be greatly offended by any serious study of U.S. history.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Actually, you're not making a correction, Mr. Darrell. You're claiming "truth" and rendering only a subjective, unsubstantiated pontification.

I am unoffended by any honest inquiry. What I found unacceptable was your statement "I think it's unfair to defend Barton without offering a case of where he goes right..."

You think "all" his claims are bunk? Fine, disagree with him all you want: he often sings out of tune. But it's improper to shirk one's own share of the burden of proof. Do you know what the missing material is in the abridged version of Democracy in America? I admit I don't. If you do, please share.

David Barton didn't approach this forum with his views: several fragments of his speeches were posted here, for which he was mocked. I objected.

Now, if your posting style is to be playing "Is!" "Is not!" "Is too!" with David Barton, go ahead. But forgive me if I don't respond to such things except to note their futility and foolishness.

Ed Darrell said...

Do you know what the missing material is in the abridged version of Democracy in America? I admit I don't. If you do, please share.

Barton is imagining this completely. Various sections of the book have been quoted at differing lengths since about the 1940s. It's difficult to find lengthy quotes in texts prior to the 1940s that I have checked.

In my classrooms, I used entire chapters.

I restate my challenge: What does Barton get right? Everything I've checked, he's got wrong. Everything.

You defend such a person whose academics are so shoddy, and you are shocked that anyone who actually deals with the material professionally would call him on his academic sluggardness, though you don't have any familiarity with his claims or the material . . .

I think we can see this trend clearly. I resent ill-informed, off-the-mark criticism from all sources, but especially from Barton who criticizes wrongly, and asks people to pay him for it. It's not a question of tone. It's a question of academic fraud.

We are faced with a rising tide of mediocrity in the schools, the Excellence in Education Commission warned in 1983. David Barton is the crest of that tidal surge. Some here appear to be victims. We can throw you a life ring, but you have to grab it.

Brian Tubbs said...

Brad, with due respect, you're wrong to lump Peter Lillback in with David Barton. Barton has had some of his scholarship over the years called into question. He has gotten some facts wrong. Is this the case with Lillback? You may disagree with some of Lillback's conclusions or interpretations, but his research and academic integrity (particularly in his recent book on GW) are impressive.

I also want to add my agreement to Mr. Van Dyke that Lindsey's hit-and-run attack on David Barton is inappropriate and frankly comes off as mean-spirited. She just bashes him (again). I'm disappointed.

On Barton, he HAS gotten some things wrong over the years. But he (quite apart from some other activists in the field) has stepped up and ADMITTED when he's been shown wrong. He's taken and accepted many of these corrections. Not many activists (and Barton is an activist, not a historian) are willing to do this.

Ed Darrell said...

Brian, the near decade between when Barton was first called out on his manifold errors and his timid issuing of a partial errata list is hardly a commendation to his accuracy.

Worse, when he did "admit" to some errors, he insisted that other errors were not errors at all.

Plus, he persists in offering incorrect readings of history. It's always painful to have to disabused kids of fond notions they've learned from Barton, but it's not always possible. Barton has crippled the AP scores of countless children, and I regard that as grossly sinful.

There are good history sources. There are accurate history sources. Barton falls into neither category, IMHO. If your mileage differs, you need a tune up.

Lindsey Shuman said...

Barton's two points for why history has changed (straying from biographical history and teaching selective history) is a perfect example of his lack of historical understanding. If you focus exclusively on biographical history you will only get an elitist view of history, since nobody writes biographies on the average person. As for being selective, what does Barton think he is doing? He's the perfect example of being selective in his history.

So, if you want an elitist, biased, watered-down history read David Barton

Rosenzweig said...

Whether or not de Tocqueville has been badly edited is a charge I cannot refute without knowing what edition is being referred to. I find it hard to believe that every mention of religion was cut, but I can't reject the hypothesis without seeing the evidence...of course, Barton doesn't supply enough specific information to allow that.

When he uses de Tocqueville, though, he omits what he doesn't want us to hear -- if he's so concerned with preserving all of the man's words, why not offer complete quotations in context? Instead, he uses "Upon my arrival in the United States, the religious aspect of the country was the first thing that struck my attention; and the longer I stayed there the more did I perceive the great political consequences resulting from this state of things, to which I was unaccustomed. In France I had almost always seen the spirit of religion and the spirit of freedom pursuing courses diametrically opposed to each other; but in America I found that they were intimately united, and that they reigned in common over the same country." in his book Original Intent. He uses this as evidence to bolster his claim about the U.S. being fundamentally (even uniquely) a Christian nation, and to reject the idea that Americans had ever intended to "separate" church and state.

Had he included the rest of the paragraph from de Tocqueville, we could see Alexis noting "My desire to discover the causes of this phenomenon increased from day to day. In order to satisfy it I questioned the members of all the different sects; and I more especially sought the society of the clergy, who are the depositaries of the different persuasions, and who are more especially interested in their duration. As a member of the Roman Catholic Church I was more particularly brought into contact with several of its priests, with whom I became intimately acquainted. To each of these men I expressed my astonishment and I explained my doubts; I found that they differed upon matters of detail alone; and that they mainly attributed the peaceful dominion of religion in their country to the separation of Church and State. I do not hesitate to affirm that during my stay in America I did not meet with a single individual, of the clergy or of the laity, who was not of the same opinion upon this point." The point Barton wants to make against church-state separation is, as you can see, totally rejected by the inclusion of the whole paragraph...so he simply doesn't include all of it.

Does this offer evidence that Barton is wrong about the abridging of Democracy in America? Of course not. I would suggest it does raise serious questions about Barton's credibility as a scholar, and his ability to objectively evaluate the editorial work of a historian. (I would say "another historian", but Barton doesn't seem to have academic credentials, and there are many who use historical information to their own purposes who are not historians.) If the accounts of American history have grown too secular, they should be corrected. But if one uses distortion and omission to further one's own political agenda, well, you know what they say about people in glass houses....