Wednesday, December 23, 2009

David Barton: "The Bible and Christianity Created the American Republic"

Over at his personal blog "Dispatches from the Culture Wars," Ed Brayton has commented on a recent audio interview from our good friend David Barton. And being that I have not posted in a while (sorry, busy doing the family/Christmas thing) I thought I might "hijack" Brayton's post and put it on our main page (my apologies, Mr. Brayton, the holidays don't allow me the luxury of coming up with my own stuff).

To start off, Brayton quotes Barton from the interview:

If you take the Bible and Christianity out, you will not have a Republican form of government in America. You will not have a free market economic system. You will not have a benevolent nation. You will not have common school education available for every student. You will not have freedom of conscience or religious toleration. They go through at least a dozen characteristics that are unique to America that were produced by Christianity and the Bible...they don't exist in other cultures, they exist here and they're the fruit of the Bible.

Then Brayton adds:

Really? The United States is the only benevolent nation on the planet? That will come as quite a shock to many other nations. The only Republican form of government on earth is in the United States? Really? I wonder if he realizes that we got many of the ideas for that form of government from - gasp! - French philosophers like Montesquieu?

I'll give him another example that will really make his eyes bug out. Japan is all of those things. It has a Republican form of government, public schools, religious freedom and freedom of conscience and is a benevolent nation. Yet Japan is probably the least Christian nation in the developed world.

Now, he might well respond that this is only because the United States wrote their constitution after WWII. But guess who actually wrote that constitution for them? A man named Roger Baldwin. He founded the ACLU and Barton has derided him as a godless communist bent on destroying everything good and Christian.

Smell that? That's cognitive dissonance.

And it's funny, people like Barton always point to the Massachusetts Bay Colony and the Mayflower Compact as examples of America's Christian heritage -- but where was that freedom of conscience and religion established by those people? They didn't even protect freedom of conscience for the wrong kind of Christians, much less for Jews or Hindus or non-believers. Just being a Baptist or a Quaker in Massachusetts was grounds for being jailed, exiled and even put to death.

Where was that religious freedom in the Christian colony at Maryland, where blasphemy resulted in such punishments as having a 'B' branded into one's forehead or having a hole bored in your tongue. Boy, that sure is tolerant, isn't it?


And while I agree that Barton's insistence that the Bible, and Christianity in general, are responsible for the creation of the American republic is preposterous, I think the founders were also clear in their belief that a republican government would NOT thrive without religion (whether that religion be Christian or not and what KIND of Christianity is another debate for another day). Yes, it's silly to insist that Christianity is what created the American republic, free market capitalism, etc. Barton (a "historian") would do well to look at the many examples of republican government that were created (past and present) without the Bible, Christianity, etc. Perhaps the correct answer is to say that the founders, regardless of how they established the American republic, believed very deeply that such a government would quickly fail without, as Washington put it, "God and the Bible." Franklin's advocacy for an American "public religion" is also indicative of this hope.

The American republic's STRUCTURE and ORIGIN may not have depended on the Bible, Jesus, etc. but the founders certainly believed that the ENGINE for such a republic would require such forces.

14 comments:

King of Ireland said...

Brad stated:


'Yes, it's silly to insist that Christianity is what created the American republic, free market capitalism, etc. Barton (a "historian") would do well to look at the many examples of republican government that were created (past and present) without the Bible, Christianity, etc. Perhaps the correct answer is to say that the founders, regardless of how they established the American republic, believed very deeply that such a government would quickly fail without, as Washington put it, "God and the Bible." Franklin's advocacy for an American "public religion" is also indicative of this hope."

It is silly but I think Jack Goldstone makes a good case that "communities of free individuals sovereign over a limited state" were necessary for the engineering culture that produced the "Second Wave" Industrial Revolution and helped propel society into the modern world.

Greeks and Romans had similar forms of government to our long before Christianity appeared so for one to say that the "limited state" was produced by Christianity is ridiculous and Barton needs to stop saying this. It is even more ridiculous to state that this form of government is found in the Bible. There are principles that could lead to that but there are parts of the Bible that could lead one to think that Divine Right of Kings is kosher too. Both sets of ides are historically Christian and to take the good and ignore the bad is dishonest.

With that said, I think a real good case could be made the the Judeo-Christian ideas of imageo Dei and neighborly love are the foundation of "free individuals sovereign". A close reading of Locke in the "Two Treatises" sees that this is where he starts and bases the whole "social contract" on. The idea of imageo dei is a Judean idea and the love your neighbor as yourself thing is Christian. Thus, Judeo-Christian.

Now my statement above is debatable based on how one reads Locke. But anyone who wants to comment must actually read him. Not go in with pre-conceived biases based on what some professor taught them. Actually read what he says. I did and it is nothing like what is taught.

The trick is to actually understand the theology. This takes some diligent study of the Bible and Church History. Most of the Dispatches type crowd get pissed when people comment on Science when they are not qualified. But sure enough they will comment on Theology and Church history when they have not a clue.

With that said, Ed and Jon are well versed in this topic and I have a lot of respect for them. I am just getting to know you but you seem like you know your stuff too and are fair minded in this discussion. But I doubt any of you guys really understand the deep theology of this to evaluate the History here.

I am not saying I do either. At least formally. But i do know the Bible better than most pastors I have met and have studied enough church history to have written a book about it. After participating on Ed's blog and this one. I have to go and re-write my book that only two people read anyway.

All I am saying is let's get past Barton and learn about this all together.

King of Ireland said...

Brad,

I posted this comment at Dispatches. If you need some entertainment for the weekend watch and see how long it takes them all to go ape.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Actually, the question of "by what right does one man rule another" has Christian roots, or at least Christian exploration. The Greek and Roman schemes used something called "natural right," as opposed to "natural rights" or human rights or natural law. [Although the Roman Stoics were in the zone.]

But using David Barton as a starting point makes such inquiry impossible.

Barton is babbling a bunch of second-hand assertions on behalf of Christianity that he cannot explain or defend, because he clearly hasn't put in the study of the medieval thinkers they come from. Here Brian Tierney, a serious scholar, touches on many of the points Barton mentions.

The problem for modern-minded critics of Barton's assertions is that they don't have the necessary background to evaluate them either, and so we get culture war instead of principled discussion. Pass.

King of Ireland said...

TVD stated:

"The problem for modern-minded critics of Barton's assertions is that they don't have the necessary background to evaluate them either, and so we get culture war instead of principled discussion. Pass."

A good short summary of my longer comment above.

King of Ireland said...

Brad stated:

"Perhaps the correct answer is to say that the founders, regardless of how they established the American republic, believed very deeply that such a government would quickly fail without, as Washington put it, "God and the Bible." Franklin's advocacy for an American "public religion" is also indicative of this hope."

With all that said above, I think this statement is right on Brad. I have a post waiting that I tried to get up today but something happened to it that addresses this. I took it as a sign to wait in that I did not see you had already posted this. I am not sure you will agree with all of it but I think it squares with what you wrote here.

Brad Hart said...

I know that David Barton isn't the most popular name around these parts but face the music, folks. We ain't getting away from him. So long as there is a debate to be had on the "Christian Nation" David Barton will always come up. Besides, I actually like the occasional trip down Barton lane. Sometimes it will attract new readers or get some of our semi-regular followers out of the woodworks (and if I remember right, the "David Barton: Liar" post is still our #1). Yes, it may get annoying for those who have been down this road but that's sort of what we do here. We tend to beat the life out of already dead horses on a semi-regular basis (just shows how passionate some of us are).

I am interested in learning more about the origins of Japan's government. I'll admit that my knowledge of Asian history is piss poor, but (and I am going out on a limb here) I am willing to bet that much of their republican government is based on ours (again, I have nothing to base this assumption on). If it is, then Brayton's analogy of Japan being different from America wouldn't stand.

King of Ireland said...

Brad stated:

"Perhaps the correct answer is to say that the founders, regardless of how they established the American republic, believed very deeply that such a government would quickly fail without, as Washington put it, "God and the Bible." Franklin's advocacy for an American "public religion" is also indicative of this hope."

Good discussion broke out between two guys at Dispatches between all the other usual crap. They had some good points. The analogy is not so good after listening to some of the points Eamon made.

Brian Tubbs said...

A lot of this debate comes down to AUDIENCE. Some public figures, such as D. Barton, aren't appealing to or discussing these issues with scholars or with serious students of history. They are engaging the general public, the mainstream "layperson." As such, they take complicated issues and boil them down into sound bytes, slogans, etc. Some of us here find that very frustrating, and note that I say "us." BUT...

What I object to, when it comes to the Barton-bashing here at this blog, is that there's some kind of implication that David Barton is one of the ONLY persons that does this. And that's just not so.

Now, I'll give Brad Hart credit in that he doesn't JUST pick on Barton. He will also (appropriately) go after Howard Zinn, et al. So, this isn't a critique on Brad.

I just want to put it out there (to everyone) that David Barton is an activist and his focus is on reaching mainstream, primarily mainstream churchgoing audiences.

Would I like it if he would get more into the nuances and complexities? Yes. Would I like it if he would steer clear of some of the stuff like in the post Brad has provided? Yes.

But, frankly, as a pastor, I'd like it if Joel Osteen got a little deeper in his sermons. I'd like to hear some more theology and less self-help pop psychology. BUT....Osteen knows his audience, and is tailoring his messages accordingly.

This stuff isn't so much a reflection on David Barton or Joel Osteen. It's a reflection on our culture and society overall.

King of Ireland said...

Brian stated:

"This stuff isn't so much a reflection on David Barton or Joel Osteen. It's a reflection on our culture and society overall."

That is sad but true. No matter one's politics he must be saddened by a generation that elected a man on a vague one word campaign slogan. I read somewhere that the Federalist Papers were written for an everyday audience in a Newspaper. Leave aside all the old English and it still a tough read for even a college graduate today. Do not even bother trying to bring it into most high school classrooms.

I hate to say it but look at Ed Brayton's blog. A brilliant guy who is well versed in his topic has to water it down for what I assume is an extremely educated, by today's standard, audience. Ed even admitted that the level of discussion he prefers is not what most of his readers seek in a comment on a post here.

jimmiraybob said...

KOI - "No matter one's politics he must be saddened by a generation that elected a man on a vague one word campaign slogan."

Wait a minute, you mean the "Maverick" won? Oh, you mean the other guy. :)

King of Ireland said...

Mc Cain is not much better.

bpabbott said...

I wish the presidential election remained as it was 200 yrs ago. If it had, we'd have an Obama & McCain administration today :-)

As it is, the modern winning party takes all is too chaotic and uncooperative for me.

Pinky said...

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The big problem with your defense of David Barton, Brian, is that he uses props and presentation styles that give such an impression that he comes off as an expert scholar. That makes main streamer laypersons believe that Barton represents the best source possible. Further, it helps create an animosity between his followers and other scholars.
.

Pinky said...

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An animosity that often claims even objective criticism is a personal attack on another person's religious views.
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