Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Fea on Barton on Huckabee

Check out Dr. John Fea's reaction to David Barton's appearance on the Mike Huckabee show. Dr. Fea writes:

....

3). I have no idea where Barton gets the idea that 29 of the signers of the Declaration of Independence held "seminary" and "Bible school" degrees. How does he define "seminary" and "Bible school?" These kinds of institutions did not exist in the eighteenth-century.

....

5). One would be hard-pressed to call John Witherspoon the "best known gospel evangelist of his generation." It sounds like Barton wants to turn Witherspoon into some kind of southern revivalist preacher when in fact Witherspoon tended to downplay evangelism and even tried to squash a revival among the student body at Princeton in 1772....

6). Barton fails to mention that Benjamin Rush spent a portion of his adult life as a universalist.

....

8). Barton is wrong about the so-called "prayer meetings" at the Constitution. Franklin did call for prayer at the Constitutional Convention, but his proposal was rejected.

9). Barton is wrong when he claims that the 1782 Aitken Bible was printed by the Continental Congress. The Congress actually turned down a proposal to publish Aitken's Bible, but it did endorse it once it was published. It was not funded by Congress.

....

If you are interested in this kind of stuff, you might be interested in my forthcoming (probably January 2011) book: "Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Primer."

11 comments:

Mark in Spokane said...

As for Franklin's call for prayer at the constitutional convention, Alexander Hamilton replied, that the delegates had "no need for foreign aid."

Witty.

Eric Alan Isaacson said...

I look forward to Dr. Fea's book.

secular square said...

Fea is awfully gracious when he writes, “Barton is correct in suggesting that historians and textbooks tend to focus the most on the founders who were not orthodox Christians than on the many founders who were Christians.”

Barton actually says we have been “trained.” In other articles on the Wallbuilders page he charges historians with revisionism in the name of their secular agenda. He appears appallingly ignorant of the impressive body of work by historians on the subject of religion in America.

He has his own agenda, which is based upon a dubious educational theory: that directing attention of students to Christian founders, regardless of how historically insignificant they may be, will help return the nation to it Christian roots. He is following the lead of feminist and minority activists who hold the equally dubious theory that highlighting achievements of female and minority Americans, no matter how trivial, will enhance the self-esteem of women and minorities and improve academic performance.

Daniel said...

3) Most colleges founded on this Continent in the 17th century were founded for the stated purpose of training ministers of the Gospel. I suppose that would make them seminaries in a sense, although their focus even then was on pagan Greeks. That bit about training ministers of the Gospel changed pretty quickly, as did the common Scholastic focus. In the 18th century, most college professors were ministers and colleges were (in some sense) religious institutions, but they were mainly teaching Enlightenment principles and methods.

5. Sounds like he is confusing Witherspoon and Whitfield.

Tom Van Dyke said...


He has his own agenda, which is based upon a dubious educational theory: that directing attention of students to Christian founders, regardless of how historically insignificant they may be, will help return the nation to it Christian roots.


I agree with that. But the secularist arguments get pretty thin once you go past Jefferson and Adams, and neither one participated in the Constitutional Convention.

secular square said...

I assume by thin secularist arguments, you mean those claims that the founders embarked on some anti-religious agenda in Philadelphia? I am not up on the issue, but if that is their claim, then I am probably in agreement with you on this point. On the immediate issue of Barton’s presentation, he demonstrates no historical sense. He notes the founders everyone knows--Washington, Madison, Hamilton, and Franklin (probably the most famous American.) Compare their contributions to the American founding with those of Barton's so-called "overlooked" signers. Abraham Baldwin was "American's youngest theologian," whatever that means. (After moving to Georgia, he and five others helped found Franklin College, which later became the nucleus for the University of Georgia. (Notice in whose honor they named the school -- that "least religious" founder Benjamin Franklin. ) James McHenry served as Secretary of War and started the Bible Society of Maryland. And William Johnson served as President of Columbia University and "was a theologian." There is a reason Huckabee’s teachers never taught him these things. They knew what was important. Barton does not.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'm not interested in defending Barton's rhetorical extravangances. Rest assured we see them on this blog, from all sides, from men more reasonable than he.

To the facts, then: Men like James Wilson, John Witherspoon and even Benjamin Rush are not to be waved away. Roger Sherman, who drove Amendments IX & X.

And after exhausting Jefferson's and Adams' [mostly post-presidential] musings, the Treaty of Tripoli and the Danbury Letter, one side of this discussion seems to concentrate on taking potshots at the other, and Barton presents an easier target than more serious types.

As they say in chess, don't play the opponent, play the board. Franklin's call to prayer, Hamilton's The Farmer Refuted, Washington's first inaugural and his Farewell Address. Even the least religious have their moments, and the rest of the Founders count, too.

Right after they inaugurated Washington, the president and the congress went directly over to St. Paul's Chapel to pray together.

And I'm no holy roller, Mr. Square. I would rather have an atheist than Pat Robertson for president. This blog is more than a grenade toss, and Barton brings that out in people. But I assure you, rhetorical extravagances aren't only the province of the godly types.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I don't see any kind of "anti-religious agenda" in Phila. However I do see a clear "a-religious" agenda.

I know the "we forgot" Hamilton quote is, as Barton would term it, "unconfirmed."

But the FFs at the CC did indeed "forget" to invoke God, other than in the customary way of stating the date.

Joe Winpisinger said...

Jon,

Glad to hear about the book. I think chapter seven should be changed to, "Was the Declaration of Independence shaped/influenced by Christian ideas'? I myself am not sure if shaped or influenced is a better word at this point. I think you should also look into the history of the phrase LONANG and you will see(according to Amos I have not had time to go back and look up the primary sources) that this phrase had a Christian history.

Any angle that does not look at the influence that 1688 and its Christian arguments for revolution as a heavy influence on the legal aspects of the American revolution is off in my opinion. In other words, even men like Jefferson that had no real allegiance to Christianity could use these arguments because they were the legal arguments of the time.

In others words the law was not as separate from religious influence as it is today. Ed Brayton, for one denies the influence of common law on our founding by pointing to chapter 8 of the book and the :Godless Constitution". We all know that that angle is a sham since religion was clearly left to the states and 48 out of the 50 still have God references to this day!

American was a much more federal society than it is today and the state legislatures was were the power was. That is the founding.

I look forward to reading you take on these issues in the book. I am also still waiting for your response as to why the DOI is not an Ponnet interposition. We can tackle the Calvin thing too if you want so I can point out his sloppiness by using Othniel or Frazer's misinterpretation of what he was saying. If you tackle these issues and wrestle through them I think it may change what ends up in the book.

Best wishes and I know you will do a great job.

Joe Winpisinger said...

Sorry Jon it was Fea's book. Please forward my comments to him.

Joe Winpisinger said...

Secular Square stated:

" following the lead of feminist and minority activists who hold the equally dubious theory that highlighting achievements of female and minority Americans, no matter how trivial, will enhance the self-esteem of women and minorities and improve academic performance."

I agree with you in principle. Looking for a minority that did something minor and putting them along side George Washington and saying, "Look people of all races had a major impact on the founding" is a lie and distorts history.

BUT I would disagree with you about the impact of Christians and Christian ideas on the founding. How many people even are taught that Jon Adams and the Continental Congress added three God references to Jefferson's original DOI draft? I taught history for years and had never heard that in any class I had in college or history book I used.

Thus, Barton's overall point is a valid one no matter how bad his methods derail it or his overplaying his hands distorts it. Good thesis with shitty evidence!