Friday, March 30, 2012

Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims About Our Third President

One more from Prof. Throckmorton for now. He has co-authored a soon to be released eBook that will fact check David Barton's claims about Jefferson.


Phil Johnson said...

It's good there are men like Throckmorton and women like Rodda.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thx for the link, Jon. I submitted the below comment to Prof. Throckmorton's site, and I see no reason not to reproduce it here.


Interesting stuff, Prof. Throckmorton. I've been following your work [both in psychology and de-Bartonizing] for awhile and find it scrupulously exacting.

I must admit these rhetorical stretches of the truth by Mr. Barton don't move my meter tremendously, but I have no disagreement with your disagreements either. Why Mr. Barton latches on the most deistic of the founders [besides Paine] in the first place remains a mystery to me.

I've found zero evidence that Jefferson regarded the Bible as divinely inspired or that he regarded Jesus as anything more than an equal [Jefferson thinking very highly of himself].

Barton does light onto some truths, however, that the common perception of Jefferson holds him as more hostile to religion than he actually was. Theologically/philsophically, he was extremely hostile to religion, especially of the organized variety with all its its doctrines and dogmas.

Socio-politically, however, the case can be made and defended is that Jefferson stood midway between the "accommodationist" view of church and state and the "strict separationism" of 20th century court decisions and the Freedom From Religion Foundation types than an unalloyed ally of the latter.

[cont'd below]

Tom Van Dyke said...

BTW, the most interesting thing I find about the "Jefferson Bible" is that he left in the Lord's Prayer. A co-blogger of mine also notes that Jefferson also left in Jesus' return to judge the living and the dead, and a reference to the Holy Spirit.

Unfortunately for him, this is the type of rigorous analysis that would bolster David Barton's case, but seems above or beyond his scholarly skills and interest level. So instead, we get exaggerations of a handful of relatively minor factoids that would prove little even if they were true. For instance, it would consistent with Jefferson's view on things to assist in the publication of a good edition of the Bible even as he didn't believe it was the Word of God.

[Unlike Hume's "History of England," which Jefferson banned from his University of Virginia!] [Yes, really, Virginia.]

And judging by the positive comments to the "de-bunkings" of Barton by you and others, I must say that they appear to be more high fives about a victory for the anti-Barton team than any genuine concern or interest in the actual factoids, say, what Jefferson actually thought about church and state. They do seem to be the other side of the same coin to me.

I do congratulate you on yr conscientious work, Dr. T. I suppose that it's necessary, but I'm not sure for whom. The culture war aspect makes Barton's defenders circle their wagons all the more, and his ideological enemies all the less open to investigating the actual truth of the matter, religion and the Founding.

For the thing is, David Barton isn't wrong about everything. He may even may right more often than he's not. That George Washington, in the first inaugural address, said

"it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe..."

is beyond David Barton's poor power to add or detract. That George Washington believed in the same sort of "providential history" that only Barton-type evangelicals believe in today in 2012, that

"No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency..."

well, again, it's not about David Barton, it's about George Washington. You will get many high-fives for "de-bunking" David Barton's exaggerations on this or that, but how many of the high-fivers know that President Washington's first "official act" was to thank The Almighty for the success of the revolution and framing the Constitution?

Even if David Barton is a "liar for Jesus," when we focus only on lies and errors, we lose sight of the greater truths. What Barton's fans know, but his more educated and enlightened critics may not, is that the greater truth of religion and the Founding is in Washington's First Inaugural Address, not in the Jefferson Bible.

Thank you for your time, Warren, and pls do keep up your meticulously honest work. It's a gift to all who read it and I thank you for it.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Good comment. I wonder if Prof. Throckmorton will respond.