Thursday, December 27, 2012

Some Christmas Season Barton Bashing

What would American Creation be without some obligatory David Barton bashing. The first is from Ed Brayton noting that Barton continues to falsely assert that America's Framers quoted the Bible in the US Constitution. (They didn't even quote the Bible in the Federalist Papers OR, when debating the Constitution's provisions, at the Constitutional Convention. Yes, I know Ben Franklin quoted the Bible there during his failed bid for prayer when they reached an impasse.)

Next is from Chris Rodda on how Barton misrepresents Thomas Jefferson's view of Isaac Newton.

And finally, criticism of Barton for his claim that the 2nd Amendment is "biblical."


Angie Van De Merwe said...

It might not be "biblical" but it is natural to defend against one's enemies as to survival, which is personal property, which includes body, mind and spirit (for no better way to describe these)...the struggle for survival is the natural order of evolution, isn't it? that means that humans use many means to gain and enlarge their "security", as we are self interested beings.

Security of these rights is what government was to grant/guard, but lately, we've seen much being undermined by taxation to enlarge government coffers so that humans have less and less responsibility for themselves, and less and less control over their own body, soul and spirit (life). At the same time, our Defense Department is being gutted, in lieu of providing for rouge nations that do not adhere to our standards or hold our values.

Tom Van Dyke said...

What would American Creation be without some obligatory David Barton bashing...

Better. ;-P

jimmiraybob said...

But, Howard Zinn!

Bill Fortenberry said...

It is incorrect to state that the founding fathers did not quote the Bible when debating the Constitution's provisions. We do not have a complete record of everything that was said in that Convention, and cannot state with certainty that anything was not mentioned in their discussions. The most complete record that we have is from James Madison, but his notes are mostly an overview of each speakers comments and not an exact transcript. My favorite example of this fact is found in Mr. Madison's notes of the proceedings from the 27th of June. At the end of that record, he wrote a single paragraph on the statements of Mr. Martin and concluded that paragraph by writing, "This was the substance of a speech which was continued more than three hours." Obviously, Mr. Martin said much more in his three hours of speaking than Mr. Madison recorded, and we have no idea whether or not he referenced Scripture at any point in his speech.

In addition to this, there are several biblical statements that Madison did record including Mr. Read's reference to Matthew 9:16.

Mr. Read. Too much attachment is betrayed to the State Governts. We must look beyond their continuance. A national Govt must soon of necessity swallow all of them up. They will soon be reduced to the mere office of electing the National Senate. He was agst. patching up the old federal System: he hoped the idea wd. be dismissed. It would be like putting new cloth on an old garment. The confederation was founded on temporary principles. It cannot last: it can not be amended. If we do not establish a good Govt. on new principles, we must either go to ruin, or have the work to do over again. The people at large are wrongly suspected of being averse to a Genl. Govt.. The aversion lies among interested men who possess their confidence.

secularsquare said...


Ed did not say that the founders did not quote the bible when debating the Constitution's provisions.

He challenged Barton's claim that many of the Constitution's provisions are direct quotes from the Bible.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I find it boring to "refute" someone for not being 100% correct without noting where they ARE mostly or even partially correct. It's just as sophistic and dishonest.

That said, I'm of two minds on the subject of the Bible in the Constitution.

I appreciate Mr. Forten's contribution here and of late, but usin poetic argument from the Bible such as "It would be like putting new cloth on an old garment" to me isn't strong enough to support the religious argument about the B in the C. We all quote Shakespeare without knowing where it comes from exactly, and we do the same with the poetry and common sense found in the Bible.

Then again, there's a Biblical sensibility that many secularists/anti-religionists miss because they frankly don't know much about the Bible and/or Christian thought.

I was struck by Tom Paine's Common Sense

We all know Paine was anti-religious, anti-Bible, but he used many Biblical arguments, such as

"...the will of the Almighty as declared by Gideon, and the prophet Samuel, expressly disapproves of government by Kings...

Monarchy is ranked in scripture as one of the sins of the Jews, for which a curse in reserve is denounced against them. The history of that transaction is worth attending to.

So it's not tantamount to the Constitution as ratified, but he points toward where the American system of liberty and of government should go---via a Biblical argument.

This is the "American mind," and the ratifiers of the Constitution were not about to hand themselves over to one Leviathan after freeing themselves from another.

Bill Fortenberry said...

Additional entries in Madison's notes that indicate the possible use of Scripture in the convention include the following:

Docr Franklyn said he approved of the amendment just made for rendering the salaries as fixed as possible; but disliked the word “liberal.” He would prefer the word moderate if it was necessary to substitute any other. He remarked the tendency of abuses in every case, to grow of themselves when once begun, and related very pleasantly the progression in ecclesiastical benefices, from the first departure from the gratuitous provision for the Apostles, to the establishment of the papal system. The word “liberal” was struck out nem con.


Genl. Pinkney moves to strike out the ineligibility of members of the 1st. branch to offices established “by a particular State.” He argued from the inconveniency to which such a restriction would expose both the members of the 1st. branch, and the States wishing for their services; & from the smallness of the object to be attained by the restriction.

It wd. seem from the ideas of some that we are erecting a Kingdom to be divided agst. itself, he disapproved such a fetter on the Legislature.

secularsquare said...


Your "two minds" provide an accurate assessment of this controversy. On the one hand (or mind) are the multitude of literary allusions to the bible in our political discourse that actually confirms Barton's rather modest claims as posted at Wallbuilders: the United States is a Christian nation in the sense that Christianity has "shaped and molded it."

But on the other hand (mind), as you have stated on several occasions, Barton undermines his own position by overreaching, as in the claims posted at Ed's Place. And then to enhance the justification of his "ministry," he falsely claims that modern historians have suppressed or purged Christianity from American history. Wallbuilders alludes to America's "forgotten" history, but, as might be expected, it is more sinister that mere historical amnesia.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Lee, I think the religious character of the Founding has definitely been whitewashed by the academy, either by intention or by ignorance. And by the sound of some Barton critics in particular, you'd never know Christianity exists except for NOT being part of the Founding.

And yes, the "Christian nation" essay on Barton's Wallbuilders site is quite modest

and defensible.

Would that he'd have stopped there.

secularsquare said...

While we agree on Barton's modest claims and his overreach, I'll part company on the "whitewashing." I do not have the time or interest to track down and verify many of Barton's specific claims. I take issue with his narrative about the
"secularists" and American history. Barton knows a lot of history (or at least historical trivia. He knows next to nothing about historiography. He seems totally unaware of the vast scholarship on American religious history. Several years ago I completed an MA in history.

After I began, I was astonished at the virtually endless number of books and articles on American religion.

secularsquare said...

Interestingly, in contrast to Barton's claims, it has been modern scholars who have revitalized the study of American religion. Traditional American history has focused on elites and their activities: elections, political parties, laws, judicial decisions, wars, etc. Religion history resided in its own ghetto, aside from denominational histories, biographies, and treatments of the Awakenings.

In the 1960s, reflecting the spirit of the times, many new historians began turning away from the study of elites to the common people. They made an interesting discovery: religion is very important to most people. Since that time, many community studies and social/cultural histories have come out directly or indirectly exploring American religion, particularly the evangelicals. Barton seems "willingly ignorant" (to use a bible phrase) of the works of Phillip Greven,John Boles, Jon Butler, Richard Beeman (on the backcountry), Rhys Isaac, Nathan Hatch, Ned Landsman, Christine Heyrman, John Smolenski, T. H. Breen (Amercan Insurgents) etc etc etc.

jimmiraybob said...

"...I think the religious character of the Founding has definitely been whitewashed by the academy, either by intention or by ignorance. And by the sound of some Barton critics in particular, you'd never know Christianity exists except for NOT being part of the Founding."

In addition to what secular square said, and I've said it before, the importance of religion in the various parts of the colonies/early states has not be excluded from the classroom or "the academy." In elementary school (60s), in high school (early 70s) and at college and university up to and including a master's (survey and beyond, late 80s and 90s) all of the history that i was taught emphasized the religious influence before, during and after the founding. More advanced classes even more so - I took a fair number of history/humanities electives. All in secular city or state institutions. Of course, it was taught historically and not devotionally or dogmatically.

The "secularists have removed all religion from the schools/academy" trope is the height of bogosity. But, it gets the troops fired up. So, there's that.

Anyone interested should try actually taking some history classes and report back. We'll wait.

Dang, two days into the new year and already a resolution down the drain.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Lee, actually, I'm not arguing via David Barton atall, only that I in general agree with the thrust of his thesis. The specifics and argument-by-factoid, that's a fool's errand.

I don't read David Barton except when someone drags him onto the cyberpages of American Creation. He is an amateur and lacks the necessary methodological rigor.

As for the whitewashing of America's religious history, my criticism starts in the real world with

where Justice Hugo Black invokes a sense of Jefferson's "wall of separation" that is simple nonhistorical, as Philip Hamburger argues here

Since then, the civil culture has increasingly moved to a "freedom FROM religion" that has no connection with the Founders or the Framers. THAT is my beef.

There is also the intellectual history dimension as we've shown time and again, that "historians" are often ignorant of Scholasticism [which subsumes Aristotle and Cicero] and Calvinist resistance theory, which puts boots on the ground for the concept of individual freedom. This is a more academic exercise but a valuable one: John Locke did not drop to earth one day in the 1600s to deliver man from the darkness and confusion of religion and classical philosophy.

What is often mischaracterized as the "Enlightenment" had been in progress since the 1200s with Aquinas and the Schoolmen, and from the 1500s with the Reformation [specifically Calvinism, IMO. Luther was quite the Hobbesian].

As a linchpin of my argument, America was founded on natural law. In the 21st century, not one in 100 Americans even knows what that means.

Tom Van Dyke said...

In the 1960s, reflecting the spirit of the times, many new historians began turning away from the study of elites to the common people.

BTW, I see this transformation as one from history to what we might call forensic anthropology. For me, the narratives of dead ends such as we see at this very academic blog

are not very compelling. History tells us how we got to where we are and for that I find it valuable. It's not that studying peoples is without humanistic value, but I find the live branches challenging enough to keep track of.

I'm all for the "Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society"

but only interested insofar as their effect on bringing that evil institution down. If they were merely noxious and annoying like #Occupy, my interest in the scolds of history is only passing.