Friday, March 1, 2013

Is This Blog About America's Creation or David Barton?

There's a word for when a person or group becomes disproportionately fixated on one individual at the expense of the wider range of interests and responsibilities to which that person or group should be committed. That word is Obsession. And it's very difficult for me not to look at the American Creation blog these days and feel that many of its writers and contributors have become obsessed with David Barton.

For the record, I don't consider David Barton to be an academic historian or a professional scholar. He is an activist. There's nothing wrong with being an activist. America was founded by activists, and our current President got his start in politics as an activist. I have nothing against activists, so it's not meant to be pejorative when I refer to Mr. Barton as an activist. It's simply an accurate description of his role in American politics. Barton is an activist who speaks about his understanding and interpretation of early American history. And I believe that the American Creation blog should make it clear that Barton is an activist and not an academic scholar. Beyond that, I think this activist has received more attention from our blog than he should.  

I realize that some of you will respond with the usual litany of allegations against Barton's competence, character, etc., etc., and justify your focus on Barton as an attempt to "set the record straight" and/or protect people from being "deceived." If that were true, then I think there would be far fewer posts and articles about Mr. Barton on this blog. A few posts directed specifically at some of Barton's errors and/or major (and quite legitimate) news items related to Barton, such as when Thomas Nelson pulled his book The Jefferson Lies, would be more than sufficient. Perhaps an "Open Letter" post to Barton that lays out comprehensively all the concerns and questions would be appropriate as well. And most certainly an invitation to interview Mr. Barton would be in order. These would be more than sufficient to address the controversies surrounding Mr. Barton. Any more than that is overkill, at best, and obsession, at worst.

Yes, Barton has made some mistakes and he's said and written some things for which he should provide an explanation or retraction. I'm also not a fan of some of his associations, including Glenn Beck. The same criticisms, though, about associations, mistakes, questionable statements, etc. could be said for any number of other activists as well. And frankly it can be said for credentialed historians too. Why the disproportionate focus on Barton? 

How many more "Barton stepped in this mess" and "Barton upset this person" and "Barton told this story" posts must we endure? Most of the contributors to this blog don't like Barton and don't trust Barton. I get it. We all get it. Can we move on? 

There are other personalities in the study of and debate concerning early American history. There is more ground to cover. Let's cover it. Let's move on.

If not....if the contributors to this blog wish to continue to bash Barton (trotting out the latest controversy each week - some weeks, each day), then I propose we rename the blog "The Anti-David Barton Blog" or "The Barton Watchdog Blog" or "The Barton Bashing Blog." Something along those lines. At least then, we'll be more honest and up-front with our readers about the agenda and focus of many of our contributors. 


J. L. Bell said...

As a blog subscriber, I too have noticed the plethora of postings about David Barton. Their topic is very clear. I have the option to read them or not, especially when they consist simply of links. That doesn't seem like a heavy burden for keeping up with one of the more prominent national voices on the topic of this blog. But then it doesn't make me uncomfortable to see David Barton's claims debunked.

Jonathan Rowe said...


I try to post on current events that relate to America's Founding and religion. If you notice, I'm not really breaking any ground in these Barton claims; they are mainly links to others -- Warren Throckmorton, Chris Rodda, and John Fea, the main ones -- who are doing the investigation. And it's really Rodda and Throckmorton; Fea's doing something similar to what I'm doing.

That said, yes, we should do more other things. Dr. Frazer's book is still current. Dr. Fea's book is still current. And there are interesting discussions still being generated about them.

There are other things too; I never really gave Michael Meyerson's "Endowed By Our Creator" the close reading it deserves.

But given I'm swamped at work, the easiest thing for me to do now is hyperlink.

Brian Tubbs said...

Jon, you are the most prolific of all of us, and few people respect more than me how you've anchored this blog and kept it populated with great content (and great links :-) ). But I do believe, as you said, we need to shift focus away from Barton to other things. I'd like to hear more comments from you on Meyerson's work and also (speaking of conservatives) on Newt Gingrich, who has written and spoken a lot on the Revolutionary War era lately (esp Washington). Let's get into some of that. Should be fun!

Jonathan Rowe said...


Thanks for this and duly noted.

wsforten said...

I would welcome the chance to discuss Frazer's book with a few others who have read it. We could start with either my review of it on Amazon or my lengthy critique of the term Theistic Rationalism in "The Founders and the Myth of Theistic Rationalism." Tom has already provided me with some constructive criticism of the latter, but a robust discussion of Frazer's work would be a very refreshing change from nitpicking Barton.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Heh. Now that would be danged interesting, FBerry. If only because Dr. Gregg Frazer is a credentialed member of the respected academy, and "pseudo-historian" David Barton resides in the Toy Dept.---Glenn Beck, Jon Stewart, talk radio, speaking at fundie churches, whathaveyou.

There's a structural problem in that David Barton's appearances end up on YouTube for all to see [and mock] whereas nobody knows Dr. Gregg Frazer from a hill of beans. No insult to friend-of-the-blog Gregg Frazer---it applies to all of us. Barton's most prolific attacker Chris Rodda is likely better known than Daniel Dreisbach or Philip Hamburger. It is what it is.

Frazer, Dreisbach and Hamburger are the real thing.

So I share Brian Tubbs' urging that mebbe we @ American Creation try to move out of the Toy Dept. to the main floor---especially when it comes to stories where right-winger David Barton is being protested or boycotted by left-wingers.

Dog bites man, as they say in the newspaper business. Bor-ing. Same ol', same ol'. David Barton has left-wingers biting on his balls 24/7. Someone could devote an entire blog to it. Brian's saying, please, not ours. Me too.

We do some real mega-cool stuff around here. None of it really has to do with David Barton.

wsforten said...

It sounds like there are several of us in agreement, so let's start a new thread for discussing some of Frazer's claims. I have a copy of his book, but for the benefit of those who have not read it, perhaps we should start with some of his material which is online. He has several speeches to choose from.

Most of his recorded speeches can be found at these links:

The latter includes two two-part series either of which would make an excellent starting point for discussion.

Joe Winpisinger said...

I have been writing about Rothbard's use of the term "Protestant Scholastic" in regards to John Locke. Have not had time to bring it over to AC. But that would be an interesting thread:

Theistic Rationalism vs Protestant Scholastic

As to which best describes the ideas that founded our nation?

Joe Winpisinger said...

While I will agree that this blog can move in from the David Barton discussion, I think it was one of the bigger reasons for the backlash from within Christianity against him.

Chris Rodda turned off the very people she purported to education with her title and tone. Never made any traction at all in Christendom. I tried to tell her and Ed Brayton more than once that the "liars motif" was not going to wake up Christians or stop Barton. All it did was rile of the secularist left. Which is fine but no really puts them in the position of doing the same thing they say Barton is.

Which brings me to Jon Rowe who took a more diplomatic approach. It allowed him to work with those in Christendom to get their attention. When the realized what Barton was doing they ended it.

Is it time to move on from this? Probably. Did it weigh down this blog at times? Probably. Was John instrumental in the truth coming out because of his approach? Definitely...

Kudos Jon I never thought Barton would tarnished within Christian circles and he is. Maybe you should talk to Ed and Chris about their approach?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Theistic Rationalism vs Protestant Scholastic

As to which best describes the ideas that founded our nation?

Peter Lawler calls it an "accidental Thomism."

For America’s most wonderful and effective theological balancing act, look to our Declaration of Independence. Our Declaration is hardly a coherent theological whole. It gets its greatness by being a compromise between the Deistic and more Calvinist members of Congress. The compromise is between the impersonal or, better, unrelational God of nature of the modern philosophers—particularly John Locke—and the personal, judgmental, providential God of the Puritans. By reconciling the God of nature (or, better, the God of Descartes) with the God of the Bible, our Declaration can be called a kind of accidental Thomism, although that result was intended by neither of the parties of the compromise. - See more at:

I don't really agree: Locke quotes the Thomist/Scholastic Anglican Richard Hooker often, and the Founders seem to take the Hooker quotes at face value, ignoring Locke's subtle disagreements with them. But Lawler's argument is valid if we use the "Straussian" Locke of later interpreters as the "true" Locke, and Locke's God does seem to be more passive than the Calvinists' one.

Joe Winpisinger said...

More passive then Calvinist one does not equal Deist. Frazer does a good job at pointing that out but his thesis falls down because he seems to purport that more passive than Calvinist equals non-Christian.

Which is really a side light anyway. If the idea is to figure out if America is a Christian nation then it is more relevant to study what ideas the founders used not their personal beliefs. Nations are built on ideas not men.

Personally, I would call America a classical nation heavily influenced by Christian Political theory. As opposed to a modern nation. Jefferson and Paine were the outliers and even they would be disturbed by have much the "levelers" won out with their "egalitarian" tenets.

Read Cicero, whom all the founders did, and reconcile it with today's America. You can't. We deviated....

Joe Winpisinger said...

I know we have been through it here before but it is worth mentioning as a reminder that what the Founders saw as Deism and what it means today is not even close. It really came down to a fight between Trinitarians and non. Total red herring in regards to political theory....

Tom Van Dyke said...

I never thought Barton would tarnished within Christian circles and he is.

Well, trying to enlist Jefferson for the cause with "The Jefferson Lies" was his bridge too far. And although Drs. Throckmorton and Coulter from [evangelical] Grove City College went after him chapter and verse with their e-book "Getting Jefferson Right," it was some left-wing activist preachers from Cincinnati who brought him down with his publisher Thomas Nelson, threatening to boycott the rest of Nelson's catalog of religious books.

At issue wasn't religion and the Founding, but the tangential issue of trying to soft-pedal Jefferson as slaveowner.

Barton was skinned almost accidentally in a weird constellation of people and events that had not a lot to do with his longtime critics.

A group of Cincinnati pastors and church leaders is boycotting Thomas Nelson Publishers over David Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies, saying it glosses over the third president’s racism and justifies his ownership of slaves.

Black and white pastors announced their boycott Aug. 1 in a press conference at Cincinnati’s New Jerusalem Baptist Church. Unlike most of the critics of Barton, an evangelical minister and author frequently accused of historical revisionism by the left, the Cincinnati ministers all serve in evangelical churches.

“David Barton falsely claims that Thomas Jefferson was unable to free his slaves,” Damon Lynch, pastor of New Jerusalem Baptist Church, said in a press release. “In fact, Jefferson was allowed to free his slaves under Virginia law, but failed to do it. The Jefferson Lies glosses over Jefferson’s real record on slaveholding, and minimizes Jefferson’s racist views.”

[The news account mistakenly or misleadingly lumps black evangelicals outside of the "left," indeed intimating that evangelicals of any race lean right. The left-leaning credentials of the pastors in question are not in question.]