Sunday, June 22, 2008

A Word on David Barton

Call me old-fashioned, but after a person has been bashed quite a few times in a public forum, I think it's only right that he be allowed to defend himself. In that spirit, I have emailed the Wallbuilders organization - and asked them to visit our blog here, review some of the posts, and participate in the discussions.

I have also offered to interview Mr. Barton or a designated representative of Wallbuilders, so that we can give them a fair hearing.

In the meantime, I thought I'd provide a link to a letter that Wallbuilders has made available to answer some of the criticisms typically leveled against them. This particular letter was a specific reponse to one critic, but some of its content applies to other charges raised against Mr. Barton and Wallbuilders.

To read the letter, click here.

For my own part, I do not regard David Barton as a credentialed, academic scholar on early American history. I don't regard him as such, because he is not - and he doesn't offer himself as such. He is an activist. And he admits to being an activist.

I would point out that a person does NOT have to be a historian in order to be taken seriously. I get pretty miffed at the arrogance of academic elitism, which claims otherwise. I hope that's not where some of you are coming from.

When it comes to researching early American history and its religious dimensions, I prefer to go to the original sources. I read the sermons of early American preachers, the writings of early American statesmen, the resolutions passed by the early Congresses, Supreme Court decisions of the era, and so forth. I believe we should let the people of that era speak for themselves. When I do turn to historians, my favorite on the subject is Mark Noll. His book America's God is one of my favorites. I also like James Hutson.

And...frankly...even though the Providence Forum is more a conservative activist organization (traditionally) than a scholarly institute, Peter Lillback's George Washington's Sacred Fire is scholarly enough to hold up to a pretty high level of even "elitist" academic scrutiny. Criticisms of Lillback's book as lacking in scholarship are completely unfounded and ridiculous!

Returning to David Barton, the man is an activist. As such, he is more into advancing an agenda and organizing a network of supporters than he is in historical research. He admits this. He's very open about it, in fact. I've been to two David Barton presentations, and it was clear. I didn't go to a Barton presentation with the same mindset that I would go to a Gordon Wood lecture. It's not the same thing.

Now, I grant that many of Barton's audience members don't understand the difference between a trained, historical scholar and an activist. But this ignorance is not limited to Christian audiences, as has been implied by some of Barton's critics. That ignorance is across the board!!! We live in a shallow society today in which Americans care more about the antics of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton than about the issues our Supreme Court is weighing. We care more about who wears what to the Academy Award ceremonies than we do about the major personalities and events of our past. It's a shame. But that's America! In many respects, we're a "fat, dumb, and ignorant" people.

But, don't blame David Barton for that. On the contrary, at least he's out there, encouraging people to learn about their past - and get involved.

I make the following requests....

1. I would like the founder of this blog and its contributors to decide if this blog is going to be truly open to participation and discussion from all the different perspectives and angles of America's origins. In other words...are we open to liberals, libertarians, conservatives, Christians, atheists, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, etc., etc., etc.???? And if so (and I believe that's the case)...are we (and please answer this thoughtfully) expressing the right tone in our criticisms of certain public figures from those various perspectives?

David Barton is a respected spokesperson for a sizable number of Christians who see America rapidly changing and who feel like their traditional values and principles are being cast aside (cast aside in the face of principles enshrined into our heritage)? Now, you may not agree with Barton and these people. It's OBVIOUS that many of you (at this point, it would seem MOST of you) don't. Fine. But do you want these people to participate in this blog or not? If you do, we need to welcome them. And not attack them.

2. I'll try to do the same, but can we all focus our criticism on specifics and steer clear of ad hominems??? In other words, if you're going to criticize David Barton for his exaggerations or for distortions, do that - and, of course, be prepared to back it up. But don't just name-call or dismiss him. Let's not do that with anybody.

Finally, I don't want anyone to feel like I'm yelling at them or anything like that. It's just that I've reached a point, where I had to stand up and say something. I am not a David Barton cheerleader, but I like the man. And I agree with a lot of what he has to say. I realize that some of you will now probably dismiss me for that. Guilt by association, I suppose. But whatever. As Martin Luther said...

"Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen"


Brad Hart said...


While I agree with you when you state that all sides of a given argument deserve to be defended, I also would like to point out those blatant falsehoods -- which Barton regularly pushes as fact -- must be addressed. For example, when Barton states that the Mayflower Compact is a "holy" document demonstrating America's Christian origins he needs to be called out. Or when he claims that the majority of the signers of the Dec. of Ind. were "clergymen," historians have a duty to shed light on this falsehood.

Now, you are completely right to point out that both sides of an argument should show respect for each other. This is something I am going to work on, since I want to hear from both sides.

As far as Barton being an activist, I have no reason to doubt this claim. He is obviously a spokesperson for the Christian right, which is entirely his prerogative. However, it is the prerogative of historians to point out where he goes wrong.

Brian Tubbs said...

I agree that we should point out where he is wrong, just as we should do with other activists and historians.

Brad Hart said...

Amen to that! Check it out everyone...Brian and Brad AGREE!! =)

Phil Johnson said...

Not really.

You have to read between the lines to see what Brian really means.

Right, Brian? :<)

bpabbott said...

Brian: "I would point out that a person does NOT have to be a historian in order to be taken seriously. I get pretty miffed at the arrogance of academic elitism, which claims otherwise."

If an individual wishes to be taken seriously as a historian, then he should study the subject seriously and make a passionate effort to represent history accurately.

If he does not, he should not be taken seriously as a historian.

Regarding Barton, he is taken seriously as an active threat to the foundations upon which this nation was founded. Not because of his activism, but because of his deceptive tactics and fraudulent rhetoric.

Regarding academic elitists, those who are educated and informed have duty to educate others and resist in the propagation of misrepresentations, false claims, and other influences that promote and/or propagate ignorance.

Thus, those who are informed and educated in history have a duty to counter the misrepresentations, deceptions, and lies that are often part of Barton's rhetoric.

It is unfortunate that so many who do resist Barton's distortions ultimately infer a respect upon him that he does not deserve.

In my opinion, Wallbuilders is to history what Creationism is to Science :-(

Brian Tubbs said...

Not everything Barton says is untrue.