Saturday, July 11, 2009

The "Unconfirmed Quotations" Persist

Readers know that Ed Brayton and I have spent much time over the past few years taking note of the persistent dissemination of a dozen or so phony quotations that "prove" America was founded to be a "Christian Nation." It's a Sisyphusian task; it's 2009 and they are STILL being disseminated. Brayton, myself and others will shut up about it when the quotes stop being recited. Until then, it's game on.

With that, here is an email I sent to Joe Farah the editor in chief of WorldNetDaily:

Mr. Farah,

If you remember anything about me, you'll know that my friend Ed Brayton and I 1) debunk "Christian Nation" arguments, and 2) commonly read WND for content to debunk. Some of my more serious scholarly friends are getting sick of me constantly turning to this site to knock down straw arguments.

There are about a dozen false quotations from the FFs that sound like "proof texts" that settle the question and they are CONSTANTLY being repeated no matter how many times skeptical scholars like me (and Brayton) point this out. Greg Laurie recites two of them today in his column.

You can find them all sourced by one of the earliest disseminators of them -- David Barton -- where he ADMITS they are "unconfirmed" (a euphemism if you ask me). It would be wise if you or Mr. Kupelian or whoever is responsible for editing content keeps this resource in mind when these "Christian Nation" op eds come in.


Jon Rowe

This is today's article that Laurie wrote to which I referred. The offending passage:

We are a country that was clearly founded on the teachings of one book, and that book is the Bible.

Of course, some would say that I am wrong, that we are a pluralistic society and these origins are not as I have explained them. But all revisionism aside, if you honestly look at history, you will see that our founding fathers had a firm belief in the words of the Bible.

Thomas Jefferson said, "The Bible is the cornerstone of liberty ... ." George Washington concluded, "It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible." And Andrew Jackson said the Bible is "the rock on which our republic rests."
The first two quotes are phony. I'm not sure about the Andrew Jackson one. It's funny when doing a bit of google research today I came across this article from the Alliance Defense Fund which spreads these phony quotes.

Of recent note Ed Brayton blogged about Sally Kern's spreading the phony quotes. Also see this post by Rational Rant spotting an uninformed op ed that passes these quotes on.

Again folks, if you want to get Ed Brayton, myself and other skeptical minded scholars off your backs, STOP PASSING ON THE PHONY QUOTATIONS.


King of Ireland said...


I read the article it is ridiculous. There are so many holes in what he writes it is amazing.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Let me know what sort of response you get from WND [if any], and I'll send a note along, too.

Very bunk quotations. However, although Barton refuses to back off of some or all of them, he's rectified his early mistakes by at least calling them "unconfirmed."

The problem is that the bogus quotes had been circulating since the 1800s. As a rank amateur when he started, Barton believed they were authentic, being far too gullible about the ways of history-writing and myth-making.

Now, especially and primarily because of the internet, they've gone viral.

The same thing happened with Lincoln, in a number of books published shortly after his death that claimed him for orthodox Christianity.

But let's look at "Lincoln, the Freethinker" by Joseph Lewis,
from Atheism And Other Addresses [1924]...

"In order to be a Christian it is necessary to believe the Bible to be a divinely inspired book. To be a Freethinker it is essential that you reject the Bible as a revelation from God. To determine, then, whether a person is a Christian or a Freethinker should indeed be very simple. A person may believe in God and yet reject the Bible as a divine book. Such a person cannot be a Christian believer, but may be a Freethinker...

A person may believe in the Bible, and according to his particular interpretation be any one of the following divisional sects of Christianity: Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Episcopalian, Congregationalist, Seventh Day Adventist, Holy Roller or Holy Jumper."

Well, for one thing, I guess we're caught between the evangelical definition of "Christianity" and Mr. Lewis', who was a "Freethinker."

A Freethinker may be any one of the following: A Deist, a Rationalist, a Pantheist, a Materialist, an Agnostic, or an Atheist.

OK, I'm with the Freethinker here, not the evangelical. His has been my socio-historical counterargument all along, which is why I focused on Romans 13.

Even those [unitarians] like Jonathan Mayhew believed Romans 13 had divine authority. That their interpretation differed from John Calvin's [or that they felt free to "interpret" it at all] is not socio-historically relevant.

Oh, and per Mr. Lincoln, Lewis continues:

"It is not my intention to dispute with any particular branch of Christianity that may claim Lincoln as its follower, nor classify him in any one of the subdivisions by which a Freethinker may declare himself. It is my purpose to disprove that Lincoln was a Christian, and with the produced evidence, to show unequivocally, that he was an avowed Freethinker.

Well, read his arguments for yourself. "Under God" seems to be missing from several drafts of the Gettysburg Address, and a controversy in itself.

Calling Mr. Soller!

Jonathan Rowe said...

No response from WND yet. I don't expect one. Though, as obviously, I'll continue to monitor and see if they heed my advice.

cj said...

That Jackson quote is a tough one to nail down. Everywhere it's quoted, no source reference is given. I did find it in a 1901 book. It's on page 267 of The Bible, Its Meaning and Supremacy By Frederic William Farrar, but also without attribution.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Fascinating book, cartwright. At the first it claims the Bible isn't infallible, but seems very reverent about its inherent truth.

As for scholarship, to see a quote in a book from 1901 [or 1801], it's a eureka moment and that it might be fabricated would never enter the amateur's mind.

Lindsey Shuman said...

These quotes will always persist because they are all the religious right has to hold on to. Without them they sink like the Titanic.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Actually, without Barton to attack---and most of his errors were in the past---the anti-religious left has little to talk about outside of Jefferson and Adams' private papers.

That's why Barton's at the top of their list.