Dispatches from the Creation Wars

STACLU Promotes David Barton

Praise Darwin, STACLU has returned from the void in what has to be the nick of time; I was starting to go through serious nonsense withdrawal. Thankfully, they’ve started out with a bang, promoting the undisputed king of historical revisionism, David Barton, in this post. “If you haven’t heard of David Barton’s Wallbuilders,” Jay says breathlessly, “you need to.” Indeed you do, but not for the reasons he thinks. Barton is a fraud, plain and simple, a first class peddler of nonsense who is responsible for more fake quotations purporting to be from the founding fathers than any other person in the world. For more information on Barton’s pseudo-scholarship, see this article from the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, or this article about Barton’s horrible contributions to the NCBCPS curriculum by religion scholar Mark Chancey.

I should also point out the absurdity of the headline Jay attaches to the post:

Church and State — Founding Fathers: Deists or Christians?

It’s a ridiculous question on two different levels. First of all, it’s a false dichotomy; Christian and deist are not the only two choices, and the common claim that most of the founders were deists simply is not true (and I say that as a deist myself). Most of the founders were, in fact, Christians to one degree or another, but among the group of 6 leaders, all are much more accurately defined as “theistic rationalists”, as Dr. Gregg Frazer calls them. None were orthodox Christians, but none were deists either. Those simply aren’t the only two possibilities.

Second, it’s absurd because whether one was a Christian, deist or theistic rationalist didn’t tell you anything about one’s position on separation of church and state. Many of the staunchest defenders of strict separation were Christians, particularly the Baptist clergy of the day. And among that leading group that I mention above, though they shared a similar perspective on religion they disagreed on separation. Jefferson and Madison were strict separationists, while Adams and Washington were accomodationists.

Jay simply doesn’t have the depth of knowledge necessary to ask a legitimate question on the subject, or to recognize the false claims of David Barton. This is what happens when you wed ignorance to ideology.

Comments

  1. #1 Jay
    January 6, 2007

    Thanks.

  2. #2 Robert
    January 6, 2007

    I had always thought of Jefferson as a diest. I found this after a quick search:

    “Jefferson specifically named Joseph Priestly (English Unitarian who moved to America) and Conyers Middleton (English Deist) and said: “I rest on them … as the basis of my own faith” (letter to Adams, Aug. 22, 1813). Therefore, without using the actual words, Jefferson issued an authentic statement claiming Deism as his faith.”

    http://www.sullivan-county.com/id3/jefferson_deist.htm

    Granted the site does say that there isn’t any correspondance they can find in which Jefferson concretely claims to be a deist, but there is some compelling evidence that he was.

  3. #3 chris
    January 6, 2007

    But as Ed points out, whatever Jefferson’s personal beliefs may have been, politically and pragmatically he favored strict separation. He recognized the importance of keeping personal beliefs personal and public discourse non-religious.

  4. #4 James
    January 6, 2007

    After all there si such a thing as a secular theist and i can think of a couple of reasons why a theist would not want their religion enforced by law.

  5. #5 Scott Simmons
    January 6, 2007

    Absolutely, James. The Christian denomination I was raised in was and is a strong proponent of strict separation. And they’re not exactly wild-eyed liberals …

  6. #6 Jon Rowe
    January 6, 2007

    Jefferson didn’t call himself a Deist. Rather he called himself a “Christian” and a “Unitarian.” Joseph Priestly was a Unitarian.

    And Jefferson’s writings show he believed in an active personal God, not a distant watchmaker.

    I think it’s fair to characterize his beliefs as “deistic,” but not “strict Deist” along the lines of Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen.

    Since he (like the other key Founders) rejected all of the tenets of orthodox Christianity, that’s probably not the proper label.

  7. #7 Chet Lemon
    January 7, 2007

    “Jay simply doesn’t have the depth of knowledge necessary to ask a legitimate question on the subject, or to recognize the false claims of David Barton. This is what happens when you wed ignorance to ideology.”

    We’ll put David Barton aside Mr. Brayton, because the same claims about misrepresenting American history can be made about “scholars” who’ve been deified in the academy (Zinn, anyone?). What qualifications do you have regarding the study of American history? You may have an advanced degree, but I can’t imagine that to be the case as most who’ve gained the right to do so will put strings of letters before or after their names lest the masses never forget the many years the scholar avoided a real job.

    As far as I can tell, you’ve done the same thing as the guy at STACLU — without a real claim to advanced knowledge, you depend on the people whose view of history fits your own ideology to form the basis of your various arguments about the Founders’ intent regarding religion’s role vis-à-vis the state and vice versa.

  8. #8 DuWayne
    January 7, 2007

    Chet Lemon -

    All one need do is depend on the words of the founders themselves, to judge. It doesn’t take a advanced degree, hell I’m a highschool dropout and I have. When Ed is talking about depth of knowledge, he does not mean formal education persay, he means reading what the founders had to say to us. Believe me, few of them were shy about telling us what they felt, what they believe, so we wouldn’t have to guess.

    Remarkable thing books. Even without a lick of formal education, one is still allowed to read them and – well, learn from them. And they are perfectly capable of providing one with “advanced” knowledge of a topic.

    Ultimately, the founders intent argument only gets one so far anyway. They gave us a wonderfull gift when they drafted the constitution. With, or without their guidance, it is possible to interpret the constitution in a number of ways, especialy the establishment clause. One can also support most of those interpretations with the words of someone involved in approving it, if not those who wrote it.

  9. #9 Ed Brayton
    January 7, 2007

    Chet Lemon wrote:

    We’ll put David Barton aside Mr. Brayton, because the same claims about misrepresenting American history can be made about “scholars” who’ve been deified in the academy (Zinn, anyone?).

    Uh….so what? If you can accuse another historian of spreading myths, does that somehow excuse Barton from the same thing?

    What qualifications do you have regarding the study of American history? You may have an advanced degree, but I can’t imagine that to be the case as most who’ve gained the right to do so will put strings of letters before or after their names lest the masses never forget the many years the scholar avoided a real job.

    Who said anything about having a degree? I did study history in college, but I left school to become a stand up comic my junior year. But I never claimed otherwise, nor do I present myself as an historian (Barton does), nor did I say anything about Jay having or not having a degree. I said that he doesn’t have the knowledge necessary to ask legitimate questions about Barton’s claims, or to recognize those claims that are false; indeed, you quoted me saying exactly that, then you bizarrely shifted the ground to something quite irrelevant.

    As far as I can tell, you’ve done the same thing as the guy at STACLU — without a real claim to advanced knowledge, you depend on the people whose view of history fits your own ideology to form the basis of your various arguments about the Founders’ intent regarding religion’s role vis-à-vis the state and vice versa.

    You would be wrong. First of all, having a degree is not synonymous with having knowledge. Secondly, my knowledge of the religious views of the founders comes not from the work of others but from my own research into the original material myself. I have read thousands and thousands of their letters and other public and private documents on the subject. If I said anything that is incorrect about their views, you are of course free to point it out; that you did not attempt to do so suggests you can’t find any.

    As for the claim that I simply accept those claims about the founders that “suit my ideology”, you could not possibly be more wrong. In fact, I have been critical of both sides in this dispute for doing exactly that. Both the Christian Nation crowd and the “all the founders were deists” crowd are engaged in wishful thinking, and some recently (I’m looking at you, Christopher Hitchens) have gone even further and tried to convert these men into atheists, something that no one who has read their writings could possibly accept. I would love it, for example, if Richard Dawkins was right when he calls the founding fathers “passionate secularists”, but most of them simply were not. You can accurate describe a few of them that way (Madison, Jefferson, Paine), but even Washington and Adams could not possibly be described that way with any validity as both believed very strongly that the government should endorse and support religion because it inculcated virtue in the people. Despite being a fairly strict separationist myself, I have argued strongly that accommodationism was the more popular view among the founding fathers and is a legitimate position to take. Does that sound like someone cherry picking the facts to support their preferred position to you?

  10. #10 Ed Darrell
    January 7, 2007

    Mr. Brayton, I don’t think it’s accurate to say Washington and Adams believed government “should endorse and support religion.” In fact, I think that’s quite the opposit of their views.

    Washington had rather favored Patrick Henry’s proposal to let the State of Virginia collect tithes from people and pass them along to clergy, but he said that was only because he thought all men should support their faith. When it was pointed out to him that the proposal was controversial, in no small part because it tended to favor Anglicans over Presbyterians and Baptists, Washington expressed his support instead for Jefferson’s proposal to establish religious freedom instead. Washington didn’t like conflict over religion, and he especially didn’t like the idea of someone taking someone else’s money to support his religion, since that was the duty of the citizen himself.

    Adams, too.

  11. #11 Ed Darrell
    January 7, 2007

    My experience with Zinn is quite different. I’ve never looked for any of his citations that did not explicitly support his claims. Zinn has biases, but he doesn’t lie to support them, that I have found.

    Are there others? Can someone point me to the topics and the mistakes?

  12. #12 Ed Brayton
    January 7, 2007

    Ed-

    By “endorse and support religion”, I mean with things like declarations of thanksgiving and proclamations of days of prayer. Both Washington and Adams strongly rejected any notion of religious coercion, but they both did believe just as strongly that the government ought to make public statements of support for broad religious principles. And both did so routinely while in office. Thus they would be considered accommodationists. Neither of them would have any problem, for example, with “under God” in the pledge or with monuments to the Ten Commandments on government property. Both would likely support such things as a support for public virtue. Non-coercive government endorsements of religion were just fine with them, even necessary in their view.

  13. #13 J-Dog
    January 8, 2007

    Everyone – Please keep in mind that Chet Lemon has been hit on the head by a flyball in his past, and as a result is probably non compos mentis. Or, as he would say, non compos mentos…