Dispatches from the Creation Wars

Chris Rodda’s latest post at Talk2Action exposing the falsehoods in the NCBCPS curriculum focuses on a couple of very common claims found in Christian Nation apologetics. The big one is the claim that half of the founders attended seminaries. She quotes the following statement from the curriculum:

The leaders of the Revolutionary era were “steeped in the traditions and teachings of Christianity — almost half of the signers of the Declaration of Independence had some form of seminary training or degree.”

Again, an extremely common claim that has been made by David Barton and other revisionists for decades but it is highly misleading. Most of them attended schools like Harvard and Princeton (then known as the College of New Jersey), which were founded as seminaries but which, by then, had law schools and many other courses of study. Rodda explains:

The use of the word “seminary” in this statement can have no other purpose than to take advantage of the fact that almost nobody today would associate the word seminary with anything other than a theological seminary, and would assume from this synonym for college that almost half the signers studied for the ministry. While it is true that all of the colleges attended by the signers of the Declaration had been founded by religious denominations, none of them were strictly theological colleges when the signers attended them. They all had schools of law and/or other sciences. Few adults, let alone children hearing the word seminary in their Bible literacy class, will realize that this word can mean any kind of school, and the NCBCPS knows that.

Although the NCBCPS curriculum cites the recent book A Patriot’s History of the United States as the source of this statement, this “seminary” trick has been used for many years by NCBCPS advisory board member David Barton. Even the other Christian history revisionists give Barton credit for this one. In his book What If America Were Christian Nation Again?, for example, D. James Kennedy, referring to the signers of the Declaration, writes:

David Barton points out that of the fifty-six men, definitely twenty-four, possibly twenty-seven, had seminary degrees.

All this means, of course, is that twenty-seven of the signers of the Declaration went to college — twenty at a total of five different American colleges, and seven in Europe. Twenty-four definitely received degrees; three don’t appear to have graduated. Almost all of the twenty-seven studied either law or business, and one studied medicine.

Another Christian Nation myth shot down.


  1. #1 Eamon Knight
    April 26, 2007

    Well, gosh: the place I did my undergrad was founded as a Presbyterian seminary in 1841. Funny how I don’t recall doing any theology as part of my engineering degree.

  2. #2 Stuart Coleman
    April 26, 2007

    It’s amazing how so many people feel the need to corral the founding fathers into this or that belief. Don’t they realize that it’s pretty much irrelevant at this point?

  3. #3 Whatever
    April 26, 2007

    I completely agree with Stuart, what the hell do they hope to accomplish proving the founding fathers were Christian? This is just like when they try to convince us that Darwin repented on his deathbed. Let’s just go for a stroll down the Christian revisionist history and accept that all the founding fathers loved Jesus, and Darwin admitted evolution was a farce….you there yet?….K, so what of it? None of that information changes anything, evolution is still backed by scientific evidence and the establishment clause is still in the constitution. Proving that somebody in 1776 loved Jesus doesn’t change what they actually wrote in the document that we use to govern our country.

  4. #4 Alan B.
    April 26, 2007

    This is from a history of Harvard:

    Although many of its early graduates became ministers in Puritan congregations throughout New England, the College was never formally affiliated with a specific religious denomination. The mission of the College, according to the 1650 charter, was: “The advancement of all good literature, artes, and Sciences.” As Harvard College grew in the 18th and 19th centuries, the curriculum was broadened, particularly in the sciences

    So even Harvard (with a total of 8 signers) wasn’t even founded by a religious denomination.

  5. #5 Pieter B
    April 26, 2007

    Another Christian Nation myth shot down.

    But like so many others, on the third day it rose again from the dead, and ascended into legend.

  6. #6 Ed Darrell
    April 26, 2007

    At the next level, Barton claims that many of the founders were devout church leaders, not just laymen — he notes that several from Virginia were “vestrymen.” The vestry, of course, is the cloak room where the clergy put on their religious robes. But in practice, a “vestryman” is simply a member of the church.

    And prior to the Virginia Bill of Rights in 1776, one needed to be a member of the local vestry in order to be eligible to serve in county government and politics. So, yes, Washington and Jefferson were vestrymen, but no, that does not mean they were so devout as to be clergy.

    And both rather dropped out of church affairs as soon as they amended the law to no longer require membership in a church to be active in politics.

  7. #7 Jim Babka
    April 27, 2007

    Pieter. That’s funny!

  8. #8 charlie
    April 27, 2007

    I think it is very clear that people like Barton would like to remove the secular foundation of this country, the philosophy of the enlightenment, so that they can move forward with their theocratic goals. They are extremely undemocratic and would be very unpopular if they clearly expressed their ideas in an open forum, so instead they invoke the founding fathers as devout christians to suggest that we have “strayed” from our “religious roots”. The concept of a neutral government that favors no religion is so alien to their zeitgeist that they cannot imagine how it would benefit us. It would be nice if we could teach the richness of thought, the vibrant exchange of ideas, and the philosophical roots of our government instead of the cartoon characters that are presented in most history books. It would make these clownish arguments so much easier to dismiss.

  9. #9 Daniel Kim
    April 27, 2007

    Whatever wrote: what the hell do they hope to accomplish proving the founding fathers were Christian?
    on April 26, 2007 12:07 PM

    You have to bear in mind that the NCBCPS and others of the Right are authoritarians. They are strongly influenced by the words of established authorities, and especially the authority of “founders”. This is reflected in the legalism they demonstrate in their religious beliefs, which is contrary to the liberty that is promoted by both Jesus and Paul in the New Testament. It is also strongly reflected in their approach to U.S. constitutional and civil liberties.

    For all of their posturing about the importance of “American” and “Biblical/Christian” values, their actions and opinions are in opposition to the written record of those values. They seem to be deathly afraid of freedom, and always embrace the comfort of rules and leaders.

    Because of this, an inordinate attention is paid to the authority of past words and dead men, while relationship with a Living God and participation in a dynamic representative government are shunned.

  10. #10 Poly
    April 27, 2007

    Daniel Kim:

    Thank you for your message.

    Unfortunately, the point you made often becomes submerged here to a state of invisibility. Why that should be I don’t know. Most of the people here appear to be quite intelligent and should be able to readily discern the difference between authoritarian ideology and religion, and between a fundamentalist mindset and beliefs in general. But it seems that in most cases they don’t.

  11. #11 Martin R
    April 29, 2007

    I don’t understand this focus on the founding fathers. The founding father of Sweden was a Viking prince named Olof who was elected joint king of two recently-christianised tribal groups around AD 1000. By the same reasoning as that about the US founding fathers, we should still be staging Viking raids, capturing Irish slave women and erecting runestones.

    Same with the Second Amendment, BTW. If Americans really cared so much about the late 18th century, then Second Amendment rights should be restricted to the ownership of muskets and bayonets.

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