Recently I was doing an interview for Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction on a radio show hosted by a conservative evangelical woman. The host asked me a question about Thomas Jefferson’s Bible. She wondered what I thought about David Barton’s belief that Jefferson’s “Bible”–the one with all the supernatural parts of the four Gospels removed–was written by Jefferson to convert the Indians to Christianity. I had heard Barton say this before, and had just had a discussion about this with another radio talk show host earlier in the day.
When I argued that the Jefferson Bible (which does not include the Resurrection or miracles of Jesus) would have been an ineffective tool of Christian evangelism, the host agreed with me. She then mentioned that she was losing confidence in many of Barton’s assertions and in fact had heard a nationally-syndicated conservative Christian talk show host utter the same lack of confidence in some of Barton’s historical claims.
As I argue in Was America Founded, David Barton and other Christian nationalists like him get a lot of things right about the role of religion in the founding of the early American republic. But Barton is not interested in telling the full story of the American founding. He is a political propagandist–someone who engages in what Bernard Bailyn once called “indoctrination by historical example.” For people like Mike Huckabee to call him the greatest American historian alive is absurd.
The more popular Barton becomes, the more he will be exposed for the misinformation and distorted view of the past that he promotes. Here are two examples:
First, Grove City College (a politically conservative school) psychology professor Warren Throckmorton has been skewering (in a polite way) some of Barton’s claims at his blog. Check out here and here and here and here. (Thanks to my colleague Gene Chase for calling Throckmorton’s blog to my attention).
Recently, Throckmorton and Barton appeared separately (Barton would not appear on the program at the same time as Throckmorton) on the Paul Edwards Show, an evangelical Christian radio talk show out of Detroit. (I have appeared on this show twice). You can listen to the conversation here (beginning at 1:23:23). Edwards seems very excited to have Barton on his show, but he also does not back down from some of Barton’s claims. After Barton makes his argument for a Christian nation, Throckmorton comes on the show to counter Barton’s claims that Thomas Jefferson used federal money to fund the Kaskaskia Indians.
The other attack on Barton comes from MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell and Peter Montgomery of People For the American Way. Here is the interview:
Barton will continue to play an important role in Republican politics as the 2012 election approaches. Stay tuned.