This is the third installment of my thoughts on David Barton’s appearance on The Daily Show. In this installment I am moving to the second part of the extended interview. For more on this subject, see my Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction.
If you want to follow along, here is the part of the interview I will be blogging about below.
1:17: I am not sure what Barton is saying here when he claims that the framers of the Constitution said the right of liberty of conscience in matters of religion is a “God-given right.” I can’t find that in my Constitution. Perhaps Barton meant the Declaration of Independence, but even in this foundational document there is nothing about freedom of religion as an inalienable right. (Although you may interpret this clause of the Declaration broadly to suggest that religious freedom falls under the inalienable right of “liberty.”)
2:10: Stewart brings up the fact that Barton opposes the inheritance tax based upon the Jesus’s teachings. Barton claims that he said this in front of a group of pastors. This is where the interview gets interesting because Stewart forces Barton to address the fact that when he speaks to one audience he claims to be an objective historian and when he speaks to another audience he claims to be a theologian with an agenda.
Stewart hits the nail on the head with this line: “You (Barton) are the missing link between theology and a sort of activism politically. And I think that’s where people’s discomfort comes in… You seem to be taking your religious views, channeling them through a sort of faux-scientific or historical method for use in political and curriculum activities, and that’s where I think it creates some trouble.”
This is the crux of my critique of Barton. Unfortunately, Barton does not respond to this question and changes the topic to a discussion of school curriculum. Stewart should have hit him harder here.
3:32: Here Barton talks about how he teaches teachers the “17-18 different strands of history” that needed to be included in American history textbooks. Barton claims that he is writing textbooks that cover many strands of history, not just religious history. For example, he claims that he covers economic history, military history, civil rights history, etc…
Fair enough. Barton is concerned about more things than just religious history. But when he does teach these other “strands” of history, he still fails to present them with any kind of nuance or complexity. For example, in his recommendations to the Texas School Board’s revisions of its social studies curriculum, Barton suggested removing the following historical actors from the standards: Colin Powell (civil rights history), Cesar Chavez (civil rights history), Carl Sagan (scientific history), Anne Hutchinson (women’s history). He wants students to learn about American exceptionalism (diplomatic history?). He wants them to learn about the black patriots who stood in the shadow of George Washington as he crossed the Delaware River in 1776 (civil rights history). He wants them to learn about the great success of the free-market (economic history). I am also assuming that in his military history “strand” he would want to discuss how George Washington survived an Indian attack during the French and Indian War because of God’s providential protection on his life, or how God brought about the fog that enabled Washington and his army to escape after the Battle of Long Island in the summer of 1776.
Yes, Barton does promote all the various strands of history, but in presenting them, whether it be to the state board of Texas or in a textbook, they are still tainted by his own ideological and political agenda.
5:06: Barton’s idea that a 1765 sermon has anything to do with the 21st century capital gains tax is the most anachronistic, ahistorical thing I have heard in a while.
5:13: Back to the theologian vs. historian debate. Barton admits that he is both a theologian and a historian and sometimes people get confused about what “hat” he is wearing at any given time. Barton’s answer here implies that he is a credentialed, professional, even objective historian to some audiences and a theologian to other audiences. In other words, when he speaks and writes as a historian he is merely stating the facts of history with no ideological agenda. He wants us to believe that his theologians “hat” and historical “hat” are never worn at the same time. I don’t buy it.
Tom Van Dyke says
Stewart forces Barton to address the fact that when he speaks to one audience he claims to be an objective historian and when he speaks to another audience he claims to be a theologian with an agenda.
they are still tainted by his own ideological and political agenda.
These are certainly valid objections. However, my tour through the work of your peers, John, including your [erstwhile?] groupblog, presents much of the same “conflict of interest” as above. Perhaps blogging says “different hat” loudly, but still, the hats change.
[Since I'm not big on polemics, I'm not going to harp on this one. But surely you know what I mean.]
Further, I would argue that—and Barton is too unschooled to argue this on his own behalf—the distinction between secular and theological is a secular distinction; the religious types are wise to observe it if they want to reach a wider audience, but to the believer, God is a reality, and one's religious beliefs are truth, not opinion. He is not bound by the secular/theological distinction drawn by the secularists.
If the Bible says there should be no inheritance tax [in Barton's opinion], that's simply God's truth.
The “social gospel” is argued similarly from the left, after all, the defense of the welfare state, etc. The propriety of this is seldom questioned.
[As for the Texas Schoolbook Massacre, if you're using the highly partisan Texas Freedom Network as your primary source, I question their fairness.
There were also figures put in who are fairly politically correct. I meself question why Anne Hutchinson was in there in the first place, except as emblematic of a certain secular idea of heroism.]
My thx again to Dr. Fea for tackling this in a fair manner.
Jamie Boehmer says
I think I'd like to see Mr. Barton take you on in a debate Dr. Fea. Although John Stewart is an incredibly difficult man to debate with, so maybe Barton wouldn't back down with you either.
I do hope we will get some worthwhile and intelligently objective comments in this blog.
What are–if any–a few court cases that argue against Christian nation?
Jamie Boehmer would like to see Fea argue against Barton. What does he think this blog is if it's not an argument against Barton?
Barton does great as long as he can frame the argument.
Everyone does great as long as they can frame the argument.
But, somewhere–in all of it–there is something called the truth.
Both Fea and Stewart keep referring to Barton as a “theologian”, but he's no more a theologian than he is a historian. He has a BA in religious education from Oral Roberts Univ., and taught at a small Christian school located at a church founded by his parents. I don't think he's had much formal theological training at all.