I have finally had a chance to start reading David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson. I am about halfway through the book, so I thought it was time to post some thoughts.
It is not my intention in these posts to check all of Barton’s facts. That has already been done quite efficiently and effectively by Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter in Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking about Our Third President. I would strongly encourage you to buy a copy of this ebook and check out the accompanying website and Facebook page. Throckmorton and Coulter show that Barton’s treatment of Jefferson is deeply flawed.
Instead, I thought I would write about some of the breakdowns in historical method and logic that I have found throughout the first several chapters. We will see how this series of posts goes and whether or not I have the energy to spend a lot of time on developing them.
David Barton believes that Thomas Jefferson is portrayed in a negative light today (Barton suggests that Jefferson is presented as an atheist, a racist, a bigot, and a slaveholder) because of academic scholarship driven by the following twentieth-century practices: “Deconstructionism, Poststructualism, Modernism, Minimalism, and Academic Collectivism.”
Those big, scary-sounding academic words would be enough to instill fear in any ordinary reader. Heck, they instill fear in me when I see them written in an academic monograph! Barton wants ordinary Christians to read his book on Jefferson and come away with the idea that intellectuals driven by these “isms” or “malpractices” have hijacked the American founders.
After reading the Introduction to The Jefferson Lies I want to echo/paraphrase what Jesus said multiple times to his disciples: “do not be afraid.”
Deconstructionism, Post-Structuralism, and the rest of these “isms” can pose a threat to orthodox Christian teachings and they should thus be approached by Christian historians with care, but for Barton they are used to describe academic bogeymen who are out to destroy the way our children learn American history.
For Barton, these “isms”need to be discarded in order to see the past clearly. From my point of view, these “isms,” if they are defined correctly and applied judiciously and carefully, can be helpful tools to help us interpret the past. Sometimes they are even compatible with a Christian approach to history. If this sounds like I have sold my soul to the liberal academics of the ivory tower, I ask that you stay with me over the course of the next several posts before you declare me a non-Christian and a dangerous historical revisionist. Thanks.
In my next post, I will discuss what Barton refers to as “Deconstructionism.” Stay tuned.
For another treatment of Jefferson and the role of religion in the founding see Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction. I heard that it’s pretty good 🙂