It is astonishing to witness the reaction to David Barton’s The Jefferson Lies (2012). It is equally astonishing to witness the hostility to Getting Jefferson Right (2012), the latter book being a refutation of Barton’s by two Christian scholars who teach at conservative Christian colleges. Defending Getting Jefferson Right – in other words, defending a fact-based reality and also (more importantly) truth itself, one is perceived as being (and accused) anti-Christian. More amazingly still is the fact that a book by two conservative Christian scholars can be referred to as “leftist lies” simply because it contradicts what fundamentalists wish to be true.
Despite the abundant evidence in Jefferson’s writings that he was not a Christian (admiring Jesus’ moral teachings does not make one Christian – Christianity is attached to a belief in Jesus’ divinity that Jefferson mocked – fundamentalists continue to insist that Jefferson believed in Jesus as they do, in the sense of a modern Evangelical – that despised divinity intact. It is that part of the Bible – the miraculous, including Jesus’ divine status, that Jefferson significantly referred to as “a dunghill” from which he would extract the diamonds “the very words only of Jesus” as he puts it in an 1813 letter to John Adams and numerous places elsewhere. For Thomas Jefferson, it was quite evident that Jesus’ followers failed to understand what he said – and Jefferson did not keep ALL Jesus is supposed to have said.
From his collection of Jesus’ sayings he eliminated the ubiquitous John 3:16; he eliminated John 14:6 and its “I am the truth and the life” and perhaps most importantly, he did not include Matthew 28:19, the Great Commission, the single most dangerous passage to religious freedom in the entire New Testament. In fact, Jefferson did not include anything from after Matthew 27:60 “and he rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulcher…” Jefferson left Jesus safely dead and buried.
Throckmorton and Coulter carefully examine what was and was not included by Jefferson among his “diamonds” and show how Barton lies about what Jefferson included by presenting only part of the evidence. A fundamentalist will say, “Aha! Jefferson included Matthew 12:10-15 and that includes a miracle!” But not so fast: Jefferson included parts of Matthew 12:10-15; Jefferson clipped out the part where Jesus healed the withered hand and in verse 15 he clipped out the part where “he healed them all.” Gone is Matthew 9’s healing of Jairus’ daughter; gone is the healed bleeding woman in Matthew 9:18-26; gone are the two blind men who are healed in Matthew 9:27-34. Barton claims Jefferson included these last three: he did not. Barton claims Jefferson included Matthew 11:4-6 where he speaks of the miracles he had performed. But Jefferson did not include this passage either. Barton is outright lying.
As Throckmorton and Coulter point out, Henry Randall’s 1858 biography of Jefferson “demonstrates that these texts were not included in either of Jefferson’s abridgments.” And it is not that Barton is unfamiliar with Randall: on page 201 of The Jefferson Lies Barton cites Randall’s work, saying that “Even today, this work is still considered the most authoritative ever written on Jefferson…” Yet Barton won’t mention that this great authority proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that those passages were not included by Jefferson. On the very next page he speaks of the importance of getting the full story yet failed to provide the full story himself. We see in this abundant evidence of deceit, intent to deceive, outright dishonesty, and hypocrisy, all in full measure.
Barton won’t admit to any of this and his fanboys and girls won’t believe it because they will refuse to fact-check for fear of having their beliefs overturned. Barton wants you to believe Jefferson preserved al the words of Jesus: he did not. He preserved only those parts in which Jesus did not perform miracles or claim divine status for himself; gone for example, is John 14:1-4 in its entirety, where he speaks of his father’s house and John 17:1-3: “the hour has come to Glorify your Son…”
You could not write much of a fundamentalist sermon with what Jefferson left, because you would be left with a rather liberal-sounding Jesus, a Jesus who actually cares for the poor and down-trodden and who despises the rich, and we can’t have that. You would no longer have a virgin birth; you would no longer have three wise men, the wedding of Cana, the feeding of multitudes and you would especially not have Jesus’ atoning death. Barton wants to present Jefferson’s chopping up of the Bible in a positive light but as Throckmorton and Coulter say, “Can you imagine the reaction from religious leaders if a modern day president chopped up the New Testament in the way Thomas Jefferson did?”
No, it would not be pretty. You can’t even keep Jesus’ words in their entirety if you don’t interpret them the way fundamentalists insist they must be interpreted. Look to what they say about Obama if you don’t believe me.
But fundamentalists don’t want to hear the truth even from other fundamentalists. That is why Barton’s book is a bestseller and why conservative Christian scholars Throckmorton and Coulter are getting a favorable review on a liberal site like PoliticusUSA rather than on The Blaze.
Clearly, reading is not a re-requisite to fundamentalist Christianity. Fundamentalist Christianity 101 must be a breeze: the professor (not really a professor since academics belong to a despised “academic collectivism”) simply tells the students what to believe and they believe it. There can be no textbook, at least not one worth the name and the test is merely an affirmation of belief. Cast facts aside, embrace the absurd like a modern-day Kierkegaard, and presto! You are one of the Chosen People. Chosen to dwell forever in an ignorance of your own making, a citizen of a time the world has long passed by when demons caused disease and gods created tempests to smite the sinful.
It doesn’t sound like much of a selling point to me. It wasn’t much of a selling point to Thomas Jefferson, or to Thomas Paine, another founder fundamentalists have tried to co-opt to their own uses. Jefferson did not despise Jesus but he despised the institution grown up around him, doctrine and clergy alike (cite examples). Paine was less finicky – he despised at all, condemning the religion roundly and repeatedly in his Age of Reason, a book so volatile that he was damned by believers everywhere.
Fundamentalist Christians have that reaction to Reason – and to truth, and to fact. Belief is all. If you doubt their belief you are attacking them, waging war on them, but they are free as they did Jefferson to attack you and wage war on you. If you protest, if you defend yourself, you are attacking them. They want you to understand that you cannot win.
Simply by the terms they choose to use to referg to Barton - as a “noted” historian as conservative bloggers have claimed, “renowned” historian as Christian Newswire has done (while Throckmorton and Coulter are simply “two Christian college professors” – apparently psychology does not make you a “renowned” historian but a religious education degree does), or “prominent historian” as Christianbook.com has done – they have signaled their unwillingness to debate the actual evidence.
What chance does the truth have when even on barnesandnoble.com you’ll find Barton referred to as a “noted historian”? It reflects badly on the current state of affairs in this country that a religious ideologue can so readily draw praise rather than condemnation for blatantly lying to and misleading his readership.
We should not as a culture celebrate dishonesty: shame, rather approbation, should be Barton’s reward. Instead, Barton’s success demonstrates once and for all that for a fundamentalist the Great Commission has been revised: there is no higher purpose in life than lying for Christ. Go ye therefore, and lie to all the nations. God wills it, or so they say.
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.
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