David Barton Finally Answers his Critics – by Attacking Them

David Barton puts on his cowboy hat and goes gunning for his critics

David Barton is very unhappy that people don’t believe his lies about Jefferson, as spread in his fiasco, The Jefferson Lies (2012), which I reviewed here.  His book has been criticized by scholars, but Barton won’t argue history: he’s more interested in character assassination – and his own martyrdom.

He has lashed out at Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter, both professors at a conservative Christian college, Grove City College (whose book, Getting Jefferson Right, I also reviewed here), and two Jefferson scholars, Clay Jenkinson and Alan Pell Crawford - you know, people who have made the study of Jefferson their life’s work. People whose only real sin is academic integrity.

He has not, for whatever reason, gone after John Fea, historian at Messiah College, and author of  Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introductionwho is one of his most persistent critics online, and Professor Fea seems to be feeling a bit left out, as he notes on his blog.

Barton, as only a fundamentalist believer can, is feeling persecuted, comparing himself to none other than Paul of Tarsus, who was not a persecuted person but a persecutor, by his own admission. Paul actually brags about his good relations with the Roman authorities and Paul nowhere complains of persecution by Jews in his extant epistles. Barton, to his credit, seems to realize this, for as history professor John Fea of Messiah College points out, “Barton seems to compare the attacks on his work to the attacks on St. Paul in Acts 13 and 14.”

Those scholars Barton despises so much recognize that Acts aren’t in line with Paul’s genuine writings. Barton would no doubt take issue with this being an issue, but he so far hasn’t tried to invent something to be put into the epistles as evidence. Would that he showed the same restraint here for Thomas Jefferson. But he doesn’t. As I noted in my review, he pulls out all the stops in attempting to present Thomas Jefferson as a good conservative and not only a good conservative, but a modern Evangelical.

On his WallBuilders blog, Barton immediately goes for the straw man he created in his book, that the actual experts, rather than being experts, are elitists determined to silence the truth through their slavish devotion to their own exalted status, each simply repeating what the other has written rather than appealing to primary source material:

For generations, America recognized an equality of individualism that made the carpenter as important as the university president and the shopkeeper the equal of the statesman. But today, under the influence of Poststructuralism, America has begun to divide itself into groups based not only on identity (e.g., black/white/Latino, straight/gay, union/right-to-work, conservative/liberal, etc.) but also on distinctions such as economic income, social standing, and even degree of academic knowledge – and especially in the latter category as pretentious scholars in law and academics claim exclusive knowledge they believe places them above ordinary citizens.

To this end, Barton tries to raise himself up as the true expert  - in true patriarchal fashion - by comparing collections, if you take my meaning. He whips out his 100,000 documents (without telling anyone which documents these are) and defies anyone to match the girth of his acquistitiveness. But as John Fea observes, “This makes Barton a good collector, but does not make him a good historian.”

Warren Throckmorton, on his blog, also answers this charge:

Barton leads his response to Getting Jefferson Right by claiming that we are part of the academic elite with a need to publish or perish. His criticisms are not consistent; he says we are academic elites but demeans the book because we published it as an ebook first.  Publishing a digital book for $4.99 is not an elitist move.  If anything, an argument can be made that digital publishing allows authors to bypass the elitist system.  Barton says we are part of the “publish or die” mentality of academia. That criticism shows how little he knows about Grove City College where Michael and I teach (Barton incorrectly called it Grove College). While publications are appreciated around here, the real value is on excellence in the class room.

Barton even claims simple jealousy as a reason for scholarly criticism of his book:

Conversely, typical history works by modern elitist professors generally sell very poorly; and seeing their own influence wane, they often lash out and condescendingly criticize the more popular documentary works. But this practice is not new.

Fea has an answer to this:

At one point, Barton claims that “elitist professors” are jealous of his work and this is the primary reason they are attacking him.  Actually, history professors are “jealous” of Barton’s hold over some of the American people and the way that he is teaching them history.   Here I am using the following definition of “jealous”: “Feeling or showing suspicion of someone’s unfaithfulness in a relationship.”  This is the kind of jealousy that the patriots exercised regarding the protections of liberty during the American Revolution.

Oh dear, he did not just go there, throwing founding patriotism in a Tea Partier’s face. You know where John Fea’s books are going to end up when Barton is calling the shots. Crackle, crackle, crisp, crisp.

Barton may claim that scholars are jealous and maybe as Fea says, they are (being one, he should know) but Barton is the one behaving insecurely, as though he has something to compensate for, and he does: any training in historiography and lack of any relevant degree.

He claims he is “simplifying” history for the masses because it’s too complex four our simple minds to comprehend but what he is really doing is falsifying it. Simple isn’t an answer when the subject is complex, and history is complex, as has been pointed out repeatedly to Barton, both by Fea and by Throckmorton and Coulter. That’s why people go to college, get degrees, get advanced degrees, and then, being fairly well-versed in their fields, teach them.

Reading a lot of books and owning a lot of documents do not make you a historian. Because he cannot argue the case on its merits, all Barton is left with are ad hominem attacks, accusing his conservative critics of being America- and Christian-hating liberals. To this Throckmorton says, “we are approaching this topic because we are citizens and Christians who seek to speak to our communities. We did not write our book to attack Christianity but to be faithful to it.” And as Fea points out,

Barton has become such a product of the political culture wars that I am afraid he is hurting the larger witness of the church in the world.  Where is the humility?  Where is the willingness to listen to his critics?  I guess I had hoped that Barton’s response to his critics would have been something different–something more humble, more conciliatory, and more Christian.  But I was apparently wrong.

Not being a Christian, I am not concerned with Christianity’s image, which I see as already irredeemably tarnished by twenty centuries of abuse, including pouring molten metal down my ancestors’ Heathen throats, but I see Fea’s point and I have often wondered here and elsewhere why more Christians are concerned by this consequence of the culture wars, where humility and even charity, seem utterly lacking. When did Jesus’ message get subsumed into Old Testament Judaism’s fire and brimstone?

But history in the end is not about feelings and it’s not even so much about who is doing the history. As archaeologist William G. Dever observes, we all have ideologies. No historian is completely without bias, no matter how hard they try or how well-meaning they are. History is about facts and the interpretation of those facts and having the biggest document collection is far less important than an ability (and training) to interpret those documents.

Barton does history a disservice, he does his readers a disservice, and he does himself a disservice by being so wedded to his particular ideology that he cannot see the forest for the trees – or admit when he has made a mistake. But then he’s backed himself into that “Bible as my witness’ corner from whence no such admissions can be made. And that is why Throckmorton and Coulter’s careful analysis of Barton’s book, their point-by-point appraisal of his lies of omission and commission both, elicit not a scholarly debate but character attacks on his critics.

It is the last resort of a man without an argument to make.

14 Replies to “David Barton Finally Answers his Critics – by Attacking Them”

  1. …”He claims he is “simplifying” history for the masses because it’s too complex four our simple minds to comprehend…”

    Why, this man is merely the Eddie Izzard of American history! He’s providing the masses with comic relief in the form of telling his tales in a form that the masses will “pay” as we all love to be entertained!

    Eddie Izzard on Noah and the Ark; biblical history!


  2. He denounces real historians as elitists, and then he states he writes these simplified lies because that’s all that average, simple-minded Americans can understand.

  3. Barton has a B.A. in religious history which is not the same as American history. He appears to be jealous of those who have earned PhD’s in history. Throckmorton, Fea, and other real historians are right to call him out for pushing his version of American history that he contorts to fit his political and religious ideologies. He refuses to admit that the First Amendment contains an Establishment Clause that proves that the founders did not establish America as a Christian nation no matter how long he continues to beat that dead horse. America was founded as a nation where the free exercise of any religion is permitted. One is also permitted to not practice any religion at all. Barton is dangerous because he has accumulated so much power that millions of Americans listen to him and buy his books, and republican politicians listen to him when they shouldn’t. Collecting historical documents doesn’t make Barton a credible historian.

  4. The worst part of this is that Bartons books have no point. All he is doing is trying to make sure we all know this is a christian based country. In reality it doesn’t matter what Jefferson did or wrote or even if the country is based on christianity(which its not), because all that matters is right now. What do the people think right now and what is the mood of the nation towards religion. You can claim this property is based on religion but that cant force us all to become christian or live under christian laws.

    Barton would force that on us in a second. Its no wonder he lashes back, he is seeing his dream of him being nailed to a cross go up in smoke faster than a zig zap without anything in it.

  5. In a sense, I blame academia for his rise. If my colleagues hadn’t gotten their noses out of the “ivory towers” so to speak and spent more time in the public, they’d know that they weren’t as effective as they thought AND that publishing only in scientific journals is a mistake. It’s necessary, but the public needs to be exposed to some of the things we learn too.

    I’ve tried to get people to get active politically and on places like this… I know several disciplines that I wish would start showing up on PoliticusUSA. There is extreme resistance to the idea, however, because it’s not “typical academia”.

    From the talks I’ve had with colleagues in other disciplines besides my own, Barton is despised and even belittled – and called a liar (in academia-speak). However, most people don’t know that.

    Barton is a joke. A joke that sadly, too many people take seriously (as in they believe him).

  6. “When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”

    Sinclair Lewis

  7. We run into his type all the time. There is an entire “Good Christian” industry, based on lies and trying to “prove deh Bible!”. Behe is another, and it would only take me a few minutes to dig out other names. There are “schools” that support the sort of crap they preach and write… organizations… his type is very common.

    It reinforces the programming the dominionist churches have done to their followers, and thus they eat it up. None of it encourages logical thinking, or teaches how to evaluate evidence, or how to think critically about claims. It’s very much like what you’ll get in their sermons… lies and hatred for anyone who doesn’t support their lies (and submit to their authority). They take some misrepresented bits of information (often bogus), mix a little misdirection, bad logic, unconnected facts, and “Deh Bible says!”, and presto: pseudoscience.

    In archaeology they’re especially disliked. The “Prove the Bible” pseudo archaeologists are not welcomed at all in the mideast and if there is even a hint that is what they’re there for, they cannot get the necessary permits to dig and are informed that they’re not welcome. The real archaeologists and the officials of the regions don’t like them one bit because they are too well known for creating false evidence to support their assertions and destroying real finds that they find disproving their “theories”. (I should add that people who go to the mideast to DISPROVE the Bible are just as unwelcome, because they sometimes do much the same thing. If your goal is to prove or disprove the Bible, you’re not doing real archaeology.) There are the “Noah’s Ark” bunch… several “authors” of trash much like Barton. And then there are the physicists who claim to be involved in space research and pontificate against evolution (and who have said, and I quote: “We have to teach the God of the Bible in the schools!” – I was there when they said that in our area and the fools in the church we used to belong to ate it up).

    All of the material written is pure crap, of course. But it’s accepted as gospel by the “Good Christians” and used to hoodwink people whose background in science and history isn’t what it should be. Because we go against “Deh Bible is TROO!” and point out that it contains serious and significant errors, they denigrate the real scientists who try to fight against the bullshit. It gets pretty rough sometimes.

  8. Barton started this whole mess sometime last week or the week before. I was reading Throckmorton’s blog and his reply to all of the noise the Barton was making, so the above article is the culmination of all this Barton noise.
    Barton hides behind his “100,000” historical documents all the time. As has been pointed out by Hraf and Throckmorton on many occasions, Barton edits the information he presents to make sure it supports his view, and ONLY his view.
    The problem we all face is that Barton seems to be louder, much louder than Throckmorton, Coulter and Fae are in his lies. The truth is being drowned out, and Barton is using God as his shield. If you speak out against Barton or what he represents, then you are pissing on God.
    My answer to all this…God help us all! And in deference to Hraf, Gods help us all to shut these lies off!!

  9. The sad part is that Barton gets press, gets invited to things like Perry’s stadium prayer events, and says things that the confused want to hear, and damn the truth. My MIL last summer whipped out her Heritage Foundation Constitution and wanted to ask the grandkids questions. One grandson, who is a history teacher, subverted her. “How many amendments are there, Grandma?” She had no idea. Another grandson, a lawyer, also asked something and she had no clue about the answer. It was actaully entertaining, but it is also sad. The Heritage Foundation, Barton, and the rest prey on fear. They ramp it up, say that this good old “Christian nation” is under attack, and anyone not believing them is a commie, or worse (I think they have a rotating list of slurs to be used bi-weekly.)
    And may I say, all four of the grandsons graduated from Grove City after attending good “Christian” schools their entire lives. None of them even has a girlfriend, and only one managed to leave the town they were born in for a job.

  10. On July 4th the San Antonio Express-News had a full page ad, paid for by Hobby Lobby, Hemispheres and Madel Stores, in association with http://www.wallbuilders.com. In the middle of the page it said in very large letters, “In God We Trust,” and was surrounding by various quotes from the earliest Presidents and Supreme Court Justices, together with other quotes from the 1800’s, all involving Christianity. Since Wallbuilders was involved, I feel almost positive some of the quotes are incorrect, but haven’t yet done any research on them. However, I have decided that I will never go into another Hobby Lobby store again.

  11. Aha! You had me there for a minute. This is a Liberal website. Now I know I won’t get the truth here. Liberals are so predictable, and so hypocritical. You go after Barton for attacking his Liberal critics with an attack yourself. So typical of Liberals. As Michael Savage says “Liberalism is a mental disorder”.

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