The lies of Christian nationalism's revisionist, falsified version of American history are like the drooling zombies from George Romero's Night Of The Living Dead ; each individual zombie, each historical distortion, misquote, or fabrication is quite easy to dispatch. But, they just keep on coming in an endless wave that eventually seems to wear down and overwhelm opposition.
New York Times Bestelling Author Stephen Mansfield is on top of the world these days, but his latest book, "Ten Tortured Words: How the Founding Fathers Tried to Protect Religion in America and What's Happened Since" probably belongs in the the fiction rather than the non-fiction category. [ read the first installment of a multi-part expose' of Mansfield's book ]
To push his new Christian nationalist pseudo-historical work, "Ten Tortured Lies...", attacking the separation of church and state, NYT best selling author Stephen Mansfield seems willing to invent his own facts as necessary, and so if he's a credible historian, then I'm a pygmy hippo in a pink tutu dancing Swan Lake...
Mansfield's writings betray his basic ignorance of the American history he's writing about, and he proclaims bold new, invented facts to bolster his assertion that the founders of the United States did not intend for there to be a "wall of separation" between church and state. In short, Stephen Mansfield simply makes shit up and he's getting away with it ; he's poised to emerge as a new poet laureate and superstar working to mainstream Christian Nationalism's falsified, revisionist version of American History.
[image, right: fancy looking book full of made-up... err... stuff]
[ From a Review of Stephen Mansfield's "Ten Tortured Words..." ]
"Ten Tortured Words... surpassed even my lowest expectations.
When I got the book, the first thing I did was turn it over to read the description on the back of its jacket, which begins:
"It was the steamy summer of 1787, as America's founding fathers fashioned their Constitution, they told the most powerful institution in their new nation what it must not do:
'CONGRESS SHALL MAKE NO LAW RESPECTING AN ESTABLISHMENT OF RELIGION.'"
What??? This seems to be saying that the First Amendment was written in 1787 at the Constitutional Convention. I must have misread this, I thought, and proceeded to reread it several times. No, I read it right the first time. It really does say that the First Amendment was written at the Constitutional Convention. My next thought was that this jacket text wasn't written by Stephen Mansfield himself, but by some history ignoramus at the publishing company. Mansfield, a New York Times best-selling author, writing an entire book on the First Amendment, couldn't possibly be unaware that this amendment was written two years later by the first Congress." - from a review of "Ten Tortured Words...", by Chris Rodda, author of Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternative Version Of American History
Stephen Mansfield has been basking in the bathtub of friendly media exposure, self-contentedly gazing at his beloved rubber ducky, the "USS Christian Nation", planning on running that motorized bathtub clear across the continental United States while bellowing his "George Washington, Oh! - What a Godly man !" aria at the top of his lungs... and he'll do just that if we don't pull the plug first, to send his Christian nationalist ducky down the drain and reveal Mansfield's naked, bare-assed mendacity for the buffoonery that it is.
One: Historian Chris Rodda has posted a review of Stephen Mansfield's new book at Amazon.com, and just a few votes will make Rodda's review very prominent. You need to sign up for an Amazon account to vote, but all you need to provide for that is a name and an email address ( no financial /personal info needed ).
Two: If you can, buy a copy of Chris Rodda's "Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternative Version Of American History" and learn how to powerfully rebut the most common historical lies of Christian nationalism.
Four: Chris Rodda has informed me that she's posted her review of Mansfield's book on Barnes & Noble too. It hasn't popped up yet, but if you're dedicated to historical accuracy, please check back at the Barnes & Noble page for "Ten Tortured Lies..." in a day or three to see if Chris' review has popped up yet. If it has you can recommend it as on Amazon. Thanks in advance.
Chris Rodda will continue with her debunking of Stephen Mansfield's "Ten Tortured Lies..." in further Talk To Action installments and may also write similarly helpful book reviews, that would benefit from your patronage, on other leading works of Christian nationalist historical revisionism.
Stephen Mansfield Plugs Christian Supremacy
Mansfield gets venues that would make his predecessor David Barton salivate ; while Barton gets dedicated "Christian" media exposure, Mansfield gets Focus On The Family media and also the mainstream imprimatur of USA Today, to broadcast his ignorance to millions in a recent USA Today op-ed and his book's been placed in the "Law" section at Barnes and Noble and also the top 10 in the Amazon.com legal section - - it seems to have been written with the specific intent of swaying upcoming Federal Court rulings on church & state cases. Indeed, Mansfield has been plugging the "Public Expression Of Religion Act" (that I've dubbed the "Christian Supremacy Act"), and in his recent Focus On The Family interview (as noted by Talk To Action's Don Byrd of the Baptist Joint Committee On Religious Liberty) Mansfield sketched out his Christian supremacist vision for America:
Congress has the right to restrict the kinds of cases the judiciary can hear, according to the Exceptions Clause of the Constitution, so these bills [ the House and Senate PERA bills ] are our best hope...
The result of the passage of the PERA bills, according to Mansfield in the interview ? :
It's a much, much better society. It's less open to the cults. It's less open to non-Christian religions; they'd certainly have a presence but the country would be less open to them. You'd have greater ethics invested in the hearts and the lives of children, as the Ten Commandments are held central and as some kind of a prayer is prayed daily in the schools.
Less open to "cults" and "non-Christian" religions ? I guess that covers Scientology, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism.... m'kay Mr. Mansfield. It's mighty tolerant of you to not propose just hanging or hounding out religious minorities and conducting witch trials in the fashion of the early theocratic colonies.
George Washington "preached to more churches than any President in American history" ?
Mansfield's poised to become a David Barton on steroids, a svengali free from Barton's goofy flag shirts and leather vests, a mainstreamed, coiffed, upscale Uber-Barton who can look an audience right in the eye to declare that George Washington "preached to more churches than any President in American history". Don Byrd, at Talk To Action, provides the factual thrashing of Mansfield's "Washington, the preacher" myth, citing Philander Chase, University of Virginia historian and editor of The Papers of George Washington:
"We do not know of any instance," Chase says, "of Washington preaching to a church congregation while he was president or at any other time of his life. As president he did attend a variety of church services, apparently to underscore the importance of religious tolerance as part of national unity.
Alrighty then. But the truth or falsity of Mansfield's assertions is currently irrelevant ; nobody is putting up a serious challenge, and Mansfield's delivery is oh-so convincing.
That's the bad news.
The good news ?
On Combatting Stephen Mansfield's Made-Up Shit...
In short :
3. Smackdown (book reviews, internet posts, letters to the editor, general well-placed mockery)
Debunking Stephen Mansfield's credibility should be about as difficult as tagging a side of a barn called "US history" from 100 paces with a paintball gun called "facts", and if phalanxes of tenured American historians at America's finest universities haven't so been able to prevent the public emergence of such a pseudo-historian as Mansfield, a man who appears to simply make shit up, inventing his own "facts" as necessary to advance his Christian nationalist agenda, then the task of preventing the historical record from being overwritten by such brazen fakery falls to concerned citizens, American patriots who understand that, as Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, "everyone is entitled to his own opinion but not his own facts."
Liars For Jesus author Chris Rodda will make it easy for us, because she's just written the first of a multi-part series reviewing, and exposing, the lies, distortions, and misquotes that seem to be stuffed into the pages of Stephen Mansfield's "Ten Tortured Facts".
Let Chris Rodda be your guide - as she exposes in her first installment, Stephen Mansfield can't even keep straight the basic facts and dates of the American history he purports to 'explain', to the extent that he gets the Constitutional Convention and the Continental Congress confused. Writes Rodda:
Mansfield apparently doesn't understand that the Constitutional Convention and the Continental Congress were two separate bodies, with the Congress continuing to meet in New York while the Convention was taking place in Philadelphia.
The Best Fake "Founder" Quote... Ever !
Slinging doctored "founding father" quotes has long been a favorite tactic of Christian revisionist historians, and Stephen Mansfield follows that debased tradition but less competently, or more deceptively, than many of his already dubious predecessors. Enter, again, Chris Rodda:
On pages 143 to 148 of his book, Mansfield presents a list of twenty quotes, the purpose of which is to argue against the idea that, while many of the founders were personally religious, the government they created was secular. Some of these quotes are accurately presented, but most are either out of context, complete fabrications, or in some other way deceptive....
a striking example of Stephen Mansfield's own brand of word torturing, in the form of the following Madison "quote," found on page 146.
Religion is the basis and foundation of government. -- JAMES MADISON
Where does this quote come from? Well, according to Mansfield's note, Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments. Here is the untortured paragraph from that document, with the words assembled by Mansfield to create his quote in bold.
- Because finally, "the equal right of every citizen to the free exercise of his Religion according to the dictates of conscience" is held by the same tenure with all his other rights. If we recur to its origin, it is equally the gift of nature; if we weigh its importance, it cannot be less dear to us; if we consider the "Declaration of those rights which pertain to the good people of Virginia, as the basis and foundation of government," it is enumerated with equal solemnity, or rather studied emphasis.
Now, Stephen Mansfield didn't invent such textual "torturing" but he certainly seems to have worked hard, in the preceding example, to raise the level of such torture and, by contrast, make earlier styles of textual torturing look more like Monty-Pythonesque "comfy chair" approaches next to the industrial-stength semantic rack Mansfield employed to pull apart text from Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, deliberately plucking words right out of their original context to construct a new, radically falsified Madison "quote" with a new "meaning" that almost certainly would have made James Madison vomit.
Many of the leading Christian right revisionists use artful ellipsis to create misleading doctored "founding father" quotes, but Mansfield dispensing with all that, simply snatches out single words and glues them together, presenting the result as an original, un-doctored quote.
Or, to put it more succinctly, Stephen Mansfield just makes shit up.
So. perhaps we can dub such a level of textual torture, in Mansfield's honor, "to Mansfield" - meaning : to pluck individual words and textual bits from the body of a much larger quote and glue them together into boldly deceptive new pseudo-quotes that can be foisted on an unsuspecting public, to advance a covert political agenda.
Here are two examples of the sheer creative force of "Mansfielding". Imagine stringing the bolded words, below, into new "quotes":
George Bush's January 23, 2007 State of The Union Address :
"Our enemies are quite explicit about their intentions. They want to overthrow moderate governments and establish safe havens from which to plan and carry out new attacks on our country. By killing and terrorizing Americans, they want to force our country to retreat from the world and abandon the cause of liberty"
With some creative "Mansfielding", Bush's statement turns turns into: "Our enemies want moderate governments. They want world liberty" - Sounds nice, sure, but George W. Bush didn't say it.
On rare occasion, "Mansfielding" can bring out an underlying truth:
"I did not have sex with that woman" - Bill Clinton.
Nonetheless, "Mansfielding" is a fancy word for "creative lying". To borrow again from Daniel Moynihan, people are entitled to their own interpretations of quotes, but not their own reinventions of them.
Maybe Stephen Mansfield needs to rebrand his work, to call it "postmodernist Christian historical reinterpretation" or some such gobbledygook. He's an artist !
Speaking as someone who enjoys a well turned phrase - Mansfield is a very, very good writer and it matters not a whit that his book seems written by a poorly coordinated committee because facts and dates Mansfield attaches to specific historical incidents change from page to page. Few people reading "Ten Tortured Facts" will notice such basic continuity gaps, they'll be so bowled over by Mansfield's impressive rhetorical chops. The man makes shit up, yes, but he can tell a story the way Leni Riefenstahl could film a documentary - with aplomb and finesse, with confidence and artistry...
If Mansfield called what he's doing "art" rather than "history" he could just make shit up to his heart's content (because it's the job of artists to invent) and Christian nationalist audiences could go to hear him speak, to patronize Mansfield's talent for made up shit, to their heart's content. It would all be above board and honest.
But, then his books wouldn't be in the Barnes and Noble "Law" section.
note: although I wear several hats at least - Talk To Action Co-Founder & Military Religious Freedom Foundation Researcher to mention a few - I am not an historian nor do I claim to be one or to write works of history. Nor do I play an historian on Television, or in any other media venue. I also do not fish for trout. But I do enjoy Ping-Pong. This post is based on the historical research of Chris Rodda, who is an historian and does write substantial (to say the least) works of history. While Rodda takes great pains to write accurate history, in covering her work I sometimes make mistakes and, when I do so, am glad to stand corrected. Because, facts matter - Bruce Wilson