note: this post has two parts. It starts out with a quick (and free) action you can take to help fight the sort of fake history that D James Kennedy and others have been peddling to the US Armed Forces. Woven around excerpts from Chris Rodda's reviews, I've added my own commentary, from writing in the works that discusses the significance of the divergence of US civilian military culture, and the possible threat to American Democracy that divergence may pose.
A few weeks ago I posted the first of a series of diaries, on the Daily Kos, in which I asked dKos members with Amazon.com accounts to vote on book reviews, written by Chris Rodda, author of Liars For Jesus: The Christian Right's Alternate Version Of American History, on various leading works of American history revisionism ( read as "fake American history" ) by top history falsificationists on the Christian right. So far, the series has covered Chris Rodda's reviews on the works of Stephen Mansfield and David Barton.
Today's featured Amazon review, by fake-history busting historian Chris Rodda, is on "America's Providential History", a very popular work of "pseudo history" among Christian homeschoolers, by Stephen K. McDowell and Mark A. Beliles.
Beliles and McDowell generated many of the fake history lies, in their book, that have been repeated (somewhat ineptly, as Chris Rodda observes, below) by D James Kennedy in his "Coral Ridge Hour" broadcasts that have been going out on to about 160 countries around the globe, on the Armed Forces Network for at least the past several years.
note: Chris Rodda and I wanted to cover this book because several Daily Kos members who posted on the last review promo post, on David Barton, asked about whether or not Chris or I was familiar with their book. Well, I wasn't at the time but Chris certainly was and so she wrote this review, in response and also because we're at the start of the new school year and many Christian home schooling parents will be going to Amazon to buy Beliles's and McDowell's book - so there's a chance they'll see Chris's expose' on all the various lies packed into "America's Providential History"
If you like Chris Rodda's review, please recommend it, and if you've read the book Rodda covers and have time, please write a review of your own.
Why fake American history matters
Consider: mainstream pundits have widely acknowledged that reluctance, among the leadership of the US military, to a United States attack on Iran is one major factor standing in the way of such a potentially catastrophic widening of US military involvement in the Middle East that would tend to preclude, practically speaking, constructive efforts to address many pressing world problems (including Climate Change).
In other words, democracy, even a very attenuated version of that, may not be the key factor keeping the tenuous balance which prevents the bombs from flying again. Actually, the pivot point may well hinge in the political and religious beliefs of America's volunteer military caste. [more on that at the end of this post, past the excerpts from Chris Rodda's writings]
Last Saturday, Daily Kos writer shockwave profiled the apparently privileged position that the "Coral Ridge Hour", from recently deceased D James Kennedy's Coral Ridge Ministries, enjoys on the Armed Forces Broadcasting Network. The Coral Ridge Hour promotes Creationism and fake US history, and also asserts the near-inevitability of American military conflict with Islamic Fundamentalism. Coral Ridge broadcasting also asserts that Global Warming is close to a hoax, or at least wildly overblown as a threat. But, the fake US history is key, even as the US is, for a brief moment still, key to the fate of the world.
D James Kennedy, writes historian Chris Rodda, in a tribute (of sorts) to Kennedy entitled On the Loss of A History Revisionist, didn't invent the history lies he aired on the Armed Forces Network and elsewhere. Rather, Kennedy copied his lies from Mark Beliles and Stephen McDowell, often substantially mangling the original lies in the process due to the fact, as Rodda notes, "Dr. Kennedy just didn't know enough about real history to understand what Beliles was lying about". In other words, Kennedy was not the ultimate source of the fake history he peddled. The real problem lay elsewhere.
Here's an excerpt from Rodda's "On the Loss of A History Revisionist"
With the passing of D. James Kennedy, the Christian nationalists have lost a valuable promoter of their revisionist version of American history. While Dr. Kennedy was never the most astute liar for Jesus -- often not understanding enough about the real history he was lying about to repeat the lies correctly -- he was quite adept at spreading his own unique versions of these lies to a wide audience, an audience apparently full of people with an even more limited grasp of historical reality than himself. So, in recognition of his remarkable gift for bungling the lies of others to create even more fascinating lies, I can't think of a more fitting tribute to the late Dr. Kennedy than to present some of his most memorable pseudo-historical nonsense -- his evidence that "the real Thomas Jefferson is the ACLU's worst nightmare!"
D. James Kennedy repeated his sermon on "The Real Thomas Jefferson" on a number of occasions between 2002 and 2007. (Watch the Coral Ridge Hour video from March 2006 here. ) Much of this sermon also appears in Dr. Kennedy's 2003 book What If America Were A Christian Nation Again?, in a chapter entitled, like his sermon, "The Real Thomas Jefferson."
Dr. Kennedy never made up his own historical lies. He was only called to spread the lies of others, and where Thomas Jefferson was concerned, this meant borrowing the work of Mark Beliles -- specifically the introduction to Beliles's 1983 version of the Jefferson Bible. But, Dr. Kennedy was always compelled to make the lies his own by changing a few words here and there. The only problem with this was that, in most cases, Dr. Kennedy just didn't know enough about real history to understand what Beliles was lying about.
Here's an excerpt from Christian Homeschooling Pseudo-History, a review by Chris Rodda of "America's Providential History".
[excerpt] America's Providential History contains far too many lies to cover in a short review, but here is a sampling of what you'll find in this popular homeschooling pseudo-history book.
To begin with, you'll find many misquotes that appear on David Barton's "Unconfirmed Quotations" list -- misquotes that even a revisionist as bad as Barton advises his minions not to use. These include the infamous James Madison Ten Commandments misquote, and this one, allegedly from Thomas Jefferson:
"The Bible is the cornerstone of liberty; ...students perusal of the sacred volume will make us better citizens."
The first part of this, "The Bible is the cornerstone of liberty," is a complete fabrication, appearing nowhere in Jefferson's writings. The second part doesn't come from Jefferson either, but from an 1852 letter written by Daniel Webster, an ardent promoter of Sunday schools. Webster claimed in this letter that Jefferson, in a conversation twenty-five years earlier about Sunday schools, had said, "the studious perusal of the sacred volume will make better citizens, better fathers, and better husbands."(1)
This Jefferson misquote is followed by one from James Madison:
"religion... [is] the basis and foundation of government."
According to Beliles and McDowell, this comes from Madison's "Memorial and Remonstrance."
Here's what that document actually says. Notice how many words appear between the word "Religion" and the phrase "the basis and foundation of government," words omitted to create a "quote" with an entirely different meaning.
"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."(2)
For years, decades possibly, a concerted effort has been underway to peddle falsified history, asserting the US was founded as a "Christian nation", to the members of America's Armed Forces.
But that's not all - that fake history gets distributed appended to Bibles and embedded in TV broadcasting, cited on the floor of the US Senate, and declaimed at National Prayer Breakfasts attended by John McCain, Hillary Clinton, and George W. Bush.
In fact, neither Republican or Democratic politicians can distinguish the stuff anymore and the consequences are huge because falsified American history has been employed to drive the central narrative of political complaint that powers the Christian right, but my point is far from academic. Consider:
The central narrative of the contemporary American Christian right is that the United States was founded as a Christian Nation but that "Godly heritage" has been stolen by "secularists" and "humanists", and God hounded from "the public square". The idea is that America was once Godly but God has been chased away and so God's blessings have been withdrawn from America so that, now, Satan and sin have crept in and our nation has plunged into moral and spiritual free fall...
That's becoming the dominant narrative of those who are fighting and dying in America's 21st Century wars.
So, American Democracy is now in terrible squeeze - the very people the Bush Administration has been requiring, close to forcing, to fight for the US in Iraq already had a prior, complex political complaint of their own which maintained that their country had been stolen, surreptitiously by nefarious political elements aligned with the forces of evil.
Many Americans are still angry over the outcome of the Vietnam War and those emotions, paired with belief in the alleged theft of America's "Christian heritage", have combined to form a toxic ideological brew that functions much as did the Dolschtoss legend did in pre-WW2 Germany...
The Dolschtoss legend, which arose after Germany's defeat in World war One and helped propel that country and the world towards another, even more catastrophic war, held that Germany's defeat was engineered by nefarious elements in German society (probably Jewish) so that the defeat was not a defeat at all, really. It was treachery, a "stab in the back". Like the Sigfried myth, the Dolschtoss legend was based in a mythic nationalist belief that Germany (like the hero Sigfried) could never be defeated in open combat.
Americans who hold the political grievance, the belief that their country or its rightful "Christian heritage" has been stolen, are at risk of falling prey to even more dangerous and destructive versions of Dolchstosslegende but the way to address the trend is not through mockery or stigmatization of their beliefs. Rather, America at large needs to pay far closer attention to Americans who have come to believe in a contemporary analog the the German "dolschtass" legend, because Americans who tend to believe the legend are also over-represented in America's military and they also tend to be lower middle class if not poor. The upshot is that, even if (as described in this essay) the the evolving American Dolchstosslegende is demonstrably a myth, based on lies, Americans who believe in it are being called on to make heroic personal sacrifices, to fight for their country and even sacrifice their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan so that grievances that once were mythic are becoming pair with grievances that are quite well founded. The calculus is terrible.
The evolving Dolchstosslegende can be defused, but to do so requires far deeper knowledge, of the core narratives that power the American Christian right as a movement, than most Americans have shown themselves willing to cultivate. The problem is that, at a certain point that is impossible to determine but quite real, a threshold will be crossed ; American military and civilian cultures are drifting apart and sooner or later the widening cultural chasm will undermine Democracy. While America's military caste is being called on to make personal sacrifices in the national interest, many in that caste feel their nation, or at least its rightful Christian heritage, has been subverted or stolen with the effect that their country is careening out of control. Fundamentalist Christianity is seen, in this view, as the guidestar or rudder of the nation ; America is asleep at the wheel, at risk of a disastrous crash.
[note: this is an excerpt from a much longer essay I'm writing]