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'Evangelical historian' David Barton appearing on Glenn Beck program
It's only history if it makes them feel good
If you are still by some chance unfamiliar with the conservative anti-historian known as David Barton, this is a good primer. His essential theory is that the founding fathers wanted America to be an explicitly religious, Christian country because of shut up; towards this end he engages in various not-quite-true versions of history that regularly send evangelical conservatives, elected conservatives and professional conspiracy peddlers like Glenn Beck into shivers of feel-goodism about themselves. All this came to a head about a year ago with a David Barton book on Thomas Jefferson that was so riddled with errors and half-truths that, after a humiliating lambasting by dozen of actual historians—prominently including Christian scholars—it was pulled from publication. It was that bad.

You would think that having your central premises repeatedly debunked as erroneous or fabricated would put a damper on your credibility and perhaps make people like Sen. Ted Cruz less likely to endorse your crackpot notions. You would think that, if you still supposed that anyone involved actually gave a damn about the difference between truth and fraud, but the key to Barton's success is that he tells the crowd what they want to hear. That, not any foo-foo notions of history or scholarship, is why David Barton can still swing with the big names and the big crowds after even his own publisher abandoned him.

But to his critics’ astonishment, Barton has bounced back. He has retained his popular following and his political appeal — in large part, analysts say, because he brings an air of sober-minded scholarship to the culture wars, framing the modern-day agenda of the religious right as a return to the Founding Fathers’ vision for America. […]

“When it comes to evangelical outreach, there’s nobody more effective than David Barton,” said Jamie Johnson, a member of the Republican Party’s state central committee in Iowa.

More on David Barton below the fold.

That Barton would not be undone by having actual historians dismantle his version of events is not terribly surprising. Barton appeals to a very specific portion of evangelicalism that treats history and science as interchangeable with religion—a movement that does not, and cannot, distinguish between the two. If belief dictates that the founding fathers were theocrats then they were. If belief dictates that evolution never happened, there is no possible evidence that will ever prove otherwise. Barton's popularity in the circle is due to his fans' overt hostility towards the academic method, a method that can sometimes lead to things one believes to be true being exposed as not true, or more complicated than one originally thought; such complexities are neatly ironed out of the system by the stubborn religious mind. The difference between religious belief and academic knowledge is whether you begin inside one's own head or outside of it. Knowledge exists in the outside world, and is indifferent to whether it ever enters your own skull; a religious belief begins in the mind, and all the rest of the universe is altered, as soon as it is perceived, in whatever ways are necessary to make that belief true. This altering is called faith, and is not merely praiseworthy but the mark of the truly devout. Alter the fabric of reality sufficiently and you, in your own mind, can be considered a saint.

You can see this anti-intellectualism, this open suspicion of anyone who cares too much about the actual facts, in the talking-point praise Barton still receives:

“I’m not in a position to opine on academic disputes between historians, but I can tell you that David Barton is a good man, a courageous leader and a friend,” [Sen. Ted Cruz] told POLITICO. “David’s historical research has helped millions rediscover the founding principles of our nation and the incredible sacrifices that men and women of faith made to bequeath to us the freest and most prosperous nation in the world.”
Translation: He says what we want to hear. Screw you all if the facts say otherwise.

This is why the conservative evangelical movement will always be taken in by hacks and snake oil salesmen and the various pronouncements of the Glenn Beckii; they want to be. In this movement of the compulsively self-centered, a movement that prides itself on cherishing beliefs over evidence not merely in religious matters but in science, in history, in sociology, and in politics, Barton plays the role of the priest, the oil company executive, or the tobacco company lawyer. Whether or not the facts of the case say one thing or another is utterly irrelevant; the demanded assertion is Such-And-Such, and the assertion of Such-And-Such is the beginning and end of the argument. Facts like whether Thomas Jefferson really did say or write or argue for a certain thing is for the eggheads, things to be suppressed or bent or dismissed as needed to get to the desired outcome. As long as the billable hours all work out, all will be well, and the movement's chosen gatekeepers protecting them from all the world's unnecessary truths will continue to thrive.

Originally posted to Hunter on Mon Sep 09, 2013 at 12:43 PM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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