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.
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