It has been a long and steady trip downhill for David Barton, the self-styled Christian writer who claims to debunk left-wing myths about America. His new book was yanked from shelves after its publisher learned of numerous egregious errors.
It has been a long and steady trip downhill for David Barton, the self-styled Christian writer who claims to debunk left-wing myths about America and was for years the go-to “historian” for the religious far right. An already weak reputation collapsed this August when his new book, The Jefferson Lies, was yanked from shelves after its publisher learned of numerous egregious errors in the text.
And what errors they were.
Barton claimed — in an attempt to show how America should be — that the country was founded as a religious entity, and that its founders never intended to erect a wall of separation between church and state. He argued that Thomas Jefferson and others opposed slavery, despite owning slaves themselves, and fought Britain for that reason. He said the founders had already finished the debate on creationism and evolution, a strange claim when you consider that Charles Darwin, the founder of evolutionary theory, would not publish his findings until more than three quarters of a century after the Declaration of Independence. And that was just the beginning.
Soon after these and other Barton claims were publicized and debunked, viewers of the History News Network voted The Jefferson Lies the “least credible history book in print.” That seemed to prompt even more criticism from the media and real historians. Ten conservative Christian professors denounced Barton’s totally unsupported claims. An NPR story obliterated his assertion that the Constitution quoted the Bible. In the end, his Christian publishing house said it had “lost confidence in the book’s details” — a death knell for any “historian.”
It’s not much of a surprise that Barton seems to know nothing of historiography. He has no academic training in history or any related field — his only degree is in Christian education from Oral Roberts University.
But Barton nonetheless has been an influential man on the right. As The New York Times wrote last year in a profile that noted Barton’s long history of “flawed” and “disputed” historical works, he then had the ear of several GOP presidential candidates. “He is so popular that evangelical pastors travel across states to hear his rapid-fire presentations on how the United States was founded as a Christian nation and is on the road to ruin, thanks to secularists and the Supreme Court, or on the lost political power of the clergy,” the newspaper’s profile said.
This year, Barton also heavily influenced the Republican Party platform — he says that 70 of the 71 positions he proposed as part of the party’s 2012 platform were approved. His allies include former Fox News personality Glenn Beck, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, along with Scott Lively, an ideologue who has blamed gay men for the Nazi Holocaust.