Christian History, and Other Oxymorons

The fundamentalists who have appropriated the previously-respectable word “Christian” for their brand of right-wing-politics-plus-sexual-purity-cult claim to respect the Bible. Presumably that includes Lev. 19:11, “Ye shall not steal, neither deal falsely, neither lie one to another.”

Yet pseudo-historian David Barton, whose book on Jefferson was so fraudulent even Thomas Nelson had to withdraw it under pressure from actual professors at fundamentalist schools (and whose professional credentials consist entirely of a B.A. in “Christian Education” from Oral Roberts University), remains a celebrity and a political powerhouse, courted by Presidential candidates.

Barton is helping to lead the charge against the Common Core on the grounds that – wait for it – by not teaching cursive writing, it makes students dependent on scholars to read the founding documents. (No, seriously.)

The symmetry convention in political reporting made a kind of sense when the two major parties were in fact more or less symmetric. But there is simply nothing like David Barton among progressives or Democrats. This is as if Hillary Clinton thought she needed to court David Bellesiles.

The press’s acceptance of the dishonest self-label “Christian” for this bunch of loons has a bad impact on religion as well as on politics. For the first time since the Revolutionary generation, there is now a substantial body of anti-religious opinion. Since, like Franklin, I think that religion can have value in personal and social life more or less independent of the truth-value of its doctrinal claims, this seems to me regrettable.

[Cross-posted at The Reality-based Community]

Mark Kleiman

Mark Kleiman is a professor of public policy at the New York University Marron Institute.