There is so much that could be said about David Barton’s epic appearance on Jon Stewart Wednesday but I will choose here to discuss only his claims that the American government is founded on biblical principles, given the importance of that topic in pressing claims that America should be a Christian nation.
Conservative Christians like Sarah Palin, Mike Huckabee, Michele Bachmann and a myriad of others on the right make this claim, adding no evidence to support it. The reason for this lack of evidence might seem obvious: there is none. But that hasn’t stopped the claim from being made or from being repeated at every opportunity – and believed simply because it is said. Ridiculous, right?
The difference here is that Barton actually did try to offer Stewart evidence to support the claim. For starters he says that there are four references to God in Article VII, which reads,
“The Ratification of the Conventions of nine States, shall be sufficient for the Establishment of this Constitution between the States so ratifying the Same.”
Yeah, not so much. Did he even read the Constitution? It sure didn’t prove to be a prerequisite for “constitutional experts” like Michele Bachmann so we shouldn’t assume too much.
And using the term “Year of the Lord” was just the way they kept dates in those days so don’t point to the date and say, “Christian document!” The simple truth is that the Constitution is not a religious document, and has nothing whatsoever to do with either the Bible generally or Christianity specifically. But you have to give Barton credit for trying. I mean, at least he threw something out there for us to laugh at…or weep over.
Stewart couldn’t pin Barton down with regards to presidential oaths, though Stewart made the required points about the lack of requirement in the Constitution and the acceptability of “affirmations” rather than oaths, in Article II. Obviously, Barton couldn’t touch that one. On the other hand, Stewart did get to a discussion of Barton’s claims that the Bible is the basis for republican forms of government, a claim I have debunked here repeatedly.
Barton again offered specifics, allowing us to fact check his claims. He brought up Exodus 18:21, Jeremiah 17:9 and Isaiah 33:22 as proof. Hold onto your hats!
As evidence for the republican form of government in the Bible, Barton offers us this:
Exodus 18:21 You should also look for able men among all the people, men who fear God, are trustworthy, and hate dishonest gain; set such men over them as officers over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens.
Needless to say, a bureaucratic hierarchy, scrupulously honest or not (a bit of a myth in itself), is not a republican form of government. By this reckoning, every Bronze Age state was a republic, which is patently ridiculous.
As evidence of the separation of powers that is the basis of our form of government, Barton offers us this:
Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is devious above all else; it is perverse — who can understand it?
As evidence for the three branches of government, Barton offers us this:
Isaiah 33:22 For the Lord is our judge, the Lord is our ruler, the Lord is our king; he will save us.
Where, in a monarchy, are there three branches of government? And isn’t a king a ruler and a judge? Sounds to me like an executive with all the power held in his own hands. Moreover, even it is believed where is the evidence that the Founding Fathers drew on Isaiah 33:22? You won’t find it in any of their writings, either public or private. You won’t find it in the Constitution.
It’s impossible to see where Barton gets his conclusions because they are certainly not backed up by these examples. A believer might accept them as evidence but that’s only because a believer will already believe it to be true. If you’re like me, you’re left scratching your head.
Right Wing Watch makes an excellent observation as well, points I have raised here in the past:
Now, if the Bible was the foundation for republican government, where the citizenry and not a monarch occupy the power of government, then what does Barton have to say about all the prominent monarchies in the Bible, like King David and King Solomon?
There are many kings and many high priests in the Bible. There is no republican form of government; there is no democracy. Democracy arose in pagan Greece and to the extent it existed in any early form in pre-Bronze Age communities in the form of assemblies, it did not originate in Israel or Judah. Democracy is not Jewish; not Christian, not biblical, but that’s not an argument Barton wishes to make. Even when the monarchy ceased to exist in Israel the priesthood ruled for God with an iron hand, as his representatives on earth, a rule that Jesus himself preached vehemently against because of their corruption.
Charles Kimball, an ordained Baptist minister, writes in his new book, When Religions Become Lethal (2011),
Ardent believers in each tradition tend to be ahistorical. They neither know much about history nor feel it is important, except to illustrate what is wrong. They long to re-create the “ideal time” that once prevailed, or in many cases, an “ideal” that exists only in theory. They have a carefully constructed moel of God’s perfect plan for society.
The problem, as Kimball says, is that “Theocrats who believe they possess God’s template for a contemporary Islamic, Christian, or Jewish state are wrong.”
Of course, fundamentalists aren’t listening, and they won’t be listening. We are arguing facts but facts don’t matter; only belief matters, and facts don’t inform belief. It seems a lost cause, but we cannot give up; we cannot allow belief to prevail over fact, we cannot allow ignorance or wishful thinking to drive learning from schools.
David Barton is operating in the realm not of learning and knowledge, not of history and fact, but religion and ideology, and when pressed, he could not summon up any facts to support his contentions. To say his biblical references are unconvincing is to understate the case. There is no debate; only a desperate clinging to beliefs unsupported by facts, claims as empty as the claims that today’s Republican and Tea Parties support the Constitution.
Carl Sagan wrote in his book The Demon-Haunted Universe (1996) that “Our species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works.” That is the antithesis of what David Barton wants to offer us, but we deserve that glow of enlightenment, not the shroud of superstition. The world deserves better than David Barton’s demon-haunted America.
See all the Jon Stewart/David Barton video clips here.
Important: See the Barton Report at Right Wing Watch here.