David Barton’s New Thesis: People Who Are on Welfare Don’t Read the Bible

Jun 07 2012 Published by under Featured News, Issues, Republican Party

David Barton seems to have discovered the scientific principle of testing your theories. He has actually developed a thesis and he says he could go a lot of places with it, of which I have no doubt since he regularly goes places he has no business going.

Here, see what you think about Barton’s new thesis:

Wouldn't it be interesting to do a study between those that are on welfare and see how much and how often they read the Bible. You know, if Booker T. Washington is right that Christianity and reading the Bible increases your desires and therefore your ability for hard work; if we take that as an axiom, does that mean that the people who are getting government assistance spend nearly no time in the Bible, therefore have no desire, and therefore no ability for hard work? I could go a lot of places with this. I would love to see this proven out in some kind of sociological study, but it makes perfect sense.

This is a startling thesis. For one thing, it is startling that Barton made it at all rather than simply announcing it is true like he usually does when a stray thought strikes him.

But let’s look at that last comment: “it makes perfect sense.”

He says something that has not been proven – what they call a false premise – and that gets him in immediate trouble: “if Booker T. Washington is right that Christianity and reading the Bible increases your desires and therefore your ability for hard work…”

He hasn’t established that this is true but he is already running ahead of himself and using the assumption that it is true as the basis for a further study, that people who read their Bibles and practice Christianity are less likely to be on welfare. Proving that people on welfare don’t read their Bibles isn’t going to prove Booker T. Washington’s thesis that Christianity and the Bible make you work harder. Those are two entirely different theses.

As it happens, Oxford University published a study in 2010 that examines “beliefs about God's influence in everyday life across levels of socioeconomic status (SES) and whether that association is contingent upon religious involvement (i.e., frequency of praying, attendance, reading religious texts, and subjective religiosity).”

That study concluded that “The findings challenge the view that SES is uniformly associated with lower levels of beliefs about God's engagement and causal relevance. “ In fact, the author of the study looks at “the hypothesis that SES is associated negatively with beliefs about divine involvement and control. That is, individuals with lower levels of SES should tend to report the highest levels of belief in divine involvement and control.”

The problem for Barton is that this study at least shows “individuals with high SES tend to report the lowest levels of belief in divine control.” In other words, in simplistic Bartonian terms it’s the people who are well off who don’t read their Bible.

And not to suggest Barton is being racist or misogynist in his assertion but this study concludes that “women and African-Americans tend to report significantly higher levels of divine control compared with men and Whites.” A disproportionate number of Blacks are on welfare but they tend to be more religious than Whites – isn’t that a problem for Barton as well? Or is he suggesting that God is punishing them because they’re black? Or is it all somehow liberalism’s fault, that liberals are somehow undermining God’s plan?

The study’s author also writes that though his study calls “into question the core tenets of the deprivation–compensation view”, that “In some respects, my findings are inconsistent with central tenets of deprivation theory, which holds that the socioeconomically disadvantaged tend to use religion to cope with the adversities of their lives. There is little doubt that, overall, low SES individuals are more likely to belief in divine involvement and control.”

He also observes that,

Compared with high SES groups, low SES individuals tend to profess higher levels of divine involvement and control even when both groups share similarly low levels of religious involvement. These patterns concur with the claim that low SES groups tend to hold more orthodox beliefs than high SES individuals—regardless of their actual participation in religious activities (Van Roy et al. 1973). That is, high SES individuals are said to “practice” their religion via engagement in religious activities, while low SES practitioners are more likely to “believe” in their religion (Demerath 1961; Fukuyama 1961, Gaede 1977; Stark 1972). These ideas imply that even when low SES individuals exhibit lower levels of religious involvement they will often retain a higher level of “cognitive religiosity.” By extension, it is plausible that low SES individuals will maintain high levels of belief in divine control and involvement apart from other aspects of the religious role.

In other words, some sociological work in this area has already been done and it doesn’t agree with Barton’s thesis that

lack of Christianity + lack of Bible reading = welfare recipient

It is good to come up with theses and to test them – this is the scientific process after all and we don’t want to discourage Barton from actually thinking, but he tends to come up with them and fall in love with them and to sell them without ever really examining them.

He is as poor a student as he is a scholar: he doesn’t do his homework. You can’t just go to the bathroom and have a thought when you sit down on the toilet and rush it to print. It’s just a whole lot more complicated than Barton wants it to be (a frequent problem of his where history is concerned).  

For example, the study also concludes,

Irrespective of social standing, religious activities help to develop, sustain, and reinforce religious-based explanations that all participants—well-educated or not, rich or poor—use to comprehend the world and their place in it.

What Barton needs to do is first prove that Christians work harder than non-Christians, and having done so, then prove that welfare recipients are less likely to be Christians and/or read their Bibles (and we’ve already seen the evidence is against him here). There is plenty of evidence in the way of polls and studies that Barton could already look at without launching yet another study, but he hasn’t even bothered to do this.

It’s pretty clear Barton hasn’t examined all the angles, not that he ever does. It’s more fun to come up with theories that prove the Bible and Christianity are good for you and then sell them neatly packaged in provocative terms like he does here. I have to give Mr. Barton an “F”.

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