Fundamentalism, David Barton, and the Alternative Narrative

It is time to wake up to this

I have always been leery of people who claim divine justification for their worldview, and even more leery of those who claim divine justification for their politics. 

I was brought up and confirmed in the United Methodist Church in the 1950s and 60s. In this religious upbringing, looking back, there was a glaring absence of historical context. Early on I wanted to understand how the Bible came to be written, how the books were assembled, and the historical context. At the same time as my mother was reading Egermeier’s Bible Stories to me before I walked to school in the third grade I was reading “All About Prehistoric Cave Men” and “All About Dinosaurs” in a series of books my parents had purchased. Eventually, the cognitive dissonance between Biblical stories and the broader view of history was deafening. I found that the only way I could understand, for example, the Creation stories of Genesis (there are two) was to consider them as allegorical, two narratives constructed, told, and passed down by one group of humans in a relatively isolated culture who were trying to make sense of how they had come to be.

I grew up naively imagining that everyone else was taking the same courses and reading the same books as I was, courses in comparative religion, genetics, biology, and geology; books like “The Origin of the Species” and “The Voyage of the Beagle”; and magazines and documentaries produced by, for example, National Geographic. I was (and am) fascinated by history, the history of science, the scientific method, and the general concept that knowledge expands and evolves.

Meanwhile, I was aware of parallel currents of people who profess that all the words written in their particular Bible are to be taken literally, not allegorically—a religious conviction with political and societal consequences for everyone when people with these Fundamentalist convictions rise to positions in government. Fundamentalism broadly overlaps with self-described, modern-day Evangelicalism—even while many Evangelicals consider “Fundamentalist” a pejorative term.

For example, U.S. Representative McMorris Rodgers (R-CD5, Eastern Washington) was educated in Christian Fundamentalist institutions. She is a professed young-earth creationist: “The account that I believe is the one in the Bible that God created the world in seven days.” 

It has recently and ominously become clear to me that modern-day Evangelicals have been painstakingly constructing an alternative narrative to support their narrow worldview. The beginning of my awareness was a statement made by the wife of a former high school classmate, himself an Evangelical pastor, who declared to me that “Wikipedia is not a reliable source.” I have since learned that she may have been thinking of, established as a fundamentalist wikipedia alternative in 2006 by Andrew Schlafly (a homeschool advocate and son of paleo-conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly), to be a better source. Conservapedia is worth a visit, if only to marvel at the religious bias of this pale alternative. I recommend the entry on Dinosaurs as a cardinal example of fundamentalist, geologic-time-denying, doubt-sewing that characterizes Schlafly’s alternative wiki. One would certainly not want one’s homeschoolers to understand that the age of the earth were a settled scientific question. That would not leave room for a 6000 year old “young earth”, a tenet of faith among many Evangelicals. (Check out the Wikipedia article on Conservapedia for more orientation.)

It is funny how once one has heard a name, that name seems to pop up again and again. Such is the case with the pseudo-historian David Barton, a man who has dedicated his life to popularizing among Evangelicals (and anyone else who would come to his lectures or buy his books) that the United States was founded as an exclusively Christian nation. I first heard the name David Barton when his “Founders Bible” was quoted in a guest opinion in the Spokesman written by Rob Linebarger (discussion just below the first green-lined paragraph quote at that link). Rob Linebarger is no less that the chair of the Spokane County GOP Candidates Committee—the guy whose committee is in charge of vetting Republican candidates. 

David Barton’s name next popped up in coverage of the new Speaker of the House, Mike Johnson:

Johnson follows the “teachings” of Christian evangelist activist David Barton of Texas, who has been arguing for the past four decades that the so-called “separation” clause in the First Amendment is a myth and that the founders wanted this country to be run as a Christian nation, a Christian Theocracy. Though discredited by most constitutional historians and scholars, Barton’s historical revisionism has been influential in the views of many far-right Christian nationalists, including Mike Johnson.

Speaking recently at an event hosted by Barton’s nonprofit, WallBuilders [link], Johnson praised Barton and his “profound influence on me, and my work, and my life and everything I do.” Prior to his election for public office, Johnson worked for the Alliance Defending Freedom — an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group that has acted to implant more Christianity into public schools and government, one of Barton’s movement’s primary goals.  

Who knew? It turns out that David Barton and his pseudo-history are influential among many prominent Republicans of apparently like mind, including Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Newt Gingrich.

David Barton has been a squeaky wheel and major self-promoter for years. Here’s a chilling quote from an excellent article worth your reading. It appeared on NPR in 2012 entitled The Most Influential Evangelist You’ve Never Heard Of:

Nowhere is that more visible than in the Texas textbook controversy. In 2010, the Texas Board of Education voted to rewrite the history textbooks to make them more conservative and Christian-friendly. One of the advisers was David Barton.

Now that I’m a little familiar with the name David Barton it is starting to take on the ubiquity of a Forrest Gump. I encourage you to click on and explore some or all of the links in this post in order to expand your understanding of where, increasingly, Republicans are coming from—and why you should notice. 

Keep to the high ground,