01 October 2010

Peter Marshall Dies - Misinformation Lives


I was not aware, until this morning, that Christian historian Peter Marshall had died recently. We used some of his books when homeschooling our children:

"Christian historian and author Peter Marshall has died after suffering a massive heart attack at a gym in Orleans, Mass., Sept. 8. He was 70. Marshall co-authored three best-selling U.S. history books titled, The Light and the Glory, From Sea to Shining Sea, and Sounding Forth the Trumpet. After graduating from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1965 . . ."

More here

Relevant to Marshall's work is a recent post at Civil War Memory. Kevin Levin quotes the following excerpt from a book by Jill Lepore, *The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle Over American History.

Historical fundamentalism is marked by the belief that a particular and quite narrowly defined past-”the founding”-is ageless and sacred and to be worshipped; that certain historical texts-”the founding documents”-are to be read in the same spirit with which religious fundamentalists read, for instance, the Ten Commandments; that the Founding Fathers were divinely inspired; that the academic study of history (whose standards of evidence and methods of analysis are based on skepticism) is a conspiracy and, furthermore, blasphemy; and that political arguments grounded in appeals to the founding documents, as sacred texts, and to the Founding Fathers, as prophets, are therefore incontrovertible. (p. 16)
Wow. Where does one start? "Historical fundamentalism." That's cute. I've been involved in various aspects of Christian ministry since 1979. I've worked for one national ministry, visited scores of fundamental and evangelical churches, co-produced a documentary which focused on the religious underpinnings of the U.S. Constitution, and written articles on the subject and yet I've never met one person - "religious fundamentalist" - who thought "the founding" is "to be worshipped" or that "the founding documents are to be read in the same spirit . . . [as] the Ten Commandments."

Actually, such notions would be considered sacrilegious by orthodox believers with even the most basic understanding of the Christian faith; since the Ten Commandments expressly forbid believers from having other gods or worshiping anything (or anyone) other than the God of the Bible. One has to wonder if the author is even remotely familiar with the Ten Commandments or understands the sincere reverence most believers have for them. Apparently not.

Furthermore, the notion that "religious fundamentalists", in any significant number, believe "that the academic study of history . . . is . . . blasphemy" is almost as ridiculous. This excerpt is one of the most ridiculous and misinformed statements regarding Christians who recognize the Judeo-Christian traditions of the founders that I've ever read. So typical of much of academia.

Ironic that the same absurd statements coming from an academic historian would, however, make part of that same statement true:

"the academic study of history (whose standards of evidence and methods of analysis are based on skepticism) [sic] is a conspiracy"

There's some truth there - a conspiracy of misinformation.


*I've not read the book. I'm commenting only on the excerpt noted here.

5 comments:

Dick Stanley said...

The excerpt reads like liberal, political sarcasm. Not to be taken seriously except by other atheists.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

I found this comment curious:

"the Founding Fathers were divinely inspired"

Does the author not believe in divinity or not believe in inspiration? Anyone who believes in God or "a god" can believe their inspiration comes from their deity. There is really nothing unusual about that, nor is that notion confined to what this person describes as a "religious fundamentalist."

As a matter of fact, President Obama said in a speech this past Tuesday that "the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me." Is that not a form of inspiration?

The excerpt really is quite an odd commentary. I don't know whether to think it is the result of ignorance or an agenda or a combination of both. Amazing that others can't see the gross error and nonsense in the comment. I can only imagine what the rest of the book is like.

Vince said...

Hi Richard,

From reading a couple preview pages of the book, it seems the author is mostly addressing the Glenn Beck wing of the movement. I'm by no means an expert on Mormonism, but...well, I don't really know how to describe it...here's a picture:
http://www.mcnaughtonart.com/artwork/view_zoom/?artpiece_id=353
I think orthodox Christians would consider this sacrilegious.

Also, I think I agree with you that the term "historical fundamentalism" doesn't fit too well. I'd probably choose "primitivism" or maybe "restorationism" as it's hard to identify a specific ideology with authoritative documents (besides the Constitution). But it is easy to identify a sentiment that all our problems could be solved by asking, "What would the Founding Fathers do?"

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Hello Vince. I'm not sure what you mean by "the Glenn Beck wing of the movement." Beck has repeatedly stated he has no official connection to the Tea Party. He, of course, agrees with much of what they're about - but so do I (as do over 30% of the American populace). The "connection" stops there.

I'm only somewhat familiar with Mormonism - basic tenets and where it differs from orthodox Christianity. As I stated, I was only commenting on the excerpt quoted by Levin. That passage has glaring errors and is filled with misleading information.

"But it is easy to identify a sentiment that all our problems could be solved by asking, "What would the Founding Fathers do?"

I'm a realist. I'm of no illusion that "all our problems" can be solved on this side of eternity. We live in a fallen world full of fallen individuals. I do, however, believe that the constitutional republic envisioned by the Founders has produced one of the best systems for dealing with our problems and promoting liberty which allows the human spirit to create and flourish - American Exceptionalism. The founders, whether consciously or sub-consciously, inserted a number of Biblical principles into the functioning precepts of the U.S. Constitution.

I do believe, however, that *many* of our problems could be solved by asking "What would the Founding Fathers do?." Ironically, that is essentially what the courts are supposed to be doing by interpreting our constitution.

Ghost said...

"...skepticism) is a conspiracy and, furthermore, blasphemy..."

*

Actually, this is the typical reaction of Levin and the assorted left wing-nuts that post on his board to anyone who challenges their version of history. They have their own "historical fundamentalism."