03 September 2012

David Barton, Howard Zinn, Creation, Bill Nye, & PBS

As many readers may already know, David Barton has come under increasing criticism for his most recent book, The Jefferson Lies. I've not read the book, but it would appear much of the criticism is warranted. I've never believed that Jefferson was, at any time in his life, an orthodox Christian. That being said, I've been somewhat of a fan of Barton for a number of years. Despite what his critics may say, some of his work has been worthwhile and he has renewed a national awareness of America's Christian foundations. I've also had strong disagreements with him, particularly how he views the WBTS and Lincoln. Several years ago, I had several lively email exchanges with members of his staff over those disagreements.

I've also defended Barton on this blog several times (not related to the Jefferson book). My defenses were more about the hypocrites attacking him for his work as a historian (and the agenda) when they themselves are every bit as guilty of similar things - the pot calling the kettle black as it were. We're seeing more of that now, though Barton's are more obvious and he's a much bigger target with much more influence than some Podunk blogger (including yours truly).

As I've already noted, I've not read Barton's latest book. I do know this - if Barton's book is an attempt to make Jefferson into an orthodox, Bible-believing Christian, he will lose some credibility with me. As already stated, while I believe many of the Founders were orthodox Christians, I've never believed Jefferson to be among that number. Others, most definitely including: George Washington, Patrick Henry, John Jay, and many others as well.

Relative to all this, I recently read Kevin Levin's post on this topic and agree with some of what's said there, as well as the comments, though the emotional dislike for Barton is also quite palpable in much of the commentary. And on another Barton-bashing blog, the host even proclaimed "Barton Goes Down!" and how he was smiling from ear to ear as he typed the post. You think some folks don't have anti-Barton emotion involved in all this? But one comment jumped out at me on Levin's blog regarding the double-standard of some of Barton's critics. Professor Ken Noe pointed out that there were some folks in his local PBS affiliate whose jobs were in jeopardy for refusing to air Barton's videos, etc. Given some of the controversy surrounding Barton, I can understand why PBS would not want to be seen as endorsing any of his works.

But here's my problem. PBS has no problem with Howard Zinn - a Marxist historian who is well known to have published distorted, agenda-driven history (see here and here for example). Did any of the PBS execs have trouble over Zinn? No, of course not. Why not? Didn't Zinn also push an agenda and one distorted with his version of the truth? Yes - but the difference is that Zinn's philosophical worldview is compatible with that of the PBS folks - and many in academia. They're much more forgiving of someone like Zinn because they're ideological soul-mates - not so with folks like Barton. Since a sizable chunk of PBS funding comes from the federal government, much of this makes sense. Can't be biting the hand that feeds you, now can you? Of course, the same is true with much of academia. We can see how the puzzle pieces fit rather nicely, don't we?

Much (not all) of what is going on with Barton is the ongoing struggle about perspectives and approaches to the study of American history, i.e worldviews. Many bloggers love to point out the David Bartons on the right while ignoring the Howard Zinns on the left.

Many (again, not all) of Barton's critics hail from the Eric Foner/Howard Zinn school of worldviews. Now that the dust has settled a bit, perhaps some folks can step back and take a less emotionally invested view of Barton's side of things. Here's a couple of links on Glenn Beck's The Blaze where Barton responds to his critics - 1 and 2.

And, on the heels of this controversey, comes another clash of worldviews regarding PBS, one of the mouth organs for the Ruling Class Elites.

Bill Nye the "science" guy on PBS recently opined that teaching creationism to children was wrong:

"I say to the grownups, if you want to deny evolution and live in your world, that's completely inconsistent with the world we observe, that's fine. But don't make your kids do it." 
No, of course not - don't pass your Christian faith onto your children. That makes it very difficult to get them to conform to our worldview and plans for society. Reminds me of the "homeschooling is child abuse" post.

But a Gallup Poll noted on a CNN article about Creation pointed out the following:

The Gallup Poll has been tracking Americans' views on creation and evolution for the past 30 years.  In June it released its latest findings, which showed 46% of Americans believed in creationism, 32% believed in evolution guided by God, and 15% believed in atheistic evolution. During the 30 years Gallup has conducted the survey, creationism has remained far and away the most popular answer, with 40% to 47% of Americans surveyed saying they believed that God created humans in their present form at one point within the past 10,000 years.
Once again, since PBS is a mouth organ for a "progressive" society, teaching what roughly half of Americans disagree with is perfectly acceptable. I once tried in vain to get a professionally produced Creation documentary aired on our local PBS affiliate. No dice. These folks aren't interested in "balance" or real debate - they want to push their agenda, so promoting Howard Zinn's worldview is ok, promoting David Barton's is not. Promoting the "theory" of evolution is ok, airing the other side of the argument is not. Outlawing dissenters is ok, suing College Professors is not.

Here's one response to Nye:

And here's another by a scientist who holds a Ph.D. in biology from Brown University and by another who holds a Ph.D. in molecular genetics from Ohio State University:

What's going on here with PBS and academia, both with the Barton controversy and Bill Nye is obvious; at least to those who want the truth.


MosbyOfTheUniversity said...

Richard - you are absolutely correct about the atrocious double standards that are applied to people like Barton and their counterparts on the left. They give their own a pass on the very same things they use to excoriate Barton, or anyone else from the "right."

My only criticism here is that we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard than the left, or else we're practically inviting this sort of thing. A friend of mine first recommended Barton to me way back in the early 90s through his Wallbuilders VHS tapes and while I was initially intrigued - even enthused at his purported message - I began scratching beneath the surface and found something very ugly - a hackish, politically driven "historian" who frequently abused his evidence and overstated his case. Like yourself, my initial tipoff came from how he treated Lincoln, the war, and especially Reconstruction. But it spills through to his American founding stuff as well, as the latest Jefferson book illustrates (side note: a couple of conservative history professors at Grove City College have written a devastating factual critique of this book from the right).

It dawned on me about the second or third time I met the guy in person, along with his downright slimy assistant - a former Texas politician named Rick Green who apparently lost reelection amid a scandal about his use of his state office to film infomercials. Barton pitched a slick message, but (1) that message was often dangerously distorted and wrong, and (2) he was writing "history" not out of any desire to discover the truth, but because he became extremely wealthy selling his snake oil. I challenged him in person many times about his interpretation of particular events and he could never give more than a soundbyte answer, and when pressed on detail it was always "buy such-and-such book and it will explain it," which he was all to eager to sell you right then and there.

I'm not at all hostile to the notion of Christian roots in American history. But Barton is a false prophet of this message, and one we should have jettisoned long ago - not because the left hates him, but because we must hold ourselves to a higher standard than them.

Richard G. Williams, Jr. said...

Your criticisms are duly noted, but my overall opinion of Barton stands as expressed here. Regarding the Grove City boys, you might want to dig a little deeper into one of the author's history with Barton. There's more there than the Jefferson controversy.