David Barton’s bad media day

No TGIF for David Barton last week.

First, the Wall Street Journal published a book review of The Jefferson Lies by Alan Pell Crawford which briefly takes apart the book. Crawford begins by agreeing with Barton that Jefferson’s connection to his slave Sally Hemming’s children has not been established. However, from there on, the review identifies problem after problem with The Jefferson Lies.

One paragraph should get you over to WSJ to read the whole thing:

Jefferson’s religious beliefs are central to Mr. Barton’s thesis, in the service of which straw men are consumed in bonfires. No Jefferson scholar to my knowledge has ever concluded that Jefferson was an “atheist,” as Mr. Barton suggests. That Jefferson might have been what we would think of as a deist or even a Unitarian, as many historians believe, Mr. Barton also disputes. Jefferson was “pro-Christian and pro-Jesus,” he says, although he concedes that the president did have a few qualms about “specific Christian doctrines.” The doctrines Jefferson rejected—the divinity of Christ, the Resurrection, the Trinity—are what place him in the camp of the deists and Unitarians in the first place. It was Jefferson’s difficulty with these doctrines that persuaded his close friends Benjamin Rush and Joseph Priestley that Jefferson’s skepticism went beyond anything even these latitudinarian believers could endorse.

A plug for the upcoming Getting Jefferson Right: We document thoroughly Crawford’s statements in the book with lengthy citations of Jefferson’s letters and other writings.

Then Friday afternoon, CNN’s Eric Marrapodi published an interview with Kirk Cameron about his documentary, Monumental. In it, he refers to Barton’s stretch of the facts concerning the Bibles he shows Cameron in Monumental. Quoting yours truly, Marrapodi brings to light the real story:

In a version of the film made available for screening and in clips posted online, Barton shows Cameron the “Thompson Hot Press Bible,” which Barton said was printed in 1798 and was funded by 12 signers of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, including John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

“They wanted the word of God out to every family,” Barton says in the clip. “If these guys happen to be Christians it makes a lot of sense.”

Barton then picks up a small rare Bible known as the “Aitken Bible.” “The Bible of the Revolution was printed by the Congress of the United States. So Congress printed the first English Language version of the Bible,” Barton said. He goes on to say the Congress said, “This was a neat edition of the Bible for use in our schools.”

Warren Throckmorton, an associate professor of psychology at Grove City College, a private Christian school in Pennsylvania, has criticized Barton’s version of history and Cameron’s films.

About much of the history featured in the film, Throckmorton said, “That’s just not what happened.”

After seeing clips of the documentary, Throckmorton fact-checked some parts.

He said he found that the “Thompson Hot Press Bible” was not funded in total by 12 Founders. Instead, he said, the Bible was funded by a subscription base of 1,200 customers that included 12 Founding Fathers. “The printers funded that Bible, the Founders didn’t fund it. It was a business venture for them.”

Marrapodi goes on to provide the facts regarding the Aitken Bible as well. When confronted by Marrapodi about the errors in Barton’s narrative, Cameron reacts in a manner than surprised me.

Cameron defended Barton’s work. “No one is more guilty of cherry picking evidence than those who bow to the god of political correctness, especially historians,” Cameron said. “Everyone is going to select the information that is important to their thesis. If you’re bent on being politically correct, it’s very easy to fall into that trap.”

Throckmorton noted that he and other critics of Barton’s work hail from Christian colleges and universities.

Two issues here: One, those criticizing Barton from the evangelical world are not doing so out of a concern for political correctness. Correctness is the issue, not political correctness. Two, I am astonished that Cameron would defend selective citation by saying everybody does it. No, everyone does not do it. And certainly someone claiming to call America back to religious values should not condone it.