David Barton: Pluralism not the goal of the First Amendment

Now I know where Bryan Fischer gets at least some of his material.
On an April 11, 2011 archived program, a brief statement is made by Barton which sounds a lot like Bryan Fischer’s argument that Christianity is the only religion covered by the First Amendment.
Monday, April 11, 2011
Unearthing America’s Christian Foundations, part 1
(at about the 12 minute mark, a narrator introduces David Barton)

This is David Barton with another moment from America’s history. Joseph Story is one of the most important names in American jurisprudence. Not only was he placed on the US Supreme Court by President James Madison, he also founded Harvard Law School and authored numerous legal works on the Constitution. While today’s revisionists claim that the goal of the First Amendment was absolute religious pluralism, Joseph Story vehemently disagreed. He declared, “The real object of the First Amendment was not to encourage, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity, but was to exclude all rivalry among Christian denominations.” According to Founder Joseph Story, Christianity, not pluralism, was the goal of the Founding Fathers in the First Amendment for only a Christian nation is tolerant and thus is truly pluralistic.

Barton must have another version of Story’s book because the wording is a little different in his quote than what I found in Google’s archived copy:

The real object of the amendment was, not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects…

Barton’s brief argument is worded somewhat differently that Bryan Fischer’s but the effect is the same. According to Barton, pluralism springs from non-pluralism. I addressed Fischer’s argument here and here. One must go on and read all of what Story has to say about the First Amendment. Furthermore, taken to logical conclusion, this argument would establish Christianity as the religion of the nation, something the Founders specifically did not do.  
David Barton is a favorite of Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich, two potential GOP Presidential candidates. Huckabee gushed recently

I just wish that every single young person in America would be able to be under his tutelage and understand something about who we really are as a nation. I almost wish that there would be a simultaneous telecast and all Americans would be forced, forced at gunpoint no less, to listen to every David Barton message and I think our country would be better for it. I wish it’d happen.

Gingrich has said that if (when) he runs for President, he will call on Barton for help. In light of Barton’s view of the First Amendment, I hope media inquire about Huckabee’s and Gingrich’s view of the First Amendment. Do they believe it only applies to Christians?

More on Thomas Jefferson and Christianity

Monday, I disputed the notion that Thomas Jefferson was an evangelical Christian who hoped to evangelize Native Americans with his edited version of the New Testament. There I provided evidence that Jefferson was not a Christian in the evangelical sense. Here is additional evidence that Jefferson was not the Christian portrayed by David Barton and other revisionists of Jefferson’s beliefs.
First in a April 11, 1823 letter to John Adams, Jefferson wrote:

I can never join Calvin in addressing his god. He was indeed an Atheist, which I can never be; or rather his religion was Daemonism. If ever man worshipped a false god, he did. The being described in his 5. points is not the God whom you and I acknolege and adore, the Creator and benevolent governor of the world; but a daemon of malignant spirit. It would be more pardonable to believe in no god at all, than to blaspheme him by the atrocious attributes of Calvin. Indeed I think that every Christian sect gives a great handle to Atheism by their general dogma that, without a revelation, there would not be sufficient proof of the being of a god. Now one sixth of mankind only are supposed to be Christians: the other five sixths then, who do not believe in the Jewish and Christian revelation, are without a knolege of the existence of a god!

No love for Calvinists there. Then, in the same letter, he wrote regarding the virgin birth:

And the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter. But may we hope that the dawn of reason and freedom of thought in these United States will do away with this artificial scaffolding, and restore to us the primitive and genuine doctrines of this most venerated reformer of human errors.

The virgin birth a fable?
In an April 13, 1820 letter to William Short, Jefferson left no doubt what he thought of the Apostle Paul:

But while this Syllabus is meant to place the character of Jesus in it’s true and high light, as no imposter himself but a great Reformer of the Hebrew code of religion, it is not to be understood that I am with him in all his doctrines. I am a Materialist, he takes the side of spiritualism; he preaches the efficacy of repentance toward forgiveness of sin. I require a counterpoise of good works to redeem it &c. &c. It is the innocence of his character, the purity & sublimity of his moral precepts, the eloquence of his inculcations, the beauty of the apologias in which he conveys them, that I so much admire; sometimes indeed needing indulgence to Eastern hyperbolism. My eulogies too may be founded on a postulate which all may not be ready to grant. Among the sayings & discourses imputed to him by his biographers, I find many passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence: and others again of so much ignorance, so much absurdity, so much untruth, charlatanism, and imposture, as to pronounce it impossible that such contradictions should have proceeded from the same being. I seperate therefore the gold from the dross; restore to him the former & leave the latter to the stupidity of some, and roguery of others of his disciples. Of this band of dupes and impostors, Paul was the great Coryphaeus, and firm corrupter of the doctrines of Jesus. These palpable interpolations and falsifications of his doctrines led me to try to sift them apart. I found the work obvious and easy, and that his part composed the most beautiful morsel of morality which has been given to us by man. The Syllabus is therefore of his doctrines, not all of mine. I read them as I do those of other antient and modern moralists, with a mixture of approbation and disent.

To Jefferson, then, much of the New Testament is falsehoods, made up about Jesus, rendering Him unrecognizable.
Then in another letter to Short, dated October 31, 1819, Jefferson wrote:

But the greatest of all the reformers of the depraved religion of his own country, was Jesus of Nazareth. Abstracting what is really his from the rubbish in which it is buried, easily distinguished by its lustre from the dross of his biographers, and as separable from that as the diamond from the dunghill, we have the outlines of a system of the most sublime morality which has ever fallen from the lips of man; outlines which it is lamentable he did not live to fill up. Epictetus and Epicurus give laws for governing ourselves, Jesus a supplement of the duties and charities we owe to others. The establishment of the innocent and genuine character of this benevolent moralist, and the rescuing it from the imputation of imposture, which has resulted from artificial systems,* invented by ultra-Christian sects, unauthorized by a single word ever uttered by him, is a most desirable object, and one to which Priestley has successfully devoted his labors and learning. It would in time, it is to be hoped, effect a quiet euthanasia of the heresies of bigotry and fanaticism which have so long triumphed over human reason, and so generally and deeply afflicted mankind; but this work is to be begun by winnowing the grain from the chaff of the historians of his life.
* e. g. The immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity, original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy.

Note what Jefferson considered to be “artificial systems.” There is not much left for what evangelicals would consider a Christian. Imagine now if a social conservative GOP candidate called the miraculous aspects of Christianity, “rubbish.” And yet, David Barton and by extension Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich promote this revisionism regarding Jefferson.
There are other quotes I have seen, now having reviewed most of the letters between Jefferson and John Adams. Both men seem to believe there was a creator god which via some intelligence plays a role in the affairs of men, but they, most clearly Jefferson, would not be comfortable religiously at evangelical churches today.
Postscript: Thomas Jefferson was born on today’s date, April 13, 1743.

Was the Jefferson Bible an evangelism tool?

David Barton says it was. Barton is a collector of historical documents who is a favorite of Mike Huckabee and Newt Gingrich. On his website, Wallbuilders, Barton says:

The reader, as do many others, claimed that Jefferson omitted all miraculous events of Jesus from his “Bible.” Rarely do those who make this claim let Jefferson speak for himself. Jefferson’s own words explain that his intent for that book was not for it to be a “Bible,” but rather for it to be a primer for the Indians on the teachings of Christ (which is why Jefferson titled that work, “The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth”). What Jefferson did was to take the “red letter” portions of the New Testament and publish these teachings in order to introduce the Indians to Christian morality. And as President of the United States, Jefferson signed a treaty with the Kaskaskia tribe wherein he provided—at the government’s expense—Christian missionaries to the Indians. In fact, Jefferson himself declared, “I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus.” While many might question this claim, the fact remains that Jefferson called himself a Christian, not a deist.

This section is taken from a prototype of a letter which could be sent to a local newspaper if articles appear which discount the Christianity of the Founders. Barton seeks to portray Jefferson as a Christian, in the evangelical sense. This video clip provides more detail.

As I understand it, Jefferson did indeed favor Christian teaching for Native Americans. However, there is abundant reason to doubt that he wanted them to become Christians in the evangelical sense. If so, his little Reader’s Digest version of the Gospels would have been a poor way to do it. Here is how the Jefferson Bible ends:

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
49 Some of them that stood there, when they heard that, said, This man calleth for Elias.
50 And straightway one of them ran, and took a spunge, and filled it with vinegar, and put it on a reed, and gave him to drink.
51 The rest said, Let be, let us see whether Elias will come to save him.
52 Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.
53 And many women were there beholding afar off, which followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering unto him:
54 Among which was Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joses, and the mother of Zebedee’s children.
55 The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.
56 Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him.
57 But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs:
58 But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water.
59 And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus.
60 And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight.
61 Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury.
62 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid.
63 There laid they Jesus,
64 And rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed.

No Easter morning?! How can you evangelize without the victory dance of the resurrection? Can you imagine how the evangelical world would react if one of today’s GOP candidates produced an edited New Testament missing Easter? I doubt we would have tributes to his Christianity, such as Barton gave in the video above.
The Jefferson Bible is intriguing and can be freely read at Google Books. To explore the claims of Jefferson’s Christianity, please read the introduction which includes letters about the project to Benjamin Rush and Charles Thompson. This snippet makes Jefferson sound very un-evangelical:

3. According to the ordinary fate of those who attempt to enlighten and reform mankind, he [Jesus] fell an early victim to the jealousy and combination of the altar and the throne, at about 33 years of age, his reason having not yet attained the maximum of its energy, nor the course of his preaching, which was but of three years at most, presented occasions for developing a complete system of morals.
4. Hence the doctrines which he really delivered were defective, as a whole, and fragments only of what he did deliver have come to us mutilated, misstated, and often uninintelligible.
5. They have been still more disfigured by the corruptions of schismatizing followers, who have found an interest in sophisticating and perverting the simple doctrines he taught, by engrafting on them the mysticisms of a Grecian Sophist (Plato), frittering them into subtilties and obscuring them with jargon, until they have caused good men to reject the whole in disgust, and to view Jesus himself as an impostor. Notwithstanding these disadvantages, a system of morals is presented to us which, if filled up in the true style and spirit of the rich fragments he left us, would be the most perfect and sublime that has ever been taught by man. The question of his being a member of the Godhead, or in direct communication with it, claimed for him by some of his followers, and denied by others, is foreign to the present view, which is merely an estimate of the intrinsic merits of his doctrines.

Note in point 3, there is no reference to the resurrection of Christ. In point 4, there is contempt by Jefferson for the New Testament record, calling it “mutilated, misstated, and often uninintelligible.” Then in point 5, the sentence in bold above makes it clear that Jefferson did not see Jesus as divine. From his writings and his reduction of the New Testament, it appears that he thought Jesus was an overachiever in the moral sense, an enlightened teacher who provided his students with enduring guidance. In that sense, Jefferson was a Christian, but in today’s political scene, he doubt he would get a warm reception in Iowa.
Jefferson wrote John Adams about his desire to create a compilation of Jesus’ teaching. In it, it seems clear that he was not simply creating a simplified version of the New Testament for Native Americans. Rather, he was teasing out “diamonds in a dunghill.” In the Oct. 12, 1813 letter, Jefferson wrote to Adams:

In extracting the pure principles which he [Jesus] taught, we should have to strip off the artificial vestments in which they have been muffled by priests, who have travestied them into various forms, as instruments of riches and power to themselves. We must dismiss the Platonists and Plotinists, the Stagyrites and Gamalielites, the Eclectics, the Gnostics and Scholastics, their essences and emanations, their logos and demiurgos, aeons and daemons, male and female, with a long train of … or, shall I say at once, of nonsense. We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus, paring off the amphibologisms into which they have been led, by forgetting often, or not understanding, what had fallen from him, by giving their own misconceptions as his dicta, and expressing unintelligibly for others what they had not understood themselves. There will be found remaining the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man. I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter which is evidently his, and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill. The result is an octavo of forty-six pages, of pure and unsophisticated doctrines, such as were professed and acted on by the unlettered Apostles, the Apostolic Fathers, and the Christians of the first century. Their Platonizing successors, indeed, in after times, in order to legitimate the corruptions which they had incorporated into the doctrines of Jesus, found it necessary to disavow the primitive Christians, who had taken their principles from the mouth of Jesus himself, of his Apostles, and the Fathers contemporary with them. They excommunicated their followers as heretics, branding them with the opprobrious name of Ebionites or Beggars.

At the least, Jefferson shows no interest in the canon of the Gospels. Even if he later hoped his efforts would help in making native people more European, his intent as expressed to Adams was to craft a document “for his own use.” Note his belief that the church perverted the teachings of Jesus. He closes his description of his editing work by noting that the Ebionites were excommunicated because they held to the primitive teachings. Not much is known about the Ebionites but apparently they did not hold to the divinity of Jesus and discounted his virgin birth.