July 12, 2011

Liars for Jesus: Exposing David Barton and Other Revisionists

Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternate Version of American History Vol. 1Even though we may not agree on how best to improve the quality of public education, I suspect that most atheists would agree that reality-based education is preferable to that based on myth, superstition, or political ideology. One of the biggest challenges we face in this regard is the revisionist history being pushed by Christian extremists and right-wing politicians to support the outlandish claim that America was designed to be a Christian theocracy. I believe that it is vital for us to inform ourselves about the nature of this revisionist history and the truth it hides. Fortunately, there are resources like Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternate Version of American History to assist us.

In Liars for Jesus, Chris Rodda tackles many of the most popular revisionist myths concerning early American history. Drawing on an exhaustive collection of original source material, Rodda demonstrates how authors like David Barton and D. James Kennedy operate. By quoting at length from the books written by these men and others with their agenda and then comparing what they have written with the source material, Rodda shows that there is far more than sloppy scholarship at work here. Again and again, outright lies are exposed. Quotes are taken out of context, intentionally altered, or in some cases, made up. In case after case, the revisionist historians do not even look at the source material, citing each other instead.

Admittedly, Liars is a dense book that will require considerable time to read. I cannot say I enjoyed reading it, but it is precisely the kind of resource I would want if I was ever to argue with a Christian extremist about church-state separation. I can imagine atheists interested in early American history and the separation of church and state wanting this as a reference guide. Rodda does an expert job shredding revisionist claims and uncovering their source.

As an academic, learning about Barton and others like him makes my blood boil because I recognize what they are doing as the worst sort of offense in academia. It is beyond careless; it is blatant deception and propaganda. It is great to see Rodda's painstaking work to reveal it for what it is. These men are thoroughly discredited in the pages of this book to the point where anyone with a fondness for reality should demand their expulsion from any sort of credible organization.

As an American atheist, I am glad to have a book like Rodda's even as I desperately wish it was not necessary. We have politicians like Huckabee and Bachmann out there praising Barton and treating his work as if it was based in reality. What Rodda has done with this book is set the record straight and help any of us fight lies with actual history.

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