31 July 2010

In the beginning, God created snake-oil and called it good

I've been spending some time today browsing the website of Chris Rodda, a senior researcher for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. Rodda wrote a book a few years ago called "Liars for Jesus" which, while it could encompass any number of things, in this instance focused on the charlatans who sell Christian-nationalist revisionist history to churches and homeschool parents. Playing the John Brinkley to Rodda's Morris Fishbein is a Texan (where else?) named David Barton, who's come into some provenance recently as a "professor" at Glenn Beck's online "university." (The scare quotes are going to be hot and heavy in this post, folks.) A couple observations occurred to me, laid out here in easy to understand bullet points.

1. The strategy of Christian revisionists is basically to scour documents from the early history of the United States, cherry-pick quotes that have an affirmative reference to Christianity, and then declare it as unassailable that the founders really intended, if not for a theocratic government, then some arrangement in which Christianity would be enshrined with special privileges. As Rodda aptly demonstrates time after time, however, these quotes are almost always ripped completely out of context and demonstrate a total lack of understanding of the historical moment. This isn't surprising, though, when you consider that the Christian revisionists read the Founders in exactly the same way conservative evangelicals read scriptures. Memorizing a random assortment of prooftexts, mashing them together and then interpreting them through the lens of contemporary Christianity is the order of the day for folks like Barton. One shouldn't accept their Biblical pronouncements with any more credulity than their analysis of the United States founders. Unfortunately, many mainstream and Nu Atheist commentators do exactly that.

2. The contrast in style between Rodda and Barton is in itself very telling. Barton presents himself as a comic jockey, delivering one big whammer after another each punctuated with a variation of "har har are secularists dumb or what?!" Barton's clearly not trying to win anyone over; just to provide ammunition to the faithful and instill them with a dose of that smug superiority. Rodda combats his snideness with measured, even-tempered coolness. Relating to my post yesterday, if you were to pick a side solely on the basis of which of them you'd spend a lot of time around, there's no doubt about who most would choose. This blustering smart-assed swagger is the same kind of thing you'll get out of Ken Ham and the Creation Museum; it's apparently an involuntary tic produced by the subconscious realization that they are hopelessly grasping at straws.