Missourians who believe in live and let live when it comes to religion ought to know that Todd Akin, the GOP candidate for the Senate, is, theologically speaking, best buds with one David Barton. Barton is the founder of Wallbuilders, an organization that, as Wikipedia puts it, “advocates the view that U.S. constitutional separation of church and state is a myth.” Here’s a video of Akin and Barton discussing the obligation of religious leaders to speak out from the pulpit and lead their flocks on political matters:
This type of effort to shape political policy through the medium of fundamentalist Christian religion is typical of a strain of evangelical fundamentalism called “dominionism,” or Christian reconstructionism, which advocates for the establishment of a Christian theocratic government in the United States that would give religious institutions control over political, social and cultural life. (Sound like any other countries we know about? Perhaps Iran under the Imams or Afghanistan under the Taliban?) According to journalist Frederick Clarkson, under the dominionist/reconstructionist regime:
… society would feature a minimal national government, whose main function would be defense by the armed forces. No social services would be provided outside the church, which would be responsible for ‘health, education, and welfare.’ A radically unfettered capitalism (except in so far as it clashed with Biblical Law) would prevail. Society would return to the gold or silver standard or abolish paper money altogether. The public schools would be abolished. Government functions, including taxes, would be primarily at the county level.
Women would be relegated primarily to the home and home schools, and would be banned from government. Those qualified to vote or hold office would be limited to males from Biblically correct churches.
Take a look at the statements of a certain Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Missouri and tell me Todd Akin (oops!) isn’t toeing the reconstructionist line right down the road – at least to the extent that he can and still manage to get elected.
Barton’s styles himself an historian although he lacks the requisite academic credentials – he has a Bachelor’s degree in Christian Education. His contribution to the reconstructionist movement has been to lend it legitimacy by purporting to show that the Founders intended the United States to be a “Christian Nation” in the reconstructionist sense. His scholarship has been repeatedly debunked in academic venues which, of course, has had little effect on the true believers – such as Todd Akin – who continue to rely on his scholarly veneer to justify their authoritarian goals, as well the more run-of-the-mill, right-wing politicians who find his willingness to give a biblical luster to their corporatist goals exceedingly covenient.
Yesterday, however, NPR’s All Things Considered aired a segment on Barton (worth listening to or reading in its entirety) that might help to shine a light on the pernicious nature of his undertaking and, at the same time, help to expose the squishy intellectual underpinnings of theocrats like Todd Akin. The program “fact-checked” Barton’s most quoted claims and found that they were almost all entirely unfounded. Further, they pointed out that his recent book, The Jefferson Lies, which was on the New York Times Best-Seller list, was withdrawn by its publisher because of the number of factual errors it contained.
All well and good, shining a light on charlatans is always helpful, but considerations of truth and real scholarship aside, it’s unlikely that Barton will see his influence diminished any time soon – he’s too useful to the right-wing. And that’s a bad thing since as John Fea, chairman of the History Department at evangelical Messiah College, and a fellow evangelical, pointed out during the NPR piece, Barton is a “danger because he’s using a skewed version of the past to shape the future.” Fea declared that Barton is:
… in this for activism, […]. He’s in this for policy. He’s in this to make changes to our culture.
And one of the tools reconstructionist activists like Barton will use to change our culture are simple souls like Rep. Akin – if they can keep him in Washington, that is.
Don’t get me wrong – politicians have a right to their religious beliefs, but not at the expense of our religious freedom – real religious freedom, not that self-indulgent, authoritarian crap coming from the Catholic Bishops and the “war on Christmas” fanatics these days, but the type of freedom that does not subject our children to Christian triumphalism in their schools, or the pretense that religious freedom amounts to trampling the rights of liberal Christians and non-Christians. David Barton’s lies aside, real historians agree that the Founders wanted us to have just that type of freedom.