Saturday, November 25, 2006

Liars for Jesus:

That's the title of Chris Rodda's new book. I don't have the book but have read some of its excerpts at the book's website (indeed, much of it is excerpted, including a whole chapter on The Northwest Ordinance. Currently, I am reading Brooke Allen's "Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers," which is a great book, eloquently written and meticulously researched. I do have a few problems with Allen's analysis. Mainly, she lumps the key Founders -- Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, and Hamilton -- in with Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen as "Deists." Unlike David Holmes' book which notes that deism had many varieties and the key founders were more deistic than strict deists, Allen goes so far as to assert that the key Founders believed the same as Paine and Allen. This is a common mistake that secular leftist scholars make, even the very good ones like Allen. I've got a few other issues with her analysis that perhaps I'll mention in a subsequent post.

Allen's book doesn't tend to name the "Christian Nation" figures against whom she argues. Rather she (accurately) takes note of their thesis. And then meticulously researches the historical record -- letting the Founders do the talking -- and shows that they (the key figures) were not pious orthodox Christians seeking to "found" the nation on "Biblical principles," but rather were Enlightenment rationalists, cut from the philosophical elite. And it was their Enlightenment worldwiew which provided most of the ideas for the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution.

As I said, her book is excellently researched and is worth buying for the wealth of quotations and detail of primary sources she unearths.

Chris Rodda's book takes a different approach. She specifically targets the "Christian Nation" crowd by name. It's mainly David Barton, William Federer, D. James Kennedy, and Tim Lahaye (who, many folks don't know, wrote a really bad book on The Faith of the Founding Fathers). Her book specially examines what they have written and (again from what I have seen on her site) refutes it in detail. (Similar to what I do on my blogs).

Given that the title of her book is "Liars for Jesus," it has the tone of a polemical attack and at times seems unduly harsh. But given the abysmal level of scholarship that has come from the above mentioned "Christian Nation" figures, her attacks are duly harsh.

As I have noted before, there are plenty of serious scholars who question modern Supreme Court Establishment Clause jurisprudence and the ACLU's ideal interpretation of it -- Philip Hamburger, Daniel Dreisbach, Phillip Muñoz, James H. Hutson, Mark Noll, to name a few. At times, going after Barton, Kennedy and Federer may seem like knocking down straw-men when there are serious arguments on the matter to be engaged. But, as long as millions of people believe their twaddle (and they do) scholars like Chris Rodda (and myself) have a legitimate job to do.


Leo said...

I'm really just beginning to study this subject so I'll keep an eyes for these books you speak of at the library. I believe that the Puritans and other early settlers sought to build a Christian Nation but by the mid to late 1700's their descendants were enlightenment era non-orthodox Christians and Orthodox Christians (no idea on percentages). I think Barton and others of his ilk (with whom I have some marginal agreement)are interpreting some of the Founders according to their predilections, as so many of us tend to do so as to find support for our conceptions and world views.

Jonathan said...

Thanks. If I may make another suggestion. I plan on reading this book over the Christmas break -- The Search for Christian America -- by Mark A. Noll, Nathan O. Hatch, George M. Marsden. These are three of the most distinguished evangelical scholars. And they take, as I understand, a very nuanced middle ground position between the secular left's and religious right's understanding of history.

Gregg Frazer's (another conservative evangelical) Ph.D. thesis, which has greatly influenced my views, relies on their work as a source.

This stuff is much more reliable than Barton's.

Leo said...

Thanks, I placed an order for the Noll, Marsden, and Hatch book this morning. This will work well as I have been meaning to read a book by Mark Noll for quite a while. If I remember correctly did not Noll succeed Marsden at Notre Dame?

I'll take a look at Gregg Frazer, too.

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