A Philosopher's Blog

David Barton

Posted in Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on May 13, 2011
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If I were the envious sort, I would probably be a bit envious of David Barton. After all, I have worked reasonably hard as a serious academic and have never been featured in the New York Times, the Daily Show, or Mother Jones. However, I will endeavor to keep this non-existent envy from impacting my assessment of his work.

Barton’s main theme is that America is actually a Christian nation. While he has made the “big news” only fairly recently, he has been advancing these thesis for about twenty years.  It was not, however, until he was blessed by Gingrich, Bachmann and Huckabee that he achieved national fame. He has, as noted above, been rewarded for his efforts with considerable attention.

Academic historians (that is, professionals) have been extremely critical of his scholarship. Critics also point out that he has no academic credentials and is not a trained historian. While this does raise questions about his expertise, it is not decisive proof against him. After all, there are other paths to expertise other than the academy. As such, I am not inclined to dismiss his claims on that basis. To do so would, in fact, be to fall into a logical error. However, to be suspicious of his claims in the field  because of his lack of credentials in the field would be quite reasonable. These concerns would, of course, be settled by considering factors beyond his qualifications.

When pressed about his credentials, Barton essential makes an appeal to the originals. To be specific, he seems to be claiming that his substantial collection of first edition works of the founders provides him with a special understanding of American history that academic historians lack.

While it is tempting to dismiss his reply as a silly “I don’t have a doctorate, but I have a lot of documents”, his reply is actually worth considering. As Hume (who was a historian as well as a philosopher) noted, a key part of  empirical history involves tracing things back to the originals. If Barton’s historical documents do, in fact, contain information that is relevant to re-assessing theories about American history, then they would certainly be well worth considering. After all, this sort of thing is a legitimate method in academic history and has, in fact, been done when original documents and other evidence has been unearthed to change the received view. As such, the basic method of taking into account original documents is a legitimate method.

However, Barton goes beyond simply using original documents as a basis for historical research. He also claims that the meaning of the texts is somehow self-contained and no additional context is required for their interpretation. As such, he is highly critical of academics who do not cite the primary sources but instead make use of other sources. He also holds that the original text somehow has a plain meaning that is distorted by academic scholars.

One of the main problems with his view is that the original texts generally do not have a plain meaning that is the only obvious and plausible interpretation. While I am not an historian, I have read a significant number of original texts from the founders, primarily their political (and philosophical) writings. I have also studied original texts in my area of professional expertise, namely philosophy.

My experience has been that the original texts that are substantial in nature generally do not have a plain meaning. Rather, the texts can be interpreted in various plausible ways. This is hardly shocking, given that language is an imperfect medium for conveying the ideas of imperfect beings. However, there is no need to take my word for it. Get copies of some of the founder’s substantial documents (like the Constitution) and gather around you a diverse group of people. Then have everyone try to find the plain meaning of the document.

It is also well worth considering that the founders did not put forth a monolithic view. If you return to the original documents, you will find that they contain considerably disagreement on key points. As such, even if one could find what the founders really meant, one would find many things.

Why, then, does Barton hold to the view that there is a plain meaning that he can see and that others distort? One obvious explanation is that people naturally take their view to be the plain view. Any view that differs must then be a distortion of the correct view. This outlook is maintained and fed by accepting only evidence that supports one’s interpretation and rejecting (or re-interpreting) any evidence to the contrary.

However, as with religion, what seems plain and obvious to one person is regarded as a distortion by another. Being critical about history requires being able to take into account the fact that everyone see’s history through their own distorting lenses. While these lenses cannot be eliminated, it is possible to correct for their distortion. However, Barton’s view seems to be based on the assumption  that he sees plainly while everyone else is viewing through distorted lenses. How wonderful it must be to be unique in this manner.

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56 Responses

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  1. Nick said, on May 13, 2011 at 9:21 am

    So let’s say that we mix Barton’s view into the mix of others (as no more authoritative than the others). We are still faced with the problem of deciphering the right story out of the potluck of stories brought by the various people with their unique “lens.” As you mention, one cannot, in logically good conscience, dismiss Barton’s story on grounds of the quality of nature of his training or education, and we should be quasi-weary of anyone’s inferences about history, whether from original texts or others — I do not disagree with any of this by the way, just regurgitating.

    If this is true, as I take you to say it is, then history and historical claims are up for grabs. Anyone can (or must?) infer whatever they like (probably what is useful or supportive of their pre-conceived commitments and ideals).

    Also, if this is true, no one has the vantage point from which to decipher a true story. The best we can do is ‘try-really-hard-to-be-objective’ — again, I do not disagreeing, just laying the groundwork.

    All this being the case, can one deny that what Barton has done is exactly what everyone else is expected to do and landed on his current thesis?

    If not, then should his thesis be any more open to criticism than others?

    If “no” to both, then my apologies for wasting comment space.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 13, 2011 at 11:10 am

      Nick,

      I think that, in a way, Barton is doing something useful. After all, he is presenting a challenge to established historians and getting history into the mainstream news. Of course, it is a commentary on the media folks (and the audience) that solid scholarship does not draw much attention.

      I do think it can be very valuable for “amateurs” to be involved in academic pursuits. They can bring a new perspective and help popularize what is often locked away in the ivory towers. I wouldn’t say that history is “up for grabs”, because that seems to imply that there is no better or worse approach to history. However, I do accept that history is “up for grabs” in the sense that no view should be treated as the “one true view” that is exempt from challenge. One recurring problem in academics is that views get enshrined and go unchallenged (sometimes for centuries). For example, Scholasticism dominated Western philosophy for centuries until people like Descartes, Hobbes, and Locke challenged the dogma.

      In the case of Barton, my main concern (which is not original to me) is that he is not really trying very hard to be objective. Rather, the evidence seems to be that he selectively reads/picks/interprets the texts so that what he “finds” supports his view. As such, he seems to be less of an historian and more of someone who is trying to prove that what he thinks is what the Founders thought (and hence that he is right).

      In fairness to Barton (and as you point out), what he is doing is not something unknown among professionals. As such, he should be subject to no more (and no less) criticism than others who do the same.

      • Nick said, on May 15, 2011 at 8:05 am

        Thanks for such a charitable reply. I should have mentioned that awareness of Barton is nil. I was curious more about the subjectivity in historical reconstruction than Barton — so thanks for the education.

  2. T. J. Babson said, on May 13, 2011 at 11:15 am

    “After all, I have worked reasonably hard as a serious academic and have never been featured in the New York Times, the Daily Show, or Mother Jones.”

    I’m curious about the order: NYT, TDS, and MJ–are we supposed to regard MJ as the pinnacle of success for a “serious academic”?

    This reminds me of a sign I once saw on a piece of equipment: “…improper use can cause serious injury, death, or property damage…”

  3. FRE said, on May 13, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    Mr. Barton’s view could easily be disproved by quotations from Thomas Jefferson who was strongly in favor of maintaining strict separation between church and state. I don’t understand why he was not quoted in the blog. Doing so would have greatly buttressed the position taken by the blog.

    Also, there is considerable evidence to support the viewpoint that the entanglement of church and state works to the detriment of both. In Europe, which has a history of entanglement between church and state, church attendance and membership are far lower than in the U.S., which has a history of separation of church and state. During the last decade or so, there has been a considerable drop in church attendance here in the U.S. That may because certain Christians have been pushing to enact religious views into law.

    • T. J. Babson said, on May 13, 2011 at 2:57 pm

      Actually, separation of church and state is a very Christian idea so there is no contradiction between that and the US being a Christian nation.

      • FRE said, on May 13, 2011 at 3:36 pm

        You’re correct. Jesus said, “Therefore render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s”, or something like that. Taken in context, probably the correct interpretation is that the two are separate. Even so, some good quotations form Jefferson would make the blog stronger.

        Establishmentarians should be made aware of both facts.

      • Asur said, on May 13, 2011 at 5:48 pm

        What does it mean for the US to be a Christian nation, then? Do you mean that the majority of US citizens self-identify as Christian? That our strongest cultural influence is Christian?

        Is it like English, where despite the US having no official language, usage supports that we are a predominately English nation?

        I don’t disagree that we’re a Christian nation, but I’m not sure what makes us one, exactly. It’s easy enough to see the influence on our views of marriage and homosexuality, the pledge of allegiance, the Great Seal of the United States, the sayings adorning our currency — is that what we mean?

        • FRE said, on May 13, 2011 at 6:44 pm

          I suppose that in a sense, because the majority of U.S. citizens are either Christians or come from a Christian background, we are a Christian nation. However, I would oppose formally defining it as such because that would tend to make second-class citizens of non-Christians.

          • Asur said, on May 13, 2011 at 8:57 pm

            I agree that no normative claim should follow from being a Christian nation — it’s interesting to me just in an anthropological sense.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 14, 2011 at 11:32 am

          Depends on who you ask. As you note, if we take it to mean that America has a strong Christian element in its history, laws and culture, then this is obviously true. If, however, it is taken to mean that American values are coextensive with those of fundamentalist Christianity, then this would be clearly false. :)

  4. themadjewess said, on May 13, 2011 at 11:59 pm

    I find ‘philosophy’ like this funny, considering all of the churches all over America.
    (Eyeroll)

    America is SO OBVIOUSLY a Christian nation. Christians now, who are psycho- persecuted by far left wingers and atheist “Jews” cannot even worship freely without “Chrislam” now invading into their doctrine, as well as left wing and even atheist Jews DEMANDING that they call it a “JUDEO-Christian” nation.

    Anyone can look at the quotes of the founders at the national archives in person to see that this was once a holy nation that revered God, yet gave people that were not Christian a chance to be free FROM religion, which is what man-made doctrine is.

    Even a Jew with a clue can see that this nation was represented by principles of the New Testament where freedom and liberty is the epi-center.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 14, 2011 at 11:36 am

      The fact that there are many churches does show that Christianity is popular. However, there are also plenty of non-Christian religious buildings as well. Also, it has yet to be clearly established what is meant by “Christian nation.”

      It is odd that you present the view that there are churches all over America and then claim that Christians are persecuted. Are Christians a persecuted majority in their own Christian nation? While not logically impossible, this seems like an odd mix.

      True, the founders did make reference to God. I would not call us a holy nation, though. The requirements for being holy are pretty high.

      • frk said, on May 14, 2011 at 10:15 pm

        There are plenty of bars and other establishments that serve alcoholic beverages in this country, too. In fact, I don’t recall any community I’ve lived in, large or small, where churches have outnumbered beer joints, liquor stores, and restaurants and stores that have licenses to serve/sell alcohol.

      • magus71 said, on May 22, 2011 at 1:46 am

        Compare our holiness to other places. Go on a trip to almost anywhere else; it’ll open your eyes. The average villager in Afghanistan is a better liar and thief than the most street-wise criminal that I ever dealt with as a cop in the states.

  5. FRE said, on May 14, 2011 at 12:54 am

    I am a Christian.

    Christians in the U.S. who actually believe that they are being persecuted by non-Christians are paranoid.

    • themadjewess said, on May 14, 2011 at 10:45 am

      FRE:
      Persecution does not begin with physical beatings, it begins psychologically.
      I believe you do not want to face what is happening.
      On college campuses, Christians and conservatives cannot have a say, they are not allowed to pray (even though it is their right here in the USA) Non-Christian Muslims are allowed to , though.
      At the White house on the holidays, for ie. The Jewish Menorah is placed there, but a Nativity is not allowed.
      You are seriously deluded, either that, or you just dont WANT to see what is going on.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 14, 2011 at 11:45 am

        Christians can pray on campus-there are no rules I am aware of at any public school that bans voluntary prayer. Christians are active on many campuses as well. Conservatives are also not banned nor are conservative views. The idea that Christians and conservatives are somehow banned or limited on public campuses is simply untrue. For example, right before finals week there was a Christian anti-abortion group on campus conducting an event. It was right outside my office and during the 5 hours I was there, no one tried to silence them. True, there are some intolerant folks in the academy and they do make the news. But most campuses are rather tolerant of a diverse range of views. In any case, I would be opposed to any attempt to silence Christians or conservatives on my campus.

        • frk said, on May 14, 2011 at 10:21 pm

          On many campuses negative reactions to beer parties are more common than negative reactions to protests or politically motivated speakers or religious observances.

        • FRE said, on May 14, 2011 at 10:26 pm

          Exactly right; no one has attempted to prevent individuals from praying quietly at their desks. And if parents really think that group prayer is important, they can pray at home with their children before they leave for school. It seems to be that they are simply trying to force their beliefs onto others, and I strongly object to that.

          When I was a preppy, I attended a boarding school that was loosely associated with a particular Christian denomination. Although I am a Christian, I did not approve of some of the prayers. I wonder how some parents would react if a classroom teacher led the class in the “hail Mary” or in some Buddhist prayer.

          Some “Christians” insist that God has been removed from schools. Apparently they do not understand the nature of God; God is not an idol that can be moved around at will and removed from schools.

          • frk said, on May 14, 2011 at 10:41 pm

            “God is not an idol that can be moved around at will and removed from schools.”
            Absolutely. “God is a concept by which we measure our pain.”

            If the pubilc’s perception of our public school system is accurate, God must be ‘quite’ busy in most classrooms every day of the school year. Thus, the two/three month break around June, July, and August. God needs a nap.

    • themadjewess said, on May 14, 2011 at 10:54 am

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b1Lo7qL6cts is just a SMALL example of what is happening here.
      You need to WAKE UP, Fre.
      You may be next. Who knows…
      First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out —
      Because I was not a Socialist.

      Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out —
      Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

      Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
      Because I was not a Jew.

      Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

      • Nick said, on May 14, 2011 at 11:00 am

        TheMadJewess: are you afraid of not being allowed to preach in public or in something more serious like being physically and violently presecuted?

        • themadjewess said, on May 15, 2011 at 5:53 pm

          Nick, I did have a little come to Jesus moment at 20 years old, made the huge mistake of sharing my newfound faith with my Grandmother, who slammed the bedroom door in my face, so YEAH!!!!!
          I dont like PAIN!

          • Nick said, on May 16, 2011 at 9:12 am

            I mean you no disrespect or harm, but if that is persecution, I am not too worried about that. I was thinking you knew of certain religious people who were beaten or deprived of equal opportunity in the work place or marketplace.

            Personally — and I have mentioned before that I am sympathetic to religious people — I find public preaching to be a disturbance of the peace (and usually rooted in problematic theology). If a friend would like to speak to me about something that they feel is important, than I welcome them asking me. If they decide to deliver their message loudly (e.g. megaphone) to me without asking or receiving my consent, then I have no pity when they are arrested or asked to leave.

            And I am sorry to hear that your Grandmother responded the way she did; I would not be surprised if she, like many, feel wronged by institutions or people who represent the church.

            • FRE said, on May 16, 2011 at 3:05 pm

              “Personally — and I have mentioned before that I am sympathetic to religious people — I find public preaching to be a disturbance of the peace…”

              I am reminded of what often happens in Fiji, where I lived from 1994 to 2004.

              Sometimes a church will set up an extra high-powered public address system and a preacher will shout into the microphone. Every single word can be heard for miles. This is sometimes done in the early morning when many people are still sleeping. Complaints fall on deaf ears. People even have letters published in the newspaper, complaining about the disturbance.

              Some fundamentalist churches there have services which last until the early hours of the morning. The loud shouting and loud shining create a neighborhood disturbance and, again, complaints fall on dear ears.

              What these disturbers somehow fail to realize is that their annoying and aggressive behavior causes people to develop a very negative attitude towards christianity. It’s very puzzling that they can be so blind that they do not realize that.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 14, 2011 at 11:48 am

        I would agree that some folks on the right are coming for unions, teachers, public workers and the like. However, conservative and Christians do not seem to be special targets. In fact, the folks targeting the unions and so on seem to profess conservative and Christian values.

        • themadjewess said, on May 15, 2011 at 5:52 pm

          I would agree that some folks on the right are coming for unions, teachers, public workers and the like.
          Yeah, because we cant AFFORD them anymore..BUT, Mike :D You can ALWAYS open YOUR wallet and spread that wealth honey ;)

      • FRE said, on May 14, 2011 at 2:39 pm

        @ themadjewess,

        I have been, for decades, familiar with what you have quoted. Here is a link to the source of your quotation:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_they_came…

        The real problem now is with fundamentalist “Christians” who are doing everything possible to attempt to force their beliefs onto others. They are even attempting to rewrite history books to make it appear that our nation was intended by the Founding Parents to be a Christian nation. They are trying to have creation “science” included in school science courses; if they wanted comparative religion courses in schools to include creation “science”, that would probably be OK, but what they are trying to do is not OK.

        “Christians” also opposed the availability of same-sex marriage in California and spent millions of dollars opposing. The aggressive fulminating fundamentalists are alarming and irritating many of us, including those of us who are Christians, by attempting to enact their beliefs into law and rewrite history. Although I have no objections to evangelism, I strongly object to evangelism that is abrasive and overly aggressive, especially by those “Christians” who believe that anyone who does not believe exactly as they do is wrong and will be condemned to everlasting hell fires. That is a very dangerous belief because it can be used, and has been used in the past, to justify anything, even including torture and burning people alive at the stake in an attempt to force others to believe the same way. More than one denomination has been guilty of such behavior.

        We rightly complain about the behavior of aggressive fundamentalist Muslims, including the Taliban (although not about the majority of Muslims, who are quite reasonable people), but I am totally convinced that there are millions of “Christians” who would behave the same way if they had the opportunity. I intended to help see to it that they never have the opportunity, which is one of the reasons that I am a member of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State:

        http://www.au.org/

        I’m really much more interested in how people treat each other than I am in exactly what they believe.

        They may come for me, but not because of my failure to speak out.

      • frk said, on May 14, 2011 at 10:28 pm

        MadJ:

        First they came for the drunks, but I did not speak out–
        Because I was intoxicated.

        • themadjewess said, on May 15, 2011 at 5:51 pm

          And GARBAGE. It is the MUSLIMS that are even killing their own daughters right here in the good old USA.
          So what if people preach on the strret, SO WHAT! They are not killing their daughters and DEMANDING conversion.
          Go get another come to Jesus moment, FRE, you are lacking.

          • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 16, 2011 at 12:57 pm

            The overwhelming majority of Muslims are not murderers. Likewise for Christians. Pointing to the most wicked people of a group and taking them to define a group is an obvious error, be it defining Jews, Muslims, Christians, gun owners, left wingers, or anyone else.

  6. themadjewess said, on May 15, 2011 at 5:49 pm

    FRE; you are fos. OK? I just showed you a vid of what is happening. The ONLY church that is allowed to preach a message of serial craziness is the Westboros, thats all.
    And, you make me sick, you say you are a Christian and you just sh*t all over Christians.
    Sickening.
    Just like left wing Bolshevik Jews stalk me, psycho persecute me, show up at my door and harass my family.
    This is a CHRISTIAN nation, and a Jew can see this, if you are so afraid of these fundies, it must be that you have a little devil living in you that makes you foam at the mouth when you hear JESUS!!!
    Are you sure you aint a JEW?!
    LMAOF

  7. kevinstewart said, on May 20, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    So my question is:

    Is it possible to reason with those that only accept evidence that supports one’s interpretation and rejects any evidence to the contrary?

    Should they just be ignored?

    • FRE said, on May 20, 2011 at 5:47 pm

      You may be right; perhaps it is best just to ignore them while working to minimize their influence.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 20, 2011 at 6:03 pm

      If they are unrelenting in this, then they would be effectively immune to reason (in that no contrary evidence would even be considered). Fortunately, people vary in their level of commitment to not seeing contrary evidence-so it can be worth a try. However, at a certain point it might turn out that the conversation is not worth the oxygen.

      • kevinstewart said, on May 20, 2011 at 6:23 pm

        This post reminded me of many conversations I have had about the Bible and Church (as well as this subject). I always struggle with whether to have these conversations or just ignore them. It seems over the years that I have indeed wasted a lot of oxygen.

  8. FRE said, on May 20, 2011 at 6:32 pm

    Let us look at some evidence, other than official documents, to see just how “Christian” the U.S. has been.

    Slaves were imported from Africa. In the slave ships, conditions were unimaginably horrible resulting in the deaths of many slaves. Slaves who attempted to escape were branded with a red hot iron or even castrated. Many were whipped within an inch or their lives. Is that evidence that the U.S. was a Christian nation?

    After the slaves were “freed,” Jim Crow laws were enacted. Hundreds of blacks were lynched. A judge ruled that blacks had no rights that whites were bound to respect. When integration was originally attempted following the 1954 reversal of Plessy vs Ferguson, whites rioted and beat blacks with baseball bats. Is that evidence that the U.S. was a Christian nation?

    The indigenous Americans were driven off of their land and forced onto reservations. When valuable minerals were found on the reservations, indigenous were driven out of the reservations and forced to accept land which was considered worthless. On one occasion, an attempt was made to infect one tribe with smallpox by giving them infected blankets. Is that evidence that the U.S. was a Christian nation?

    It seems to me that we Christians have certain standards of behavior that we are expected to live up to. When a nation as a whole has behaved from its foundation in ways that are obviously extremely contrary to Christian standards, it is difficult to see how it could be considered a Christian nation. Of course one does expect a few shortcomings, but the extreme violations of Christian principals committed by the U.S. from its very beginning make it clear that it has never been a Christian nation.

    Rather than incessantly screaming that the U.S. is a Christian nation, I suggest making a greater effort to live up to at least the second part of the Summary of the Law, i.e., to love others as ourselves and show it by our behavior.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 23, 2011 at 2:28 pm

      Slavery is not forbidden in the bible. However, there are rules for how to treat slaves. For example, killing a slave is a punishable offense.

      Leviticus 25:42,25:44-46 (NIV): “Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves … Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves. You may also buy some of the temporary residents living among you and members of their clans born in your country, and they will become your property. You can will them to your children as inherited property and can make them slaves for life, but you must not rule over your fellow Israelites ruthlessly.”

  9. db said, on May 20, 2011 at 7:29 pm

    And your point is . . .?

    :)

    • FRE said, on May 20, 2011 at 8:04 pm

      Isn’t it obvious that I am pointing out that the history of the U.S. is such that it cannot be considered to be a Christian country?

      Reread my first sentence: “Let us look at some evidence, other than official documents, to see just how “Christian” the U.S. has been.”

      Also note that several times, I said, “Is that evidence that the U.S. was a Christian nation?”

      Can there be any doubt what my point is? That contrary to what some people say, the U.S. cannot remotely be considered to be a Christian country since often, over a period of over 200 years, since its very beginning, it has behaved in ways that would be abhorent to any true Christian?

      Not also that many “Christian” churches would not permit blacks to enter, except perhaps to clean the church.

      Do you really think that the examples I have given are compatible with Christianity? Considering the examples, do you think that it’s reasonable for people to insist that the U.S. is a Christian country and has been since its inception?

      • db said, on May 20, 2011 at 10:33 pm

        “Can there be any doubt what my point is?” None at all.

        I was hoping the point of my very brief post was clear. Apparently it wasn’t. Irony isn’t easy to convey with four words and a smiley, I guess. :(

        I happen to agree that claiming the US is a” Christian country” requires a giant blindfolded leap over a very deep and wide chasm at the bottom of which are many, many exceptions to the claim.

        • FRE said, on May 21, 2011 at 1:33 am

          You’re right; it does require a giant blindfold.

          The church hasn’t always been Christian either. I’m quite certain that Jesus would not have approved of inquisitions and burning people alive at the stake.

          Fortunately, churches of all denominations have Christians in them. Sometimes the task of the lay members is to drag the church leaders along, kicking and screaming, to teach and obey the demands of the Summary of the Law, as stated by Jesus when He was asked which is the most important commandment, which is what Christianity is all about.

          • themadjewess said, on May 21, 2011 at 2:09 pm

            FRE: Why dont you renounce your Christianity, you REALLY come across as a person that hates Christians and wants to hang some guilt on them for what happened in 1492.
            Go be a Buddhist, you might find some peace and tolerance for the faith you seem to hate so well.

    • T. J. Babson said, on May 20, 2011 at 8:28 pm

      FRE, couldn’t you use the same facts to argue that slavery existed throughout human history until Christianity put an end to it?

      • FRE said, on May 20, 2011 at 10:03 pm

        It took the church almost 2000 years to figure out that slavery was wrong. Also, the church preached to blacks that the Bible commanded them to obey their masters.

      • themadjewess said, on May 21, 2011 at 2:09 pm

        Good point, TJ.
        But still, treachery is worse than slavery.

        • FRE said, on May 21, 2011 at 3:32 pm

          Maybe treachery is worse than slavery; maybe it isn’t. I don’t really care. It’s simply a matter of opinion and, while some may find it interesting to discuss it, I’m much more concerned with matters of social justice.

          Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” That is known as the Summary of the Law. Many theologians see it as the ENTIRE law and see everything else as commentary.

          Jesus followed that by saying, “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

          When He was asked who one’s neighbor is, He gave the parable of the Good Samaritan and made it clear that one’s neighbor is anyone with whom one comes into contact.

          Many people, if asked why murder is wrong, would quote one of the Ten Commandments. Actually, they are wrong; murder would be wrong even if we didn’t have the Ten Commandments. The reason that murder is wrong is that it is contrary to social justice, and that is why we have been given the commandment against murder. It is also contrary to the Summary of the Law. Actually, the major religions would, in general, support the Summary of the Law and concepts of social justice even though they sometime greatly differ on other matters.

          Slavery is wrong because it is contrary to social justice and contrary to the Summary of the Law. Churches quoted the Bible in support of slavery (which is easy to do), but they cannot get around the fact that it is a social injustice.

          As I have previously asserted, I am much more concerned with how people treat each other than in what they believe or in theological hair splitting which serves no useful purpose.

          Much of the behavior of the U.S. has been contrary to the principals of social justice and contrary to the Summary of the Law. There are gray areas with which we must deal, but many of the social injustices are not gray areas. Thus, from its very inception, much of the behavior of the U.S. and many of its laws and customs were obviously contrary to the demands of social justice and the Summary of the Law; even some of the Founding Parents owned slaves. Therefore, the U.S. cannot be said to be a Christian country.

  10. themadjewess said, on May 21, 2011 at 2:07 pm

    The overwhelming majority of Muslims are not murderers. Likewise for Christians. Pointing to the most wicked people of a group and taking them to define a group is an obvious error, be it defining Jews, Muslims, Christians, gun owners, left wingers, or anyone else.

    Muslims repeatedly raped Lara Logan, chopped off the head of 2 humanitarian Jews.
    As far as slavery? The New Testament, Christian Bible tells Christians HOW to treat slaves IF they have them.
    Slavery is not half the abomination that treachery against God and country is. Just ask Judas Iscariot..

    • FRE said, on May 21, 2011 at 3:49 pm

      Muslims have basically the same standards of social justice as Christians do. The Koran (which I have read) also directs Muslims to respect Jews and Christians as “people of the book,” i.e., the Bible. We should have no trouble getting along with those Muslims who actually follow the Koran. Obviously many do not, but not all Christians act according to Christian principals either.

      I’ve known many Muslims and the ones I’ve known have been very reasonable people. They see acts of terrorism as totally unacceptable and contrary to the principals of Islam.

      Of course, every religion has its crazy hotheads; Islam and Christianity are not exceptions.

      In St. Paul’s letter to Philemon, St. Paul recognized that slaves should be treated fairly and with love. Probably the reason that he didn’t condemn slavery outright is that he had been raised in a culture where slavery was acceptable and therefore he didn’t totally reject it. Probably he also realized that attempting to end slavery at that time would be unrealistic. At least he tried to minimize its impact. Although St. Paul may well have been inspired by God, he was not infallible and, not being a literalist, I do not believe that every single word in the Bible is from God or that everything in the Bible necessarily reflects the will of God. Probably we now would all agree that slavery is unacceptable and definitely we’d agree that as it was often practiced in the U.S., it was brutal and dehumanizing.

      • T. J. Babson said, on May 21, 2011 at 11:01 pm

        “The Koran (which I have read) also directs Muslims to respect Jews and Christians as “people of the book,” i.e., the Bible.”

        What about Hindus or Buddhists or atheists? How do they fare?

      • T. J. Babson said, on May 21, 2011 at 11:05 pm

        And where is the Islamic injunction to “turn the other cheek”? Where is the Islamic tradition of non-violence? Where is the Islamic Schweitzer or the Islamic Ghandi?

        No, what we get is Jihad this and Jihad that. Why do you think the flag of Saudi Arabia has a sword on it?

        • FRE said, on May 21, 2011 at 11:44 pm

          Don’t forget the crusades. One pope actually led an army. The object of the crusades was to rescue the Holy Land from the Muslims. However, on its way to the Holy Land, one of the crusades wreaked havoc on the Byzantium Empire from which it never entirely recovered thereby contributing to its falling to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.

          Years before that, the Bulgars fell to the Byzantium Empire. The Bulgars embraced the filioque, which was rejected by the Byzantiums so, to save the Bulgars from hell, the Byzantium Empire fought a war against them. Following the war, the defeated Bulgar soldiers had their eyes gouged out except that one in 100 was permitted to keep one eye to guide the others. Source: One of the three volumes on the Byzantium Empire by Norwich. Interestingly, the Byzantium Empire saw itself as a theocracy and one of the titles of the emperor was “equal of the apostles.”

          One could well ask where the Christian tradition of non-violence is.

          I am not aware that Islam has an injunction to turn the other cheek. Christianity obviously does have that injunction, but one would never know it from historic Christian behavior.

          Actually, the word “jihad” means “struggle.” It can be a struggle within one’s self and, in any case, it is not necessarily violent, although obviously it can be and has frequently has been violent.

          In any case, there is more than enough guilt to go around.

          Buddhists and Hindus have also engaged in violent behavior, but my knowledge of those two religions is very limited. However, I have read that Buddhists are supposed to be peaceful and charitable, but as we know, it is not uncommon for people to fail to follow the demands of their religion.

          I’ve read “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” by Gibbon (all six volumes), The “Byzantium Empire” by Norwich (all 3 volumes), and “A History of Christianity” by LaTourette (both volumes). Although the first two were not primarily about Christianity, there was no separation of church and state in those days so religion and state were closely intertwined. Therefore, anyone reading the books would become aware of how Christianity was commonly practiced in earlier times. The evils of lack of separation were crystal clear, as was also the failure of Christians to follow the basic principals of Christianity.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on May 23, 2011 at 2:44 pm

      Once again, pointing to the most wicked people in a group and taking them to define the group is an obvious error. For example, Ted Bundy was a white male. But this does not entail that all white males are serial killers.

      True-the bible does direct people how to treat slaves and where to get them.

      Treachery is rather bad, but slavery is very bad as well. In any case, are you trying to excuse slavery by saying that treachery is worse?


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