David Holford

Bad Scholarship, Bad Behaviour and the Call to Something Better

Originally published June 2010.

Tonight I was looking for some books as presents. A couple of volumes that had been recently featured or recommended by Glenn Beck were suggested to me as appropriate for the intended recipient. I searched for them on Amazon and decided to read some of the reviews.

In both cases, the overwhelming number of reviews were accompanied by a five-star rating of each book.  Seems like a no-brainer. Everybody likes these books. Must be good. Why even bother with the couple of two-star ratings and reviews?  Maybe it was Proverbs 18:17 niggling in the back of my mind:

The first one to plead his cause seems right,
Until his neighbor comes and examines him.

In both cases, there was a very thoughtful, thorough, critical review. There was detailed analysis and no hint of ad hominem. However, it was only tonight I discovered that Amazon reviews are subject to their own reviews. Each one has its own comment section. That’s where the detailed analysis and lack of ad hominem ended. It’s just an extension of the blogosphere.

In both cases the source of the attacks was patently clear. They confirmed that I’m becoming increasingly disturbed by fortress Christian America. There is one narrow interpretation of history and anyone who questions it or one of its recognised spokesmen (I can’t use the word “scholars”) is a liberal, a secularist, and in all likelihood a homosexual. I’m just telling you what I’ve read from some very angry people.

Does this mean I’m disturbed by the idea of Christians being involved in politics at every level? No. Do I think Christians should exert their influence to bring the law at every level and in every area into conformity with Christian morality? Absolutely.

However, the idea that we can only gain the moral high ground by proving that everything of any importance in early American history was done by Christians operating out of a Christian worldview in the ultimate pursuit of promoting Christianity is wrong. It’s wrong because it isn’t necessary to operate from this presupposition and it’s wrong because it just ain’t true. I’m sorry folks. I’m happy to find Christians wherever  and whenever in history I can. I’m always pleased to see those whose heart and actions were set on building the Kingdom of God, whatever their calling, including statesmanship. But the idea is becoming pervasive in certain circles, mostly emanating concentrically from people like David Barton and Peter Lillback, that if we dig deep enough we’ll find that virtually all of the Founding Fathers were trinitarian Christians with good conservative Protestant theology. If we ferret out enough quotes, partial quotes, or buzz words, that must prove something, right?

All we prove is that there are Christians who are willing to be at best shabby, and at worst dishonest, scholars. And if book sales and the Texas State Board of Education are any indication, there are a lot of people out there who don’t care. They don’t care about the shabbiness and dishonesty, that is. As the Amazon review comments demonstrated, they care very much if anyone dares to call them on it. If Glen Beck endorsed it, that’s good enough.

Christians are called to something better than this. We do not need to engage in historical re-revisionism. We don’t need to prove that Christians formed a perfect country that secularists and liberals went and messed up. We don’t need to prove Original Christian Intent. We don’t need to be afraid of review and criticism.

In reading the Amazon reviews, as well as in reading the engagement in the comboxes of much more popular places in the blogosphere, I read lots of militancy and lots of anger. I see lots of name-calling. I see the exact same behaviour that I have seen from the secularists and liberals. It doesn’t look prettier because the mud is being slung in the other face. I’ll say it again: Christians are called to something better than this.

We are not going to achieve whatever our goal may be by cheating and bullying our way there. We have to strive for what is right and rely upon Divine Providence. As a Christian and as a historian I know two things. First, God wrote the history that has already happened. We don’t have to dig around and find Him in it. It is what it is and He did it how He did it. Second, He wrote the history that has yet to happen. What is true of the Gospel is true in everything: “So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor.” In the history yet to be made, we labor faithfully, but God will determine the outcome of our labors.

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