Commodification and the Christian Nation

Kelly Baker

Our own faithful leader, Paul Harvey, has an excellent piece on David Barton's packaging and selling of Christian nation ideology at Religion Dispatches, in which he shows attacking Barton's credentials is not an effective strategy because of the popularity of the product Barton sells: the ideology of Protestant Christian America. Commodity not scholarship is the key. This follows his previous post and Randall's post about Barton that lit up our comments section. Here's a taste:

Some of that is because of the skill of Barton and his organization WallBuilders at ideological entrepreneurialism. Barton’s intent is not to produce “scholarship,” but to influence public policy. He simply is playing a different game than worrying about scholarly credibility, his protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. His game is to inundate public policy makers (including local and state education boards as well as Congress) with ideas packaged as products that will move policy.

Historical scholarship moves slowly and carefully, usually shunning the public arena; Barton’s proof-texting, by contrast, supplies ready-made (if sometimes made-up) quotations ready for use in the latest public policy debate, whether they involve school prayer, abortion, the wonders of supply-side economics, the Defense of Marriage Act, or the capital gains tax. And Barton’s engagingly winsome personality, fully on display on The Daily Show, doesn’t hurt. He fires facts faster than they can be fought off, and he does so with a sort of Gomer Pyle sincerity that makes his critics look churlish.

Besides this sort of organizational skill and personal charisma, however, Barton’s success at withstanding the phalanx of professional critics comes because he taps into a long history of “Christian Nation” providentialism.


Brad Hart at: May 11, 2011 at 1:06 PM said...

Dr. Harvey's article was fantastic. Well done.

In addition to what Dr. Harvey discussed, I cannot help but think that a lot of Barton's motivation is wrapped up in defending biblical literalism at any cost. Much like Ken Ham's useless ilk regarding dinosaurs living with man, Barton seems obsessed with the goal of making the United States (and it's founders) a biblically-based nation.

Tom Van Dyke at: May 11, 2011 at 5:00 PM said...

a long history of “Christian Nation” providentialism.

I wish I knew what the author means here, a long history as in perhaps 19th century hagiography, or as in Washington's First Inaugural.

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