Sunday, March 18, 2012

Relearning American History

I've been working on a project lately, which is most of the reason I haven't written anything in a while.  I'm really more of a researcher than a writer, but I've been trying to get to the point where I can share some of what I've been learning.

This project started with a conversation I had with a fellow Christian homeschooler.  We are pretty like-minded on our view of government, and she asked me for advice on how to teach American history.  She was particularly wondering what the truth is about the Founding Fathers and what to teach our kids about them.  I had to confess that I had some of the same questions, and since I'm planning on teaching the American History program from Sonlight Curriculum to my younger children next year, I decided it was high time I reeducated myself on the topic.  It's been quite a few years since I've used this history curriculum and my views on government have changed a lot since then.

I first went to to get the "outside the box" view of American history.  I listened to Tom Woods' lecture series, The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History, which is based on his book by the same name.  (I couldn't read the book for free on Mises, but I found it available on interlibrary loan--just a note for the cheapskates like me!).  I had also recently listened to the audiobook of Our Enemy, the State by Albert J. Nock (also an e-book).  Both of these gave me the alternative view of  U.S.history and the Founding Fathers and I felt like I had a good start on my preparation for teaching.

Then my research took an odd turn.  A friend in my homeschool group recommended I attend a Bible study where they would be going through David Barton's Wallbuilders materials on American history.  I thought that sounded pretty interesting since I had always heard good things about Wallbuilders, until a few days later when I heard something I found quite disturbing.

I hadn't really set out to investigate David Barton, but a few days later I happened to be listening to Brannon Howse's Worldview Weekend Radio.  The show was about Kirk Cameron's new documentary, Monumental:  In Search of America's National Treasure.  The movie is apparently about promoting America's Christian heritage and a return to the nation's founding principles.  The radio show was critical of the fact that the National Monument to the Forefathers was a big focus of the film.  The monument was financed by Freemasons and contains many pagan symbols, and therefore could hardly be used to promote any kind of Christian ideal.  I found that pretty disturbing in itself, but I was shocked at something else I heard on the show.  David Barton is featured in the Monumental movie, and Howse played a clip of a radio interview where Barton says that conservative radio personality Glenn Beck (a Mormon) is a born-again Christian.

Okay, so now I was really questioning this idea of "returning America to her godly heritage", as if I wasn't questioning it enough already.  Mormonism is not biblical Christianity, and if we're so desperate to return to our "founding principles" we're willing to compromise the truth to do it, well, I've got a big problem with that.  Now, don't misunderstand me.  I have Mormon friends and I love them, and if Barton wants to partner with Glenn Beck to promote some kind of political agenda, that's his choice, but if his agenda is to return the nation to its "Christian" heritage, then redefining Christianity to include Mormonism is not the way to do it.  Barton is either deceived or engaging in deception.  Now, Barton's Wallbuilders materials promote the idea that the Founding Fathers were Christians and that they intended to create a Christian form of government.  Well, if Barton doesn't know the definition of a Christian, then he can't be the person to trust to determine what the faith of the Founding Fathers was, if any.  Investigating Barton further, I found that there are a lot of people out there claiming he doesn't have his facts straight about the founders.

Now this idea of a "Christian heritage" was really bugging me.  Many of my Christian friends tell me that the founders were godly men and they villify those who claim that they were anything other than devout Christians.  They also criticize public schools for engaging in "revisionist history" and erasing any reference to the Christian faith from classrooms.  Well, folks, it looks like it's possible we're promoting some revisionist history of our own.  I just want the truth, and I definitely don't want to teach my children anything that's false!  So, just exactly what is the truth?

I had heard Chris Pinto of Noise of Thunder Radio and knew that he had a video, The Hidden Faith of the Founding Fathers, so I dug around and found the entire 3-hour video on Youtube.  This was some eye-opening stuff!  Pinto challenges the idea that the founders were Christians and gives information about the beliefs of Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, John Adams, and Thomas Paine from their own writings and the testimony of others.  Now, you may not agree with everything in this film, but this is a great resource for getting the other side of the story.

So, long story short, here's where I'm at with all of this.  I don't believe the framers of our Constitution were Christians, or that they intended to create a biblical form of government.  They were enlightenment thinkers and rationalists who held the god of reason above any other deity.  While they approved of biblical morality and were publicly religious (just like most politicians of today), they privately denied any belief in biblical Christianity.  I'm also seriously questioning the validity of trying to return our country to some kind of Christian ideal of the past, and what would be the purpose of it if we did.  As I'm observing what's happening with the American church, it seems that educating people about our Christian heritage has become more important than preaching the gospel.  But knowing our heritage, godly or not, can't save anyone; a constitution can't save anyone;  electing Christians to office can't save anyone; and being good, moral citizens can't save anyone.  Only turning to God and believing in His Son can bring salvation.

As I look at this patriotic Christianity, I wonder about the theology behind it all.  There seems to be this idea that believers should be working to bring about the Kingdom of God on earth by our own power in preparation for Christ's return.  I'm not sure if I really understand it, but I've seen enough to know I don't share that theology.

I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
1 Cor. 15:50

Jesus said,  "My kingdom is not of this world.  If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews.  But now my kingdom is from another place."
John 18:36

So, I've answered some questions, but now I have some new ones.  Maybe that will be a topic for another post.  Hopefully I'm ready to tackle teaching American history again.  One thing's for sure, I learn as much or more than my kids do when I know I'm responsible to teach them.  It should be an interesting adventure continuing to relearn history with my family.


  1. I guess I'll have to go back and read some of the books / links you've shared. I've always thought the Founding Fathers were practicing Christians. I don't believe, however, they had any desire or intention to establish a theocracy - which is where I think many Conservatives today would have us believe. The Founders recognized our inalienable rights as being a gift from God and not granted by a King or government.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Tim. One big reason I've been wanting to write a blog post about this is that it can be really controversial for Christians to discuss. My husband went to the bible study I mentioned and brought up Barton's views on Mormonism and asked questions about some questionable quotes by John Adams. No one really seemed interested in looking into it, and some even seemed offended. The pastor said David Barton is fine and that it's important to learn our Christian heritage. I'm fine with others disagreeing with me, but I just hate to see believers use no discernment at all.

      It's not that I think there was no Christian influence present in the founding of our country. There were influential people involved who were Christians, and I think it's pretty obvious that some things are modeled after biblical laws, but I think there's a lot of evidence that the most prominent of the founders were not born again. References to "the grand architect of the universe" and to "the god of nature" and "nature's god" seem to refer to the Masonic idea of god, which is an amalgamation of many gods and not YHWH Himself. If that's the case, then it's a false god, not the God we should be teaching our children to follow. That's what I'm looking at, and something I will keep looking into.

      Barton and Pinto are definitely the extreme positions, so it calls for discernment. The Chris Pinto video is 3 hrs. long, but I think there are some shorter excerpts on Youtube if you look around. If you have a chance, listen to the Barton interview where he talks about Glenn Beck. I'd really like to know your take on it. Here's another article about the issues with Barton: