A Miscellany 310
Liars for Jesus
A few years back, Chris Rodda wrote a book called Liars for Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternate View of American History. It is an attempt to set the record straight and provide secularists with the ammunition to respond to misinformation on the role of religion in the early days of the United States.
As the same old lies continue to be brought forward, particularly by the self-identified historian, David Barton, Chris has (at least temporarily) made the book available as a free download. (pdf file)
Following is the opening section of the book's introduction.
One day about three years ago, I happened to be reading a news story on AOL about the Ten Commandments monument in the Alabama courthouse. Having a little time to kill, I decided to click on the link to a message board about the story. Little did I know when I clicked on that link that I was about to discover a whole new version of American history, or that six months later I'd be writing a book about it.
Once I got to the message board, I couldn't resist the urge to respond to a few of the posts, many of which were defending the Ten Commandments monument by copying and pasting lies from what I soon found out were literally thousands of Christian American history websites. At first, my responses were short – nothing more than correcting a misquote or briefly explaining why something couldn't be true. It soon became apparent, however, that these brief rebuttals were not working. I was usually accused of being a liar, and occasionally accused of being the antichrist. So, I began taking a little time to look things up, and started posting longer, more detailed rebuttals, complete with footnotes. Before long, other people who were battling the lies began emailing me posts from the both the Ten Commandments board and other boards, asking me whether or not they were true. Apparently, they had gotten the impression from my posts that I was some sort of expert on the subject. I wasn't, but I did know enough about history to be able to answer many of these emails, or at least to tell the people where they could find the information to disprove whatever lie they were trying to disprove. Between posting my own messages on the boards and answering emails, what had begun as a click on a link to kill a few minutes soon became something I was spending several hours a day on.
From time to time over the next few months, someone would respond to one of my posts by saying that I should write a book. While I appreciated the compliment, I didn't take the idea very seriously – at least not at first. For one thing, I was was sure that there must already be plenty of books on the subject, written by people far more qualified than I was to write about it. When I tried to find such a book, however, I couldn't. I found a few books that refuted the lies to a certain degree, but none providing the amount of information I was including in my message board posts. At this point, the idea of writing a book was starting to seem a little less crazy. When I mentioned the idea to a few of my real life friends, I was surprised to find that they didn't think it was crazy at all. So, never having written anything before, and having no particular qualifications to write a history book, I started writing a history book.
My first step was to read a few of the most popular religious right history books and compile a list of all the lies. So far, all I had seen were the various versions of the lies from the internet. People on the message boards, however, much more familiar than I was with the sources of these lies, told me which books to buy. These books led me to other books and other lies, which led me to even more books and even more lies. I found so many lies, in fact, that I soon realized that they weren't all going to fit one book without omitting some of the information that I felt was necessary to thoroughly explain and disprove them. So, I decided to write not just one book, but two – the first focusing mainly on the founding era, up until around the 1830s, and the second covering the rest of the nineteenth and the early twentieth century. Because most of the lies in the religious right history books are about the founding era, however, the first volume began to get too long, and I was once again faced with the decision of leaving stuff out, or including everything and splitting it up. Since my goal from the beginning was to write a book that left no stone unturned, and provided as much information as possible, I decided to split the first volume into two volumes. This book, therefore, is the first of what will eventually be three volumes.