On Wednesday’s Daily Show, Mike Huckabee defended his comments about David Barton being his favorite historian. On the same day, Barton aired an episode of his online radio show called “Why History Matters,” offering a window into how Barton, and through his admiration, Huckabee, draws closely on R.J. Rushdoony’s theory of history as evidence of God’s plan, rather than the unfolding of human events.
Although Barton is frequently lambasted for his historical revisionism about the separation of church and state, this is much bigger than the debate over the founders’ intent. What Barton is talking about—and what Rushdoony talked about—is the meaning and purpose of history. Rushdoony called it a “Biblical Philosophy of History;” Barton often uses the term “Providential History.” Either way, it’s all about God’s hand guiding the purpose, history, and future of America.
In the promotion for a collection of Rushdoony lectures in an audio CD series last July, Reconstructionist American Vision gives us what could serve as an outline of Barton’s recent show:
These lectures are the most theologically complete assessment of early American history available, R.J. Rushdoony reveals a foundation of American History of philosophical and theological substance. This series extends through 1865, the year that marked the beginning of the secular attempts to rewrite history. There can be no understanding of American History without an understanding of the ideas which undergirded its founding and growth.
In “Why History Matters,” for example, Barton says, “if you do not see the divine hand working behind the scenes with what’s going on in history, history will be an incomprehensible enigma.” He then describes contemporary secular history as an intentional effort by the likes of Robert Ingersoll (no known relation), the American Liberal Union, and professional historians such as Charles and Mary Beard, to re-write American history without God.
For Rushdoony, Barton, and apparently Huckabee, history is not the academic discipline most of us have in mind when we use the term: the effort to assemble evidence from the past to understand events, their context, and change over time. In fact, Jon Stewart nailed it when he argued that Barton “doesn’t seem like a historian, he seems seem almost like a theologian whose thrust is ‘I want this country to be Christian and go by the Bible.'”
The “history” that Huckabee is promoting is, indeed, theological. In this framing, history, like every other aspect of culture, becomes a conflict between two diametrically opposing worldviews, based in mutually exclusive presuppositions.
As Rushdoony writes, history always begins with an act of faith. For him there’s two diametrically opposed ways of looking at it. One is “the faith that God has nothing to do with history. By (which) history is declared to be man’s area of operation exclusive of any divine determination or operation.” The other, for Christians, is that history is meaningful in every detail. Just as Creation reveals the nature of God, history reveals God’s plan for the human race. The reason to study history is not to understand past events, but to understand God our place in His plan.
It is exactly this sacralizing of history that makes organizations like Vision Forum so effective among homeschoolers. Rather than being lost in the mundane trials of everyday life, Christian homeschoolers, and believers who embrace this vision of history, find themselves at the center of the plans of Almighty God, building “multi-generational faithfulness”; a moving and heady experience, no doubt.
On the Daily Show, Huckabee responded to Stewart’s charge that Barton is a theologian not a historian by saying that he doesn’t believe that Barton is advocating an establishment of religion. But Barton’s effort to shape how history is taught in public schools, seen in the context of his philosophy of history, leaves no other way to understand it—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Huckabee seems to be selling tickets on the Titanic.