Discredited Christian nationalist “historian” David Barton [is] now asserting that the federal government has no power to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Constitution puts all health care at the state level; it does not put it at the federal level,” Barton said during a recent interview. “So this was not a federal question; it is a state question. In the Constitution, you have 17 what are called enumerated powers. The Constitution says, ‘Federal government, here’s 17 things you’re allowed to do.’ And then in the Tenth Amendment, it says if it’s not one of those 17 things, it belongs to the states to deal with. Health care was one of those issues.” (Thanks to our friends at Right Wing Watch for the video.)
Barton seems unable to grasp that it’s not 1820 anymore. The Constitution and federal laws have changed over time, and there’s no longer any doubt that the federal government has the power – some would say the duty – to respond in the face of a public health emergency. (The fact that the current administration’s response has been hapless doesn’t negate that; it just makes it all the more obvious that we need to do a better job next time.)
What are Barton and his pals in the Religious Right up to here? Their main goal is to provide cover for President Donald Trump, their “I-Can’t-Believe-It’s-Not-Our-Lord-And-Savior” substitute. By pretending it was never Trump’s job to spearhead efforts to stop the spread of the virus to begin with, they hope to absolve him of all blame for the spiraling death toll. (Clever, right?) Unfortunately for the nation, their antics have the unpleasant side effect of putting us all in jeopardy.
Lying about the federal government’s responsibility in the face of a health crisis isn’t the Barton band’s only trick. Yesterday, a collection of Religious Right legal groups announced that they are forming a “hotline” pastors can call if they believe their religious freedom rights are being violated. (That is, if they’re angry that government agencies have ordered them to remain closed alongside everyone else.) The effort is led by a Barton associate named Rick Green.
What’s with Evangelical apologists and their insistence that atheists, agnostics, and other unbelievers, are more fearful than Christians? Last week, I wrote about Clay Jones’ assertion that everyone fears death except Christians. I conclusively showed that fearing death is common to the human race, and Christians are in no way exempt from fear.
Last week, faux-historian David Barton was on “Stand in the Gap,” a radio program produced by the American Pastors Network. Barton shared his “expertise” on past epidemics. Speaking of the 1633 smallpox epidemic, Barton stated that Christians during that time didn’t panic because of their belief in God:
But the difference was they were much more grounded with God. As you look across Massachusetts, as you look across the New England areas, so many of those guys had come here on the Bible, on religious liberty. And for them death was, that was a step into eternal life. Today, this is the most secular America has ever been. And so, we’re watching governors and mayors respond out of fear and panic, and shutting down stuff that’s never been shut down before because they’re just scared to death somebody’s going to die. And so, the confidence of courage is really what we don’t see right now nationally.
“Stand in the Gap” host Sam Rohrer added:
But a point you made there, I think is worth touching on. And that is the worldview of people at that time caused them not to panic or to fear because of the fear of death. Because they knew, as we know as believers, that if we are to pass away, we’re only going to step from here into eternity with the Lord. And that’s what we want to do. But for those who do not know the Lord, or have rejected a biblical worldview understanding of God and redemption, they frankly have a reason to fear at these days.
Wow. They had reason to fear back there, but they did not because of belief in God.
Barton later added:
So, what we see right now is a fear of death. And we’re seeing people go to excessive extremes because they are scared to death of dying, because this is all they know, is what’s here. They don’t know of an afterlife, they don’t even understand that there will be an afterlife, whether it’s Heaven, Hell, or whatever they choose. It’s their choice through Christ. So that’s one thing that stands out to me is, is the whole culture was built around understanding that you are going to go into eternity. Are you ready to go into eternity? And so, the response is quite different public policy wise. If you’re surrounded with leaders who understand a biblical worldview, what you do is call for days of prayer and fasting, if we can get a hold of God on this and get God to intervene then we can see an end to this.
What evidence do Barton and Rohrer provide for their assertions? None. I see no evidence for the claim that atheists, agnostics, and other non-Christians fear death any more than Christian do. Right-minded people in this time when COVID-19 is infecting and killing people left and right should be fearful that they are next. Feel a cold coming on? Have a fever? Fell achy all over? Have a cough? Is it allergies? Or have you been infected with a deadly virus that has infected more over 1,000,000 Americans, with a death toll that will soon surpass the total deaths in the Vietnam War? Reasonable people would, at the very least, be concerned that they might become infected. And for those of us, Christian or not, with comorbidities, we have every reason to fear that this virus is stalking us, and if it catches us it could kill us.
Barton, Roherer, and Jones would have us believe that certain theological beliefs inoculate Christians from normal human feelings. The promise of life after death and a home in Heaven, according to these apologists, are sufficient to ward off fear. Sure, I can see how such a promise might cause some Christians to deny reality. These very same delusions fuel lifetimes of weekly church attendance. These very same delusions are a catalyst for lifetimes of self-denial. This or that behavior is “sin.” Can’t do that lest I risk losing my home in Heaven. Or so Christians think, anyway.
What do we know about religious people in general? Despite their commitment to God, religious texts, theological constructs, worship, and conforming to exacting standards of conduct, believers are no different from the unwashed, uncircumcised Philistines of the world. And when it comes time to die, religious people fear the unknown just like the rest of us do. Oh, they may hide their fear because that’s what everyone expects them to do, but psychologically they fear the end of the only life they have ever known.
Barton states non-Christians, “are scared to death of dying, because this is all they know, is what’s here.” Are atheists, agnostics, and unbelievers scared to death of dying? I am sure some are. Others resolutely embrace their end. Yes, knowing that the only life we will ever have is coming to an end brings all sorts of feelings. However, are we really “scared” to any greater degree than those who worship the Christian God or some other deity? I think not.
I will soon be sixty-three years old. I have been battling chronic health problems for twenty-four years. I have had several brushes with death, one of which a doctor told thirty-four year old Bruce and his wife, “if your immune system doesn’t kick in, there’s nothing we can do for you.” I had been battling mononucleosis for several months. My primary care doctor missed that I had mono, thinking that I was battling something else. Following course after course of antibiotics with no cure, the doctor ordered a mono test. It came back positive. Several days later, my temperature spiked to 104 degrees, landing me in the hospital. My liver and spleen were swollen, and my immune system was so trashed that my tonsils and adenoids were pure white. Fortunately, my immune system did win the battle. However, as I lay in my hospital bed, my mind pondered dying so young and whether there really was life after death. This was, for me, the first time, I felt my mortality. As a committed Evangelical Christian, I believed that Heaven awaited me on the other side of chilly Jordan. However, I did fear what I did not know. Isn’t that a normal human response to the unknown; to the prospect of impending death? Was I less than Christian for fearing death? I think not.
Zealots such as Barton, Roherer, and Jones need people to believe what they are peddling. Their incomes and lifestyles depend on convincing people that there’s an afterlife, and, as Jesus promised, eternity in Heaven awaits all those who worship the right God. They dare not admit their own fears or doubts lest they are forced to get real jobs. Imagine what would happen to Christian sects and churches if their teachers and leaders admitted their doubts as to life after death. Why, churches would empty out overnight. Without the carrot, there is no reason to endure the stick.
As with most people, I am in no hurry to die. Some days, I am weary from daily battling chronic pain. I have thoughts of eternal darkness without pain; of the peace, comfort, and deliverance the grave brings. But then I think of Polly, our children, and our grandchildren. And in that moment, I am reminded that I have much to live for; that the only life I will ever have is this one. And so I arise and face the day. Death will certainly come for me, sooner than later. But until then, I plan on enjoying life and doing what I can to make this world a better place for others.
Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
This is the fifty-third installment in The Sounds of Fundamentalism series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a video clip that shows the crazy, cantankerous, or contradictory side of Evangelical Christianity, please send me an email with the name or link to the video. Please do not leave suggestions in the comment section. Let’s have some fun!
Today’s Sound of Fundamentalism is s a clip taken from a sermon preached by theocrat David Barton.
Biblically, the death penalty could not be applied unless there were at least two eyewitnesses to the incident. Circumstantial evidence, even when strong, is not the equivalent of multiple eyewitnesses and therefore does not meet the Biblical standard. Interestingly, however, the Bible long ago acknowledged a specific eyewitness that only in recent decades has become recognized in Americans courts.
Recall the account of Cain’s murder of his brother Abel from Genesis 4:8-10. When God asked Cain where his brother was and Cain lied, God specifically confronted him with the declaration: “The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to Me from the ground” (v. 10). Blood cries out? Blood has a voice? How can that be? We now know that DNA has a voice – that it serves as an eyewitness to specific crimes, just as when it cried out to God about Abel’s death. This voice therefore Biblically qualifies as one of the “two or three eyewitnesses” needed to secure the death penalty in a capital crime.
This is another reminder that you can make the Bible say anything. Thoughtful Christians should be embarrassed by this kind of thinking, but I suspect Barton’s revelation will be seized upon as a-n-o-t-h-e-r proof that the Bible is an accurate, up-to-date, infallible science textbook.
“God made a special carve-out, if you will, in the late 1700s to create this new country called the United States of America. It was all birthed out of biblical values or, as my dad calls it, the mind of Christ [for the purpose of spreading] the Christian Gospel all over North America and then we spread the Christian Gospel all over the world. And by ‘we,’ I mean American Christians.” “This is a spiritual war for America and I think Satan hates America because America has spread the Gospel around the world and we still have a majority Christian nation. That’s my view. I can’t prove it but I think that’s why we’re so engaged and we see so much going on for our country’s future.”
First, I find it interesting that Wildmon ignores the first hundred years of American history. Why is that? Perhaps he wants to steer clear of the genocide perpetrated by America’s first settlers on Native Americans. Or perhaps he wants to distance himself from the fact that commerce and trade were the primary reason settlers migrated to America.
Second, there is little to no evidence for the United States being “birthed out of biblical values.” Wildmon is taking his fundamentalist beliefs and attempting to read them back into history. He, like David Barton, scours history for evidence to bolster his claim. So far, the evidence is scant and I don’t expect any to be forthcoming. Certainly, some of the founders of the United States were Christians, but I seriously doubt that any of them were Evangelical. Many of them were deists.
Third, commerce and control of taxation were the primary reasons for the founding of the United States. The tea thrown into Boston Harbor was not tossed overboard because of a lack of religious freedom.
Fourth, America has not spread the gospel all around the world. The vast majority of world citizens are NOT Christian. And those who are belong to sects that Wildmon likely thinks preach a false gospel. (i.e. Roman Catholicism) According to a 2012 Pew Research report:
There are 2.2 billion Christians in the world (32%)
About 50% of Christians are Catholic
About 37% of Christians are Protestant (this includes Evangelicals, Anglicans)
About 12% of Christians are Greek/Russian Orthodox
There are an estimated 285,480,000 Evangelicals, corresponding to 13.1% of the Christian population and 4.1% of the total world population. The Americas, Africa and Asia are home to the majority of Evangelicals. The United States has the largest concentration of Evangelicals.Evangelicalism is gaining popularity both in and outside the English-speaking world, especially in Latin America and the developing world.
According to Operation World, there are about 550 million Evangelicals in the world. Regardless of which number is used, Evangelicals are 4-8% of the world’s population. So much for “spreading” the good news of the gospel. The true gospel of the United States is capitalism. When IN GOD WE TRUST was put on our money they left a word out. It should have said In THIS God we Trust.
Fifth, the United States is a Christian nation in name only. Surely, Wildmon would agree that one of the marks of being a Christian is regularly attending a Christian church. Yet, the vast majority of Americans never, rarely, or infrequently attend church. 63% of Evangelicals attend church weekly, but the same cannot be said for other Christian sects. Like many Evangelical zealots, I suspect Wildmon conflates Evangelical Christianity with generic Christianity. At best, the United States has a cultural form of Christianity, and if we want to see what future awaits us, all we need to do is look at Europe, especially England.