Unfortunately, in some cases, when there is not a “fact” to teach what someone wants taught, they make it up.
Thus, history is turned into propaganda.
The classic example is how the Soviet government rewrote textbooks after the Russian Revolution to show the Marxist interpretation of history was correct and that eventually and inevitably its system would triumph.
They called it shaping history to serve a greater cause.
Historians called it lying.
This brings us around to the controversy surrounding the recent firing of the director and deputy director of Alabama Public Television, a firing many feel was connected to the question of whether to show the American Heritage Series — a 10-part program produced by Texas-based evangelical David Barton and his group, WallBuilders. Following those firings, three of the five members of the Alabama Education Television Foundation Authority, which raises money for APTV, resigned after the commission’s decision.
Today, this page is not going to enter a debate over how religion should be dealt with in American history. If you want to see it done properly, read Unto a Good Land, a college textbook written by a group of acknowledged authorities in American religious history. The book successfully shows how religion, along with social, economic and cultural factors, shaped the United States.
As for the American Heritage Series, most historians consider it evangelical propaganda created to convince viewers that Barton’s “Christian nation” thesis is valid.
Here is a suggestion. First read The Religious Thought of Thomas Jefferson by Barton (www.ecollege.edu/religion-of-jefferson) to see how he uses that Founding Father to make his point. Then read David Barton’s Jefferson Portrayal Less Than Honest (www.ecollege.edu/religion-of-jefferson) by Martin Marty, an honored and respected historian of American religion.
To convince evangelical readers that Jefferson is really on their side, Barton ignores the fact that the third U.S. president was openly hostile to organized religion and to practitioners of what he called the “priestcraft.” But worse than that is the way Barton plays free and loose with facts. In one striking case, Barton wrongly claims that Jefferson sent the so-called “Jefferson Bible” to use to persuade Indians that Christianity was for them — he didn’t.
Moreover, had Native Americans actually been converted by what Jefferson prepared, they would have ended up, Marty says, in the “humanist wing of the Unitarian-Universalist Church” — not the sort of Christianity Barton thinks is the basis on which this nation was built.
Public TV should not allow advocates to misrepresent the facts in order to push their message. That may work on commercial TV, where the public is sold all sorts of hokum, but it should be avoided in situations where taxpayer money is involved.
The point is this: The people at APTV who advocate the spending of scarce public resources on a series of questionable historical accuracy and of recognized evangelical intent are crossing two lines they should not cross. If opposing this was why the director and deputy director were fired, they should get their jobs back.