The Donkey Is Sleeping Today

Beck U. – Leave Those Kids Alone

In First Amendment, Message/Framing, Politics, Propaganda, Religion on July 8, 2010 at 10:26 am

My wife and I already tens of thousands in debt from attending various institutes of higher learning, I figured another $9.95 wouldn’t matter, so I enrolled in Beck University. The expense was easily justifiable in my mind due to the riches I would mine in horselaughs, guffaws, and mockable moments – all of which I would pass along in the spirit of comic relief from these troubled times. And who wouldn’t want to add an M.A. (Moronis Asinines) to their list of accomplishments?

The modern-day P.T. Barnum conjures up his next circus act

But my right-wing funhouse soon turned into a house of horrors, as I was treated to an approximately 30-minute lecture (presumably the outer limits of a wing-nut’s attention span) that covered our Founding Fathers and the birth of our nation. I had clearly picked the wrong day to give up drinking.

What unfolded was a “lecture” about the so-called “Black-Robed Regiment” – apparently a band of Evangelical Christian preachers that invoked from the Bible the political and moral underpinnings upon which the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were based and that single-handedly defeated the British at the battles of Concord, Lexington, and Bunker Hill. Ever heard of the “Black-Robed Regiment”? Me neither. It sounds like an obscure 1990s Steven Seagal film.

Over one of the most harrowing half hours of my entire life, I also learned that the principles of American government were based on the “best forms of government listed in the Bible”; that these preachers were the true framers of the Declaration of Independence (Jefferson was merely its scribe); and that the Founding Fathers never really intended on a separation of church and state (despite what my lying eyes tell me when I read the First Amendment). I’ve killed off less brain cells at a Sigma Nu Mardi Gras party.

So who “learned” me all that? David Barton. A pseudo-historian with limited academic credentials who has peddled this Evangelical revisionist history in order to propagate a right-wing utopia of a Christian nation – all with made-up facts and thoroughly debunked quotes. People for the American Way have the details:

Academic historians, according to the New York Times, give Barton’s work at best a “B minus,” noting that while the historical facts he cites are more or less accurate, his biased interpretation of them is not. [17] The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty said that Barton’s work is “laced with exaggerations, half-truths and misstatements of fact” [18] and the Texas Freedom Network calls him “a pseudo-intellectual fraud whose twisted interpretations of history are little more than propaganda.” [19]


Barton specializes in uncovering the “lost history” of America, a history that Barton claims shows that the Founding Fathers intended to create a government “firmly rooted in biblical principles.” But to do so, he relies on the writings of obscure figures such as Francis Hopkins and Benjamin Rush while ignoring or disputing the conventionally accepted history regarding the views of men such as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, and James Madison. As [Texas Monthly’s Nate] Blakeslee correctly notes, it is “the big picture that Barton’s books deliberately ignore: that the views on religion and government of figures like Benjamin Rush fell into obscurity not because of some conspiracy but because they failed to carry the day.”[26]

Of course, the most frightening thing about this whole farce is that assholes like the Moral Majority, the Republican Party, and Glenn Beck give this guy a national forum that legitimizes him in the eyes of the public. The RNC does it purely for political gain. But what does Beck get out of this? Why your ten dollars, and the chance to sell you oodles and oodles of branded merchandise to feed his million-dollar empire.

But once this poison gets out into the public consciousness, it never goes away, especially among the true believers and the tin-foil hat crowd. That’s why we dismiss these crackpots and their propaganda at our peril. Once again, People for the American Way:

In 2005, Derek Davis, the director of the JM Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies at Baylor University, said of Barton: “He’s not a trained historian. He can be very convincing to an uninitiated audience. He’s intelligent. He’s well-spoken. But a lot of what he presents is a distortion of the truth.


[And] even though Barton was forced to publicly retract several statements, the false information had already been entered into the public domain where it continues to propagate unchallenged.

Unfortunately, Barton’s propaganda has already infected the body politic in a very harmful way. He was very instrumental in making sure this “lost history” was included in the new breed of textbooks coming out of Texas. And before we all comfort ourselves by thinking that only kids in Texas will grow up with a warped and wholly inaccurate view of American history (and screw them for choosing to live in a red state anyway, right?), these textbooks will be sold across the country and instituted in a school district near you.

Onward, Christian soldiers.


UPDATE: Check out our post on the second “lesson” at Beck U.

UPDATE 2: And here are lessons three, four, and five.

  1. Excellent article! Makes me wanna enroll so I’ve been to Beckistan. Sadly, by mentioning tin-foil hats, you’ve given the Beck-Machine a great idea for another product! 😉

  2. I teach about Rush in my crime & justice courses–especially the Seminar on Capital Punishment. Rush was opposed to CP, & to slavery. In many ways an interesting figure, he was often irrelevant to public policy (see: CP, slavery).
    Anyway, this is from a website on the authors of the Declaration of Independence:

    Rush’s teaching career and medical practice continued till the end of his life. He became the Professor of medical theory and clinical practice at the consolidated University of Pennsylvania in 1791, where he was a popular figure at the height of his influence in medicine and in social circles. He was also a social activist, a prominent advocate for the abolition of slavery, an advocate for scientific education for the masses, including women, and for public medical clinics to treat the poor.

    Benjamin Rush was a regular writer, and many notes about the less well known signers of the Declaration come from his observations on the floor of congress. Other members of congress, Franklin, and John Adams foremost, had some harsh observations to make about Rush. He was handsome, well-spoken, a gentleman and a very attractive figure-he was also a gossip and was quick to rush to judgement about others. He was supremely confident of his own opinion and decisions, yet shallow and very unscientific in practice. His chief accomplishment as a physician was in the practice of bleeding the patient. It was said that he considered bleeding to be a cure for nearly any ailment. Even when the practice began to decline, he refused to reconsider the dangers of it. He died at the age of 68 at his home in Philadelphia, the most celebrated physician in America.

  3. […] One man has been brave enough to fork over $9.95 AND attend the lectures. Read his response to each class here. […]

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