'A Professoriate of All Believers'


In other words, Barton frames historical texts in the manner that his audience is accustomed to encountering the other texts that it routinely studies. He discards the accreted mass of scholarly interpretations, just as Reformation preachers jettisoned the layers of scholastic traditions. He selects key passages for use as texts, and constructs his historical sermons around them. And, perhaps most crucially, he insists that the meanings of these texts should require no additional context; that they are readily evident to all who have eyes to see, and a mind to understand and discern. He proclaims a professoriate of all believers. 

When his critics insist that he subject his work to peer review, or disparage his credentials and his logic, they only reinforce the strength of his appeal to his target audience. He deals not in history, but in hermeneutics. When Barton denounces the corruption of our institutions, and the obduracy of our leadership, he is effectively calling for an American Reformation. And his guide in that enterprise, he claims, will be the founding texts themselves.

I think there are a lot of people who don't so much love history, as they love the notion of revealed truth, of conspiracy and shadows. They love The Politically Incorrect Guide To The Civil War, because it will presumably tell you all those secrets which the liberals at Princeton have been conspiring to keep from you.  

The convenience of this approach is it puts you at the center of the narrative. It allows you to believe that you are somehow so significant that people in high places are actively plotting against you.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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