'A Professoriate of All Believers'

More

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.
Jump to comments
Presented by

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.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What's the Number One Thing We Could Do to Improve City Life?

A group of journalists, professors, and non-profit leaders predict the future of livable, walkable cities


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in National

From This Author

Just In