They Make ‘Em Big In Texas–And That Goes For Crazy Too…


This is more saddening than shocking any more. As far as Texas goes, America would probably be better off it the whole state seceded.

Texas’s war on history

Don McLeroy, chairman of the Texas State Board of Education from 2007 to 2009, is a “young earth” creationist. He believes the earth is 6,000 years old, that human beings walked with dinosaurs, and that Noah’s Ark had a unique, multi-level construction that allowed it to house every species of animal, including the dinosaurs.

He has a right to his beliefs, but it’s his views on history that are problematic. McLeroy is part of a large and powerful movement determined to impose a thoroughly distorted, ultra-partisan, Christian nationalist version of US history on America’s public school students. And he has scored stunning successes.

If you want to see a scary movie about this movement, consider taking in Scott Thurman’s finely-crafted documentary Revisionaries, currently making the festival circuit, which records the antics of McLeroy and a hard right majority on the Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) as they revise the textbook standards that will be used in Texas (and many other states).

The first part of this documentary deals with the familiar “science wars”, in which one side seeks to educate children in the sciences, and the other side proposes to “teach the controversy” in order to undermine those aspects of science that conflict with its religious convictions. But it’s the second part of the movie where the horror really kicks in. As I explain in more detail in The Good News Club: The Christian Right’s Stealth Assault on America’s Children, the history debate makes the science debate look genteel. While the handful of moderates on the SBOE squeals in opposition, the conservative majority lands blow after blow, passing resolutions imposing its mythological history on the nation’s textbooks.

Cynthia Dunbar, a board member who has described public education as a “subtly deceptive tool of perversion”, and who homeschooled her own children, emerges as a relentless ideologue. During the hearings, she yanks Thomas Jefferson from a standard according to which students are expected to “explain the impact of Enlightenment ideas … on political revolutions from 1750 to the present”, and replaces him with the 13th-century theologian St Thomas Aquinas. Moderate Republican board member Bob Craig points out that the curriculum writers clearly intended for the students to study Enlightenment ideas and Jefferson in this part of the standard, not a mix of Protestant and Catholic theologians, but the resolution passes anyway.

Dunbar isn’t very subtle about her agenda. In one scene, the filmmakers track her to a prayer rally in Washington, DC, where she implores Jesus to “invade” public schools.

The board goes on to remove the word “slavery” from the standards, replacing it with the more benign-seeming “Atlantic triangular trade”. They insist on calling the United States a “constitutional republic” rather than a “democracy” – largely because they want students to think of their country as Republican, not Democratic. So convinced are they of the timeless superiority of American/Republican values that one of them introduces a standard asking students to “explain three pro-free-market factors contributing to European technological progress during the rise and decline of the medieval system”.

Historical figures of suspect religious views (like Jefferson, Thomas Paine, Benjamin Franklin) or political tendency (like union organizer Dolores Huerta) are ruthlessly demoted or purged altogether from the study program. Meanwhile, the board majority makes room for an eclectic array of ancillary figures from the revolutionary period, such as Charles Carroll and Jonathan Trumbull. What these marginal figures have in common, other than being dusted off from high shelves and promoted by the board, is the fact that they were loud defenders of orthodox Christianity.

Even by their own admission, the board members were hopelessly unqualified to make judgments about the history. So they appointed a committee of academic “experts” to vet the standards. The committee was a model of “bipartisanship” in the modern era. For their part, the moderates on the board appointed credible historians, professors at Texas universities; one was defended by a moderate Republican board member as “a good Republican … not some kind of crazy liberal”.

The conservatives, on the other hand, appointed Peter Marshall of Peter Marshall Ministries, a group that seeks to “reclaim America for Christ” and is “dedicated to helping to restore America to its Bible-based foundations through preaching, teaching, and writing on America’s Christian heritage and on Christian discipleship and revival”. They also appointed pseudo-historian David Barton, the former vice-chairman of the Texas GOP and founder of the Black Robe Regiment. The latter, sinister-sounding organisation is an association of “concerned patriots” whose goal is to “restore the American Church in her capacity as the Body of Christ, ambassador for Christ, moral teacher of America and the world, and overseer of all principalities and governing officials, as was rightfully established long ago”.

Barton is known for fabricating quotes from America’s founders, or taking them out of context to build his case that America was established as a so-called “Christian nation”. And here’s the gruesome kicker: the Texas board actually ignored advice from its own, balanced committee whenever it contradicted the agenda of the far-right majority.

Sometimes, the most important characters in a story are the ones who don’t show up. In the Texas battle over history, the heroes who went missing were the kind of people and organizations that might have defended the teaching of history in the way that the scientists mobilized to defend the teaching of biology. The scientists are reasonably well-organized. When creationism rears its paleolithic head in state legislatures or on school boards, it faces the opposition of organizations such as the National Association of Biology Teachers, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Center for Science Education, the American Institute for Biological Sciences, the National Association of Geoscience Teachers, the National Earth Science Teachers Association, and others.

Defenders of biological sciences can also fall back on court rulings such as Kitzmiller v Dover Area School District and Edwards v Aguillard, which prohibit teaching of creationism. They also have a wealth of popular treatments of scientific issues to draw upon, such as explanations of evolutionary theory by Richard Dawkins and other scientists.

History, however, is often left to fend for itself.

To be fair, in the Texas proceedings, some historians and activists made valiant attempts to contain the damage. Kathy Miller, spokesperson for the Texas Freedom Network, an Austin-based research and advocacy group, was allocated several minutes for her impassioned defense of religious and political neutrality in public education. Professor Steven K Green, director of Willamette’s Center for Religion, Law, and Democracy, used his five minutes in front of the board to remind them that “the supreme court has forbidden public schools from ‘seeking to impress upon students the importance of particular religious values through curriculum.'” The board majority smiled and looked away.

So, where are history’s defenders?

Part of the problem here has to do with a common fallacy about history. We think of history as a “soft” subject. We know that it always involves some degree of interpretation, that the “narratives” are always “contested”, and that the answers are never so obviously right or wrong as they are in science. We also know that there have been leftwing versions of the history that are just as distorting as the rightwing propaganda served up by McLeroy and friends. But it’s plain wrong to think that we can only throw our hands in the air and conclude that history is whatever anyone chooses to say it is.

Some academics have gotten too used to speaking only with one another. Many could do a more forceful job of seeking to protect the public from disinformation. When I was researching my book, I came across plenty of academic historians who were dismissive about David Barton in private; but few were willing to go public, or to invest the effort in refuting him in detail.

Barton recently came out with another piece of propaganda, The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson. To their credit, a pair of professors who identify themselves as conservative Christians, Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter, have stepped forward to debunk Barton’s latest exercise in their book, Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims About Our Third President. But that hasn’t stopped Barton’s book from becoming a bestseller.

Maybe, we find it easy to underestimate the harm that bad history can do. McLeroy and his cohorts desperately want students to be taught that America is beyond criticism. It’s greatness, they believe, stems from the values, principles, and methods of America’s conservatives, and the only safe path to the future is to suppress or eliminate whatever does not conform to their image of a purified America. These “revisionaries” are far from the vision of the US bequeathed by the same founders whom the far right claims to revere.

The “glory of the people of America” as James Madison actually said, is that they broke free from the “blind veneration” of the ways of the past and learned how to draw on the “lessons of their own experience” in order to build the world anew.

The real issue here, as I see it, is that instead of laughing these assholes out the door, most people are too polite, nod, and burble some nonsense about how everyone’s ‘entitled to their opinion’ or somesuch thing. And of course, most crazy people take refuge behind religion to hide their illnesses and/or gain acceptance.

And while I am all for the open marketplace of ideas, these aren’t ideas: these are hidebound screeds that others are forcing upon the general populace. These are people that are polluting the tabula rasa of our children. Our children risk the chance of becoming polluted with the garbage these snake-oil peddlers are peddling. Sadly, because they hide behind religion, they cannot be brought to court for fraud, which is what should be done.

Till the next post, then.

This entry was posted in Absurdity, America's image, Bad God!, Crazy fundies, Creationism, Delusion, for fuck's sake!, Mythology, Politics, Religion, Stupidity, Superstition, Values. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to They Make ‘Em Big In Texas–And That Goes For Crazy Too…

  1. Nice to hear that Christianity is getting off its butt so that we’re evening the scales again. I’m sick and tired of my kid being exposed to the RELIGION OF anti-religious secularism in the PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM. Let’s even the playing field a little again.

  2. buckeyenonbeliever says:

    Texas, the Iran and Pakistan of the United States!!! Warrioress, when will the fundamental xtrians be happy with their efforts? Is it when creationism is only taught rather than science, or maybe when the 10 commandments are in every public building, or maybe when every school child is required to cite the lords prayer before the school day begins, or maybe will it not be until when the fundies rewrite the constitution and make xtrianity the official and only religion permitted in the U.S. and anyone who does not conform and subscribe to the official religion is then relegated to second class or worse; jailed for their “disobediance” to their government?

    You say it is about “evening the playing field” but the truth is, this right wing, xtrian fundamentalist worldview being shoved down Americans throats; is nothing short of your version of sharia law…….xtrian theocracy!!! You and your friends true end goal is no better than the islamic fundy nutjob. You may not be flying planes into buildings yet, or using suicide bombers to be heard and bring attention to your cause, but ideologically you are not much different. The end goal is to shut out all other religions and viewpoints, make it illegal to hold such views, and ultimately; CONTROL peoples thoughts, actions, and daily lives.

    Does that sound like the markings of a free and democratic society? Hardly.

  3. It sounds about as free and democratic as the society Richard Dawkins and his ilk want to see, friend.😉

    We always believe our beliefs are the best way for everyone else, do we not? Why do you consider yourself to be any different? You’re not, frankly, nor am I.

    Everyone *is* entitled to their own opinion, and that opinion is probably as valid as the next one is. The majority of the founders of our nation, America, were believers in God. Whether this belief was deism or a form of Christianity similar to what we see today, doesn’t matter — the point is that there was belief in a Creator/Higher Power/Something out here.

    You and the rest do not have the right to freedom from religion under the constitution. Your rights end when they infringe upon mine and visa versa. We have the right to express our religious beliefs freely, just as you are now and will in the future. We are all fighting for our own way politically and none of us is going to simply stop doing so.

  4. KA says:

    We always believe our beliefs are the best way for everyone else, do we not? Why do you consider yourself to be any different? You’re not, frankly, nor am I.

    The difference being, is we don’t want your imaginary friend running the show.

    Everyone *is* entitled to their own opinion, and that opinion is probably as valid as the next one is.

    That is the most specious & cowardly argument ever: everyone’s opinion is most definitely NOT equal.

    The majority of the founders of our nation, America, were believers in God.

    & they were wrong. The majority of the creators of democracy believed in Zeus too, that doesn’t validate it.

    Whether this belief was deism or a form of Christianity similar to what we see today, doesn’t matter — the point is that there was belief in a Creator/Higher Power/Something out here.

    Again a swing ‘n a miss – their belief DOESN’T MATTER.

    You and the rest do not have the right to freedom from religion under the constitution.

    A. It’s the Bill of Rights, &
    B. Freedom OF religion hinges upon freedom FROM religion.

    Your rights end when they infringe upon mine and visa versa.

    Rights & beliefs are not synonyms.

    We have the right to express our religious beliefs freely,

    You sure do, sport, just like we have the right to CRITICIZE your weird-ass beliefs.

    We are all fighting for our own way politically and none of us is going to simply stop doing so.

    It sounds like hypocrisy – if you get your way, it infringes on anyone who doesn’t agree.
    I want a secular government – the same one the founding fathers created. Note that ‘secular’ & ‘non-religious’ are NOT the same. Then again, judging from your infantile rant(s), I’d bet the rent you have no clue outside the manure you hear on Fox.

  5. buckeyenonbeliever says:

    Why do I consider myself any different? Wow, I think you are so far gone there may be no hope for you. The difference, and it is a big one; is the fact I do not support suppressing the constitution and forcing people to live in a theocratic tyranny like you and your ilk.

    I truly do not care if you wish to worship and praise an invisible sky monster, that is your constitutional right; where the line is crossed is when the invisible sky monster worshippers seek to legislate, mandate, and FORCE others to do the same. Legislation must never be set by the church, else it no longer can be called a democracy. It then becomes a theocracy. Fine for you as long as xtrianity is the basis for such law, but what would your opinion be if the laws were based on mormonism, judaism, or islam? I believe your “opinion” would change pretty quickly.

    Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness must not be placed with death, slavery and the pursuit of rapture.

  6. KA says:

    This ‘warrioress’ is a perfect illustration of horrible logic, a Joan-of-Arc complex (yeah, SHE was a nutter as well), & a grand example of the hysterical histrionic nature of why there’s a problem in this country. It isn’t that she’s religious: it’s that she’s a narcissist with bad self-esteem, fancying that her book of fables was written for her (& her ‘kindred spirits’), that the world is a playground graciously granted by some ridiculous all-father.
    I couldn’t care less if she believes bilge. It’s not my business. But when that bilge, that slop spills over into the lives of others, when some crazed control freak wants to impose their version of reality on us based on the ramblings of some desert shepherds, that is out of the question.
    Believe what you want to: but dictating how others live their lives in accordance to YOUR guidelines, is fascism pure & simple: because if the supernatural were subtracted from that, it’s what it would be.
    & there is nothing supernatural. Which makes you, ‘warrioress’, a madwoman.

  7. ChuckA says:

    Ummm…KA?…I think you meant:
    “I COULDN’T care less”…? [Remember John Cleese on that? ;;)
    I couldn’t agree more with both you, AND buckeyenonbeliever!

    Religions…ALL of them;; but particularly Christianity & Islam…and particularly in the “Western World”…have been fucking everyone over…in the attempt to make existential (even ETERNAL) slaves of EVERYONE.
    Rather :tangentially”, if I might…
    And…so-called “Free Will”…is a totally bullshit notion. Even Science has recently shown the evidentially-based diminution of that often bandied about notion.
    First…no-one “chooses” to EXIST…not even any proposed, so-called, “almighty god”.
    HAMLET: “To be (exist), or not to be (exist); THAT is the question!; and, additionally…no one either CAN, or let alone ALLOWED to choose to go OUT of existence.
    [Thank you Jean Paul Sartre? Read his play: “No Exit”.]
    [Hmmm…another one of those lesser discussed things that the Abrahamic “God” CANNOT do? Like Star Trek’s “Q”?]
    In other words…like Christopher Hitchens so often alluded to…
    the Abrahamic religions are ALL forms of extreme Theocratic Fascism; indeed, the ARCHETYPE of extreme Theocratic Fascism; but ESPECIALLY Christianity and Islam.
    Pardon me if I re-post a nicely relevant Christopher Hitchens YouTube on the general point (and then I’ll,,,
    scamper back into the existential shadows…?) 🙄

  8. Again, all of you miss the point. You are all as bigoted, intolerant, and narrow minded as you think Christians are. You believe you are entitled to spread your religion (secularism) all over America in our PUBLIC schools and government, and this is essentially akin to humanistic anti-theism which is a religion in and of itself. It’s not happening without a political fight and that’s what you’re getting, but you don’t like it!

    Too freaking bad…

  9. KA says:

    Again, all of you miss the point.

    Oh no we didn’t. In fact, you are just a pale echo of those who have come before.

    You are all as bigoted, intolerant, and narrow minded as you think Christians are.

    Project much?

    You believe you are entitled to spread your religion (secularism) all over America in our PUBLIC schools and government, and this is essentially akin to humanistic anti-theism which is a religion in and of itself.

    Standard tu quoque. This is utter nonsense.
    A. We have no religion,
    B.we want a fair shake for EVERYONE – no more free passes for the religious, &
    C. your own hypocrisy is showing: you’d impinge your beliefs on others.

    It’s not happening without a political fight and that’s what you’re getting, but you don’t like it!

    What we’re actually getting, is the childish temper tantrums of the Religious Right because they don’t get special treatment anymore.

  10. KA says:

    Thanks for the correction, ChuckA. Nice catch. Been rectified.

  11. Grundy says:

    Bruce Sterling, on history “If futurism is visionary, history is revisionary”

    Christians are used to revisions. The Bible has plenty.

  12. buckeyenonbeliever says:

    I think you need to look up the definitions of bigoted, intolerant, and narrow minded. Once you have a firm grasp on the meanings of these words, come back and maybe we can have a serious discussion warrioress.

  13. Just as an aside: Can we go ahead and cede Texas back to Mexico? Or the first bidder? I’ve also recently proposed this for Arizona for slightly different reasons… but… seriously? People are still trying to pretend they believe a book of fantasies from a long time ago is “truth”? Might as well pick 1001 Arabian Nights… at least the stories are a bit more entertaining.

    Sigh… “christianity”: pretending it is still relevant.

  14. Mark says:

    One needs to look no further than to West Memphis AK to see what a Theocracy would look like with the 1993 West Memphis 3 case.
    In a small town like this as with many in America, one is hired by the police dept on the premise of who you know as apposed to how well one is qualified to do the job. Being a bible-belt community the force was filled with Christians. Christians who seen the Devil and Witches hiding in every shadow.
    When three young boys were found beaten to death and dumped in the Robin Hood Woods, the local cops immediately decided that this was a Satanic Cult sacrifice killing. Ignoring all the facts, evidence, and especially the help of the more professional Arkansas Stat Police, they zeroed in on a young teen who was different than them. He did not follow their church, wore black, and listened to heavy metal music…the Devils music! They never focused their investigation anywhere else and soon arrested this unusual teen and two of his friends. They were convicted on flimsily circumstantial evidence, (some planted by the good Christians to prove their theory). But it was their fear of the Devil and Satanic Cults that the bible-thumping jury took into the jury room to decide the young boys fait, ignoring the defenses case filled with science and facts.

    After this case was exposed to the world stage, the true scientific experts presented their case and proved what fools these backwoods thinking Christian cops and prosecutors really were. After 18 years the three boys, now men, were finally set free, with scientific DNA evidence that one of their own Bible-thumpers, a good Christian of the community, probably killed the three boys. A person the local police still refuse to investigate, as their thinking still is that a good Christian could NEVER commit such a crime.

    On the other hand, in 1992 four-teen girls kidnapped, tortured for ten hours, and burned alive 12-year-old Shanda Sharer. They were immediately caught because of their big mouths and soon had full confessions. They made agreements and were all sentenced accordingly. Two of the girls joined the Christian run prison programs and were “Born Again”, and soon the full weigh of their Christian political connections from the prison group were set into effect and the effort was made to release these “Born Again” killers. After only a fraction of her time served, Hope Rippey was released early, and the Christian machine than focused on Melinda Loveless, the group leader at the time of the crime. She was not so lucky, but only because the public was made aware and fought this injustice.

    How long until we have a confession booth in the back of the courtroom for the Christians, no matter what their crime. And a stake to burn the rest at out back, the Atheists and other types of religious believers. The sample cases above proves that this is where we are heading…

    …and this people, is what a Theocracy looks like.

  15. Bronze Dog says:

    *Sigh* I remember when I first read about the Texas BOE trying to spin that witch hunter, Joseph McCarthy, as a hero. He was a menace, using those hearings as kangaroo courts to put people on trial for having a political point of view not in line with the government. Joseph Stalin would have been proud.

    I remember some episodes of my favorite sci-fi series that always enraged me when I watched them. Star Trek: Next Gen had, I think, “The Drumhead” where a McCarthyite admiral leads a witch hunt for Romulan sympathizers. DS9 had one where O’Brien was abducted by Cardassians for a show trial where he was found guilty before he was even charged. And, of course, there was a whole arc in Babylon 5 of the Earth government going fascist, generating false news reports with creative editing, and trying to break Sheridan with torture into a false confession of being “influenced” by alien cultures. For the last of those, I’d probably be spooked at the parallels between it and recent history.

    It sounds about as free and democratic as the society Richard Dawkins and his ilk want to see, friend.😉

    Oh, please, do tell what kind of society Dawkins and friends want. Methinks you’ll either just pull some BS out of nowhere or you’ll deliberately warp the meaning of something he said by “creative” quote mining. I’ve had plenty of Christians lie to my virtual face about what I believe, what Dawkins believes, and what other atheists believe, so don’t expect me to believe you without a proper citation.

  16. Mark says:

    Lets not forget Galileo, his scientific research of the time proved that the Earth was not the center of the universe, thus confronting the Christian beliefs at the time. So what do the religious leaders do? They throw him in solitary confinement and threaten him with death until he conforms. What makes the story worse is that they then passed a law that would put anyone who looked through a telescope to death. This is how they think, kill anyone that disproves their monopoly on spirituality and questions their authority…as they pillage the people financially and live in gold leaf churches like kings. And they still do it today.

    Can you imagine what a world we would be living in today if looking through a telescope was a death sentence. The discovery of electricity considered sorcery, medical research still considered witchcraft. All of these things were repressed by the church at one time or another and proves that religious folks are not of the critical thinking type. They have repressed the creative mind since the beginning of time, and still want that control. That is why they are attacking education, the more educated one is the less likely they are to believe in talking Snakes, magical cloud god figures, and the promise of young virgins after one dies…I always wondered if the last promise applied to women. Do they receive 100 virgin men? Or is that just for the guys?

  17. Sue Blue says:

    What really makes my blood boil is the number of people who think that there is no separation of church and state in the Constitution. It seems that the rightwing xtian crazies have been fairly successful in spreading this ignorance. I’ve gotten into discussions with people who insist that there is no reason why school prayer, creationism, and bastardized Christian versions of American history should not be taught in schools; there is no “law” to prevent it, and court challenges are just “atheist activism”. I checked out the “Good News Club” and was appalled to find an active chapter in my own little Western Washington town. The revisionist religious crazies are not just Texans busily fucking up their own – they’re everywhere, like a nasty cancer sneakily metastasizing cell by cell until the whole body’s riddled with it.

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