by William Trollinger
Sometimes this blog simply writes itself.
A few weeks ago we ran a post on Kathleen Wellman’s Hijacking History: How the Christian Right Teaches History and Why It Matters (Oxford, 2021). In this terrific (albeit depressing) book, Wellman reports on what she found in world history textbooks produced for fundamentalist homeschoolers and fundamentalist Christian schools, books that are published by Abeka Books, Accelerated Christian Education, and Bob Jones University Press.
Among other things, Wellman discovered that these books:
- declare that “America was founded as a new Christian nation,” and thus “God’s favor blesses America’s foreign interventions and sanctifies (or whitewashes) its domestic history”;
- endorse “the Lost Cause myth while idealizing the Confederacy and white Southern culture, with its concomitant downplaying of slavery and endorsement of white supremacy”;
- claim that colonialism was a benign and humane institution that benefitted the indigenous peoples of Asia and Africa;
- assert that laissez-faire capitalism is God’s economic plan, with benefits that far exceed any minor inconveniences for the poor;
- say little about fascism, but are fully on-board with McCarthyism; and
- “condemn movements for workers’ rights, civil rights, and women’s rights, [as] redress of social ills is not the proper concern of Christians”.
And then there’s what these textbooks say about the ancient and medieval world:
- Greek and Roman civilizations, pagan as they were, were inherently and fundamentally flawed, and thus had nothing to recommend them;
- “the early Christians became pagans, and so they remain[ed] until the arrival of Luther . . . The early Christians were Protestants until they became paganized Catholics”; and
- “the Middle Ages experienced a ‘distorted form of Christianity,’ and the Renaissance merely created beautiful art while promoting pagan philosophies. Only the Reformation would free Europe from Catholicism and revive biblical Christianity . . . These educational materials essentially dismiss 1500 years of history as little more than a waiting period between the earliest Christianity and the coming Reformation.”
As a friend who is a medievalist wrote after reading the post on Wellman’s book: “OMG, Bill! This fundamentalist ‘history’ is appalling . . . I hardly know how to respond.”
Trigger alert, my friend. Another OMG moment is on its way, courtesy of Answers in Genesis (AiG).
Patricia Engler is youth outreach coordinator for AiG Canada. As noted on AiG’s website, where she is a blogger, “her passion for biblical apologetics ignited at age 14, when she first heard a seminar by AiG founder Ken Ham.” Homeschooled for 12 years, she then attended “a liberal Canadian university,” where she “learn[ed] firsthand how Christian students can navigate secular education without compromising their biblical worldview.”
(For those unfamiliar with this argument, the notion that there is a small set of unified and easily delineated “worldviews” – including the one and only “biblical worldview” – is central to contemporary fundamentalism. See below.)
In her most recent blog post, “Resistance, Reformation, and Renaissance: Lessons from the Worldview Battle in Rome,” Engler – who, I have to say, seems to be a sweet and extraordinarily earnest fundamentalist – announces an exciting new venture:
With its significance for the early church, Reformation, and Renaissance, Rome offers a central vantage point from which to understand the worldview battle still raging in Western culture – a battle which extends to the Neo-Marxist ideas storming society today. That’s why I’d chosen this city as the official starting point for my backpacking journey to trace the history and consequences of Marxism.
From this paragraph alone, one gets a clue that Engler is well-steeped in the history presented by fundamentalist homeschool textbooks, including the notion that laissez-faire capitalism (and certainly not socialism) is God’s economic plan for the Earth.
Given the times we live in and the fact that she is in Italy, one might imagine Engler would choose this as the starting point for a backpacking journey to trace the history and consequences of fascism. But as Wellman establishes, fundamentalist history textbooks bend over backwards to say little about fascism. So, will Engler make a stop in Orban’s Hungary? And if so, will this be a moment of celebrating the triumph of neo-fascism over neo-Marxism?
But it’s in the rest of Engler’s post that she reiterates what Wellman describes in Hijacking History:
- “The Romans [and Greeks] worshipped a pantheon of mythic deities. But no idols – not even those hewn from the toughest stone – can provide a solid worldview foundation on which to build a culture.”
- “Thousands of believers refused to compromise with the Roman government’s unbiblical demands . . . Where culture and Scripture disagreed, many believers in Rome followed God’s Word on pain of death.”
- “As the centuries unfolded, three related veins of compromise corroded the worldview foundation beneath Western culture’s Christianized veneer.
- Compromise on biblical authority: Instead of accepting God’s Word as their authority for truth, many Christians began viewing human-made teachings and church traditions from outside the Bible as though equal to Scripture. . . .
- Compromise on biblical doctrine: Tolerating the syncretism of man’s word with God’s Word opened the door for Christians to import more and more unbiblical teachings into their beliefs. . . .
- Compromise with pagan philosophy: Along the way, many mainstream believers began incorporating secular teachings into their Christianity. For instance, the prominent theologian Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) emphasized the pagan Greek philosopher Aristotle to the point that Aristotle’s teachings became treated as official church doctrine.”
- “Realizing that Western culture’s mainstream religion had drifted alarmingly far from God’s Word, Reformers, including Martin Luther, urged the church to return to its foundation of biblical authority.”
- “In the years between Aquinas and Luther, Western culture’s renewed emphasis on pagan Greece and Rome gave way to a full-blown revival of classical philosophy – a shift known as the Renaissance . . . Following the teachings of Aristotle, Renaissance thinkers believed that humans could construct their own meaningful view of reality by reasoning about the pieces of the world they could perceive around them rather than by beginning with God as the objective authority for truth and meaning.” Note: Engler uses Michelangelo’s “The Creation” in the Sistine Chapel as her example here.
- “Humanistic thinking gained rapid traction during the Renaissance, reflecting Satan’s original lies, ‘Did God actually say . . . ?’ and ‘You will be like God.’ To believe these lies and make ourselves the authority for truth is to leave the ultimate foundation for truth, logic, morality, justice, and human value, which God’s Word supplies. This leads to disastrous consequences and paves the way for later totalitarian regimes, including those influenced by Karl Marx.”
- “In today’s Western society, the cultural descendant of Rome, we see the same pattern unfolding at every turn. We again find ourselves at the front lines of the ancient worldview battle where humans wage a futile war against their Creator. We see this battle in Marx’s call for man to create himself via communism. We see it in the Renaissance times and the centuries of church compromise which led to the need for the Reformation. And we see it among the early believers in Rome, where standing on God’s Word over man’s meant facing horrific deaths. . . . Surrounded by the roar of [hostile] crowds, we must join the early Roman believers in resolving to standing on the Word.”
It is not surprising that Engler makes great use of the writings of pseudo-intellectual Francis Schaeffer to bolster her case. As Molly Worthen says about Schaeffer in her book, Apostles of Reason:
Schaeffer was notoriously irresponsible as a scholar . . . Schaeffer wowed audiences by explaining 500 years of intellectual history in a paragraph and a casual chalkboard diagram – but he did so with exaggerations, oversimplifications, and misinformation that would make a specialist cry. He was a brazen editor of history. He ignored the ferment of Greco-Roman “pagan” thought that informed Christian scripture. He declared the Reformers creators of a “definitive culture” pure of the “humanism” and “despair” latent in the Renaissance. (Never mind that Luther and Calvin were trained humanists. Schaeffer denied any link between them and his godless twentieth-century foe.) But then, he never claimed to be a professional scholar . . . His mistakes did not matter much. He turned history into a weapon in the culture wars. (216)
Yep. That’s what we see in fundamentalist history textbooks, and on the AIG website, and in this post. Appallingly bad history in behalf of right-wing culture war.
That said, Ms. Engler, I want to extend an invitation. Here at the University of Dayton seven colleagues and I teach a year-long interdisciplinary course – History, Philosophy, Religious Studies, and Rhetoric – on the history of the world, with a focus on the West(s). We start with Hammurabi and end with, well, today.
Yes, we are a Catholic university; yes, we talk at length about Aristotle and Aquinas and Marx (as well as Luther and Calvin, and much, much more); yes, we present a history at odds with the history you gleaned from your homeschool textbooks.
That said, you are more than welcome to come down from Canada and sit in on our course!