The notion that history can be revised has been around since at least the second generation of history writers. Mesopotamian kings commonly published their own versions of history to accent their own accomplishments. New Egyptian rulers went so far as to reshape statues and chisel out engraved hieroglyphs in order to praise themselves for what their predecessors had done, or to credit their preferred god over the god of their fathers.
The Hebrews possessed a similar ability to recast history to suit the purposes of the writers. Witness, for example, the sharp difference in the way King David is portrayed in the books of Samuel and Kings (where his sins and their consequences are on clear display) as compared to the later books of Chronicles (where the Bathsheba story is edited out and David is portrayed as a near-perfect icon for emulation, the founder of the temple cult that was so important during the postexilic period).
The pattern has often been repeated through the millennia: when nations rise and fall, the victors often rewrite history to serve their own purposes. More objective modern historians have their work cut out for them in poring through various versions of history as they try to determine what actually happened.
But, not all modern historians strive for objectivity: two recent stories demonstrate that revisionist history is alive and well in America. One is from Texas, where the state board of education has given preliminary approval to replacing the current social studies curriculum with books that downplay the important principle of church-state separation and diminish the role of those, like Thomas Jefferson, who championed it. Both historians and some moderate to liberal pastors are speaking out against the proposed change, but you can bet many conservative Christians support the distorted version of the country’s founding.
Any number of people who are either gullible or simply inclined to re-imagine history to suit their own vision have bought into the notion that America was founded as an intentionally Christian nation. Those include Sarah Palin, who recently said in her role as a “political analyst” for Fox News that the Bible should be the basis of all U.S. laws. The amazing thing is that she dared claim that her view is the original one, and that those who recognize the carefully secular basis of the Constitution are the revisionists:
Well, that new kind of world view that I think is kind of a step towards a fundamental transformation of America that some want to see today, I think, again, that it is an attempt to revisit and rewrite history. I think we should kind of keep this clean, keep it simple, go back to what our founders and our founding documents meant. They’re quite clear that we would create law based on the God of the Bible and the 10 Commandments.
No matter that the Constitution does not mention God, but finds its authority in “We, the people.” No matter that the first amendment clearly calls for congress to make no laws regarding the establishment of religion — Palin and her fellow true-believers are convinced that the founders were devout Christians who intended to establish a Judeo-Christian nation, and no amount of evidence can convince them otherwise.
Those who like the idea of combining church with state and basing America’s laws on the Bible apparently don’t realize that the logical result would be little more than a Christian version of the Taliban and its insistence on sharia law. Do they really want to revise history that much?