Onward Christian History!


If you’re the kind of person who keeps tabs on the latest from fundamentalist Christians in the US, the story I’m about to link to might contain some facts you weren’t aware of, but nothing particularly surprising. The NY Times Magazine is running a piece on the continuing efforts by the Christian fundamentalist community to recast early US history in a very religious light.

The problem–besides their ability to pretzel facts with the ardor of a television prosecutor with a looming election–is that Texas has an outsized effect on the school textbook industry (for now, at least–e-books might lessen that grip in the future). What Texas wants, Texas tends to get, and that spills over into other states because textbook publishers don’t want to make multiple editions of the same book. So if Texas wants Magruder’s American Government to call the US Constitution an “enduring” document instead of a “living” document (even though the book has called it “living” since World War I, hardly a period of radical liberalism in US history), Texas gets the change.

I don’t want to overblow this and suggest that we, as a society, are staring doom in the face if we don’t band together against the attempts by Christian fundamentalists in Texas to make K-12 history books more religion-focused. Even if they get their wish and textbooks throughout the land argue that the country was founded as a Christian nation, or that there’s no wall between church and state inherent in the First Amendment, they can’t change the reality that the US is not now the same country it once was. The Founders’ intent is kind of beside-the-point now, because we don’t live in that country anymore, and we never will, despite every attempt the fundamentalist Christian right makes to roll back the clock.

But there is still a danger in allowing the history books to be rewritten to the degree these people wish. Orwell was right when he said “who controls the past, controls the future,” only in this case, the past I’m concerned about is not in the books, but in the memories of the kids who’ll read those books. The people pushing for these changes aren’t looking for nuanced view of early America–they want a curriculum loaded with Christian Dominionism and American exceptionalism, because they’re hoping to convert people to the cause, and a good place to start is in the public schools.

Brian Spears is Senior Poetry Editor of The Rumpus and the author of A Witness in Exile (Louisiana Literature Press, 2011). His poem “Upon Reading That Andromeda Will One Day Devour Triangulum and Come For Us Next” was featured in Season 9 of Motion Poems. More from this author →