Well, this is a controversial topic. Therefore, I weigh in. It relates to Rabbi Marc Soloway’s drash given on the Second Day of Rosh Hashanah 5773.
Rabbi Marc referenced Beliefnet.com editor Stephen Waldman and his recent book, “Founding Faith: How Our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical New Approach to Religious Liberty,” in his drash about reconciling differing perspectives on any topic. Rabbi Marc cited, as an example, Talmudic schools that often argued on points sometimes as more a matter of form than mere haggling over interpretations (of the Tanach). Just listening to the other was as important as scoring a searing point against the opponent. He cited his own amazement at this simple idea when he was forced at a meeting of Rabbis Without Borders to defend the meat processing industry as an exercise in going against your own beliefs.
David Barton and Stephen Waldman are on opposite sides of an on-going but heated debate over the character and religious beliefs of America’s Founding Fathers. Waldman, following a newer old school, says they were religious (and not Deists), but not invested in any sort of orthodox, religious Christian (at that time) beliefs. Barton says they were intentionally religiously informed (Bible study) and imparted religion throughout their writings, including our founding documents, such as the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. He says that liberal academics have purposely deceived students and the public to support their own liberal political ideologies. He insists the Founding Fathers consciously were putting forth a Judeo-Christian understanding of the world and inserting such into their politics. What I have tried to do so far is an outline of the debate, paraphrasing it.
So conservative Rod Dreher writing in the American Conservative uses NPR’s report on Barton to say Barton is deceiving the public. What does NPR say? They checked out Barton’s linkage in particular statements to the Bible and do not find one such linkage. But I was curious about something. NPR says they found no linkage, for instance, to Deuteronomy 17:15 on the question of only picking a native born President in the Constitution, but they did not give the quote they did find. So I went looking for this myself. Guess what, here is the quote from the King James version, but you could use any number of other Bible versions:
“Thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom the LORD thy God shall choose: one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee: thou mayest not set a stranger over thee, which is not thy brother” — King James Bible (Cambridge Ed.)
Pretty clear to me. By G-d, there IS a linkage between the Bible and the Constitution. Not only is Barton correct, but NPR is just that much less of a source of truth in reporting. I cannot see this as merely bad journalism; it is a pattern of mistakes at NPR which says to me that it is a lie.
Now, in the defense of NPR, they quoted Barton as having said the quote is taken verbatim from Deuteronomy 17:15, but I think it is false reporting nonetheless. If NPR had given us the Bible quote, and the quote was not verbatim, but strongly suggestive of the Barton claim, then, I could not accuse them of falsehoods, except as a pattern of mis-representations. They would have correctly articulated the story, though I would not agree with their interpretation of it. As it is, and seeing NPR make these accusations about religion and the Founding Fathers, deceiving us, and seeing them do this kind of deception over and over, I hope you will permit me to put them in a class of journalism which my friend David Ross likes to call “an alternative universe.”
Now, I am not necessarily supporting Barton over Waldman, but it appears to be the case, as Rabbi Marc Soloway correctly observed in his Rosh Hashanah drash, that one needs to understand the arguments of the “other” in order to know your own. This demonstrates that principle. But I am going one point further. I hope people will understand that they have to search more widely than NPR. Understanding the “other” does not mean, cannot mean, interpreting it through a filter such as news bureaus like NPR. Or Fox News. Or Stephen Waldman. It does mean going to the source itself. Letting the “other” speak for themselves is an imperative addition to the good Rabbi’s talk.
Read Waldman, but also read Barton. And listen to Soloway too.