BEN CARSON AND MUSLIMS: If Ideas Matter, What He Said Makes Perfect Sense

Written by Steve Pauwels on September 24, 2015

It’s often said that America, perhaps uniquely, is a nation founded on an idea. If true, then why the kerfuffle over Ben Carson’s recent statement that he wouldn’t endorse the installment of a Muslim in the White House? 

On Sept 20th’s Meet the Press, answering a question about a president’s faith and the electorate, the sixty-four-year-old Republican presidential candidate emphasized, “If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter. But if it fits within the realm of America and consistent with the Constitution, no problem.” Responding next to a specific query regarding Islam,  Carson was blunt:  “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

Again, do ideas matter? If so,  the retired neurosurgeon’s utterance is a piercingly unremarkable one. Of course what a politician believes is a valid area of inquiry: The political class traffics in beliefs, in ideologies which shape public policy and, thus, the nation. This applies to  any politician; certainly to America’s Chief Politician.

Do tenets of Sharia law (Islam’s legal system) inescapably collide with key notions undergirding a Constitutional Republic? Looking at Muslims’ revered texts — particularly the Quran and Hadith —  and Islam’s history, the evidence is persuasive: they do (e.g, religious intolerance, women’s oppression, jihad, etc).

In some sectors, this would qualify as a conflict. 

Presently, the burden of proof rests on Muslim-Americans to demonstrate compellingly that’s not necessarily the case; that they can be loyal patriots, capable of serving gainfully within America’s system. It’s up to them to prove they’ll cherish and nourish the precepts and priorities that, at least to this point, have built the nation. To be sure, Old-Glory-waving followers of Mohamed are running into the wind on that errand; but if they insist it can be done? — have at it.

Carson’s avowal happens to have zilch to do with the much-dreaded “religious test” too many critics — including, disappointingly, fellow GOP contenders Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Carly Fiorina — have been sloppily piping about the past few days. That constitutional provision — Article VI – forbids the Federal government’s demanding any specific spiritual or doctrinal fealty from a public official. No enforced national church, in other words..

It has nothing to say, however, about individual Americans’ right to evaluate the beliefs of someone eyeballing elected or appointed office. Does that really need spelling out? U.S. citizens, obviously, are permitted to factor in the convictions and philosophy of anyone vying for this country’s levers of power, potentially molding the contours of our society.

Say a “Christian pacifist” is aiming at the Commander-in-Chief spot. Would the American populace be out of order taking a pass on that choice – someone who, in principle, even if for religious reasonings, is anti-military? How about an Anarchist incongruously running for the presidency? When the responsible citizen weighs such a candidate’s way of thinking before entering the voting booth, is that okay?

If ideas that guide a person matter, these are silly questions. 

The Left certainly regards candidates’ sentiments to be subjects of burning urgency. They’re forever caterwauling, scandalized, about Conservative “litmus tests” for any governmental position — until they establish their own “progressive” checklist of non-negotiables: Abortion? Homosexual rights? Obamacare? Gun control?

Seems to me the secularist meme resurfaces, with some regularity, that a devout Catholic ought to forget about holding public office — after all, how would baby-killing rights, federally-funded contraception and oh-isn’t-gay-grand enthusiasms prevail under “papists’ ” sinister sway? And I don’t recall Liberal throngs exactly crowding the microphones back in 1988 to attest Pat Robertson’s Bible-based persuasions shouldn’t bar his Oval Office campaign. 

Beyond the Carson/Muslim dust-up, this discussion carries over to the immigration and refugee debate nettling the current scene. For lots of folks, the worries aren’t merely, or even chiefly, economy- or national security-oriented -– they’re cultural.  Millions of human beings flooding America from abroad don’t just bring additional warm bodies across the border. Oftentimes, they’re conveying customs, attitudes and heartfelt understandings at fierce odds with the country’s founding principles; and which they have no intention of relinquishing, ever.

When the American “stock” is, thus, persistently diluted with those who don’t embrace Judeo-Christian/Western values — who, in fact, aggressively resist them and any attempts to assimilate to them — the nation’s philosophical bedrock corrodes, crumbles, maybe, eventually, turns to dust.

If ideas matter.

It’s fascinating that, apparently, our Founding generation was concerned newcomers to their new land hung around the home-turf long enough to receive at least some scrutiny before formally being christened “American”. Mark Alexander writes, “The [Naturalization Act of] 1790 … stipulated immigrants had to be legal residents in the U.S. for two years prior to applying for citizenship. The Naturalization Act of 1795 … required five years’ residence … the Naturalization Act of 1798 … 14 years”.

Notice with each successive measure, the probationary period was extended. Regarding the beliefs and character of  citizens-in-waiting -– those who’d eventually play a part in determining how the fledgling Republic would develop -– early U.S. lawmakers couldn’t be too careful.

Might those centuries-old suspicions have stirred some hurt feelings among outsiders yearningly  looking into a freshly-commissioned United States of America? Might they do so two-hundred-plus years later? Might Dr. Carson’s candid discomfort have the same effect on modern-day devotees of Islam? Very probably — but that’s the yucky, complicated – and unavoidable — reality of living alongside those with fundamentally differing worldviews. The civilized –- not to mention prudent — response is decidedly not impatiently waving away the dilemma, recklessly pretending it doesn’t exist.

Because ideas do matter. As philosopher Richard Weaver pithily reminded nearly seventy years ago, they have consequences. Bad ideas, even when wielded by religious minorities or DREAMers, can yield long-term, unwelcome ramifications – for individuals and nations.

Come to think of it, there is one rather remarkable aspect to Carson’s no-Muslim-in-the-White-House assertion: In our gelded age, smothered by political correctness, slipshod thinking and cheap sentimentality, he had the guts to say it aloud.

Yep, pretty remarkable, indeed.


Share if you think Ben Carson is on to something in his concerns about Islam.

Steve Pauwels is pastor of Church of the King, Londonderry, NH and host of Striker Radio with Steve Pauwels on the Red State Talk Radio Network. He's also husband to the lovely Maureen and proud father of three fine sons: Mike, Sam and Jake.