The most disturbing thing about Ben Carson, at least to me, is not that he believes that abortion is murder, that homosexuality is a sin, that evolution is false, or that a Muslim should not be elected president. These are views widely held by the social conservatives of the Republican Party, including some of the other candidates running for the nomination, views that we have come to expect. No, what disturbs me about Ben Carson is the look on his face.
When I watch Mike Huckabee or Rick Santorum giving a speech, I see men that have to tell me they are deeply religious in order for me to know about it. Their views on abortion, gay rights, and evolution are such that I would not like to see them become president, but at least they seem to be (dare I say it?) normal. They strike me as men who just happen to have beliefs and values quite different from mine and that of most Democrats, probably because they were raised that way.
But when I see Ben Carson, I experience a visceral aversion. Thank goodness he is a Republican, because I would really be conflicted if he were leading in the polls as a candidate for the Democratic nomination the way he presently is in some polls as a Republican. In other words, he could be pro-choice, supportive of gay rights, secular in his thinking, and open to the idea of a Muslim’s being president of the United States, and I would still be troubled by the possibility of his becoming president on account of the look on his face.
Referring again to Huckabee and Santorum, both men have won the Iowa caucus in the past and have done reasonably well overall in their bids for the nomination, but they lost in the end. And so it is that I fully expect Ben Carson’s candidacy to have similar results. The difference is primarily one of imagination: it’s not that Carson has a better chance than Huckabee or Santorum did in the past; it’s that the thought of his actually winning the nomination and then the presidency is just so much more horrifying. And all because of the look on his face.
Because he and Donald Trump are both doing so well in the polls, some people argue that their supporters are alike in wanting someone that is not part of the political establishment, the difference being that whereas Trump is a loudmouth, Carson is soft-spoken, which many find reassuring. Not me. I admit to the guilty pleasure of enjoying Donald Trump’s performance, for much of what he says is funny. But Ben Carson never makes me laugh, not even when he says something laughably ignorant.
At first I suspected that Carson was on medication, and some have called him the Ambien candidate. But it finally occurred to me that Ben Carson, through his serene facial expression, his habit of closing his eyes, and his manner of speaking softly, is presenting himself as a man who is at peace with God. By saying that he is “presenting” himself in that way, I do not mean to suggest that he is a hypocrite or a fraud. Rather, he presents himself that way as much for his own benefit as for ours. Perhaps the explanation lies with his violent past. He admits that in the past he was “volatile,” that he had a tendency to lose his temper and attack people. He had to counter that tendency with an equally strong, opposing passion for saintliness.
Carson is a Seventh-Day Adventist, a sect that believes in the literal truth of The Book of Genesis. Not surprisingly, then, Carson does not believe in evolution, going so far as to say that the theory was “encouraged by the Adversary.” On the other hand, in an interview on CNN, he said of himself that he is “not a real religious person…. I’m a person who has a deep and abiding faith and relationship with God. But I’m not really into a lot of religious dogma and rituals — ‘You can’t do that, and you can’t do this.’ I don’t believe in that. I believe you have to have a deep and abiding faith in God.” When asked by Bill O’Reilly on Fox News whether he believed in Adam and Eve, he said, “I know a lot of people say that I believe the earth is 6,000 years old, and they have no basis for saying that. I don’t know how old the Earth is.” He went on to say that according to Genesis, ‘In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth’ — and then there’s a period there. You don’t know how much time elapsed.” He followed this by saying, “He’s God. If he wanted to create an Earth that was billions of years old he could do it.”
Given his low opinion of dogma, and his willingness to treat the story about the world’s being created in six days as allegorical or figurative, one might think the way would be open to him to accept evolution the way many liberal Protestants do, as something that took place over billions of years, guided occasionally by the hand of God. Nevertheless, by his own account, evolution is an evil doctrine, presumably because it contradicts the story of creation as laid out in Genesis. What is going on here?
Before drawing any conclusion from that, let us consider the reason he gave for saying that a Muslim should not be elected president. “I would have problems with somebody who embraced all the doctrines associated with Islam,” Carson said. “If they are not willing to reject sharia and all the portions of it that are talked about in the Quran—if they are not willing to reject that, and subject that to American values and the Constitution, then of course, I would.” In other words, what makes a Muslim unacceptable is his belief in the dogma of Islam. But if a Muslim is like Carson, one who does not think dogma is important, then such a Muslim might be all right.
The dogma of a religion is a set of beliefs that are fundamental to it. They are something that requires thought, if only to understand them. But one thought leads to another, and the first thing you know, you run into a contradiction. Some people resolve the contradiction by rejecting the dogma, by rejecting the story of Adam and Eve, for example. Others attempt to construct an elaborate theory that will be compatible with the evidence (the fossils of dinosaurs are of antediluvian monsters that never made it on the ark, or God put the fossils there to test our faith, or they are they work of Satan). But one solution is simply to avoid thinking altogether. That is the path taken by Ben Carson.
When Scott Walker famously admitted he was going to “punt” when asked about evolution in England, we all suspected that he believed in evolution, but was afraid of losing the evangelical vote. This was the same man who said, “There’s no such thing as a hypothetical.” But in saying such things, Walker was simply concealing his thoughts from us. Carson is concealing his thoughts from himself. Or rather, he is suppressing his thoughts before he even has them. Carson is protecting the dogma of Christianity by refusing to think about it.
When he speaks about his “deep and abiding faith in God,” he is talking about a feeling, a feeling that he believes renders unnecessary any kind of critical thinking, which is why he gets exasperated with “Gotcha” questions about his tax plan or his proposal to get rid of Medicare and Medicaid. He is in a state of grace and his heart is filled with joy. This is why he speaks softly, slowly closes his eyes, and has the look of serenity upon his face, for he is at one with the Lord, with whom all things are possible, including his plans for taxes and entitlements. And this is why he is doing so well in the polls, for when people see the way he looks and hear the way he speaks, they sense the purity of his soul and the goodness of his heart.
No wonder I’m appalled.