Mark Twain once remarked, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand.” When Dr. Ben Carson pointed out the static between the Koran and the Constitution, I think he was saying something similar. Pundits critique him as narrow (read “simplistic”) and compliment themselves as plural (read: “sophisticated”) However, democracy is not an academic exercise where all ideas are equal; it’s the fruit of a culture shaped by certain kinds of convictions.
In the guise of separating church and state, cultural elites have been purging public life of anything that smacks of Christianity. Whereas, calling out Islam is considered a no-no. But Carson’s statement raises concern that, around the globe, the practice of Islam works against the grain of democracy. Carson’s aim, ironically, is to protect principles of democracy which include Muslims.
French scholar Alexis de Tocqueville observed:
[Christianity] in America … must be regarded as the foremost of the political institutions of that country; for if it does not impart a taste for freedom, it facilitates the use of it.
You need not subscribe to the U.S. being a Christian nation (now or once upon a time) to see the historic importance of Christian sensibility to the American experiment. While Jefferson, who wrote many of our founding documents, had a pick-and-chose approach to Christian doctrine, he and the founding fathers framed our society presuming upon the categories of human dignity, equality, and transcendent purpose supplied by the Judeo-Christian heritage.
Is Carson discriminating?
Some may say, “I know plenty of Muslims who only want to practice their religion and raise their children in peace.” I have witnessed the same. However, in order to discharge the office of president in keeping with E Pluribus Unum, a Muslim would need to set aside not minor doctrines, but the very external and immanent nature of Islam. In Kenya and parts of Europe, Muslims aggressively and assertively influence culture. More than private morality is in their crosshairs. Of course Carson is discriminating in terms of ideals. The law itself discriminates when it comes to running for president, e.g. no one under thirty-five may run. Is youth more a threat to democracy than Sharia Law?
What about parts of the Bible that contradict American plurality?
Others may point to Christianity with the same objection–that the Old Testament presumes upon a theocratic form of government, for instance. Actually, the New Testament reframes the principles of the Old Testament apart from theocracy. “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s,” Jesus said. Paul tells the Roman church to be subject to the law of the land (Rom. 13:1).
Again, it is not PC to say it, but certain beliefs line-up with and foster the principles of democracy and others do not. Paradoxically, Christian doctrines like grace and freedom so evident in the constitution make us vulnerable to potential threats to grace and freedom–to people who despise such doctrines as weak but capitalize on them as opportunists. Ideas have consequences.
“What we suffer from today is humility in the wrong place. Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition and settled upon the organ of conviction, where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth; this has been exactly reversed” (Chesterton).