A Christian, a Muslim, and Ben Carson walk into a bar…

Well, sometimes it all feels like a joke.

Dr. Carson stepped in it last week. From Huffington:

Carson, who placed third in the CNN/ORC poll of the Republican presidential field released Sunday, said a president’s faith would matter to him depending on what that faith is.

“If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter,” he said. “If it fits within the realm of America and is consistent with the Constitution, I have no problem.”

He said that Islam, as a religion, is incompatible with the Constitution.

“I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that,” he said.

Commentary has followed two lines so far. One is just sort of flat out wrong. The other, I don’t know how to think about.

1. Everyone saying Ben Carson doesn’t understand the Constitution, doesn’t understand the Constitution.

I am actually surprised, in a disappointed way, that this comes up in every left-wing response. “The Constitution says there will be no religious test for public office!”

To those on the left, this apparently means that voters are legally required to ignore a candidate’s faith when deciding whether they support the candidate. I’ll remember that next time someone attacks a conservative for sounding too Christian.

In actuality, this simply means that the states can’t write a law saying “ONLY EPISCOPALIANS ALLOWED ON OUR BALLOTS”. But if Larry the Lutheran can’t abide voting for Episcopal Earl, that’s his vote and he can do with it what he wants. Individuals are still allowed their religious convictions and their own opinions in the US.

So, what Dr. Carson said was, at least, fully in line with the Constitution. He didn’t say a Muslim shouldn’t be allowed to be President. He just said he wouldn’t personally support a Muslim candidate. He’s allowed that opinion.

2. Islam and the Constitution.

Here’s where I confess ignorance. Rather than knee-jerking out a response on either side–either cheering the courageous stand, or condemning the blatant bigotry–I want to actually consider the question. Is Islam incompatible with the Constitution? Let’s back up in his statement.

Carson, who placed third in the CNN/ORC poll of the Republican presidential field released Sunday, said a president’s faith would matter to him depending on what that faith is.

“If it’s inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter,” he said. “If it fits within the realm of America and is consistent with the Constitution, I have no problem.”

This, as a standard, ought to be uncontroversial. Someone’s faith is part of who they are. If a candidate’s religion dictates that he must act in a way that would violate his duties in office, Ima say maybe he shouldn’t hold that office. Yes, I’m looking at you, Kim Davis.

So where does Islam fit into this question?

I think it’s important to remember that we vote for individuals, not religions. That would have been a decent answer for Dr. Carson to give, by the way. What does this individual’s Muslim faith mean to him or her? Because, of course, ask ten experts on religion how Islam may or may not be compatible with the Constitution, and you’ll get ten contradictory answers. I imagine you could ask ten Muslim theologians and have the same result. Islam, like any major religion, has broken into denominations and factions, and different leaders seem to have different interpretations of some pretty significant points.

I’m sensitive to the idea that there is unfair mistrust and misunderstanding of Islam. I’m familiar with the phenomenon. Atheists accuse Christians of believing in a magic sky fairy and think they’re stuck in the dark ages. Protestants accuse Catholics of worshiping statues and think they’re stuck in the dark ages. Is the idea that Islamic sharia law would trump the Constitution for a Muslim President a similar mistake?

I honestly don’t know how to actually answer that. Many experts, including many Muslims, are of the opinion that the separation of Church and State doesn’t really fit within Islam. Many others disagree. In Muslim countries, wide majorities favor making sharia the law of the land. But then the people of Egypt–though 74% polled in favor of sharia at the above link–basically rioted to throw out Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood after they started trying to implement sharia law. Given situations like that, I’m unwilling to accept a broad claim that authentic Islam automatically means taking the position that secular governments should be run according to sharia law.

I wouldn’t have said what Dr. Carson said. But whether or not the statement is justifiable depends on a greater understanding of Islam than I can claim, so it seems to remain an open question.

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  1. #1 by sky on September 29, 2015 - 1:36 am

    the point you made about government employees placing their personal beliefs ahead of their position responsibilities was all he needed to say. its unfortunate that he didnt take the opportunity to do so.

    • #2 by basicconservative on September 29, 2015 - 7:48 am

      Yeah, there are a bunch of better ways he could have responded. Still, I’m not going to outright dismiss the argument. In the vast majority of cases, I’m going to consider a candidate’s views, past, etc., and their faith is only going to be part of the picture. But, I can imagine something big enough to trump that if I try. I’ll go out on a limb here and say that I will never vote for a satanist. The question is, where does Islam fall in that spectrum? How big of a deal is the question of sharia law?

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