Sunday, September 20, 2015

An Attempt to Understand Ben Carson's Comments About Islam

I am sure some of you have seen this from Sunday's morning's edition of Meet the Press:

To summarize:

  • Carson says that faith does matter in presidential politics, as long as the faith of the candidate is "consistent with the Constitution."
  • Carson says that Islam is not compatible with the Constitution and he would thus not support a Muslim President of the United States.
  • Carson would consider supporting a Muslim for a seat in Congress if that person's beliefs are consistent with the American way of life.
It is pretty easy to counter Carson's statements here.  All one needs to do is appeal to Article 6 of the United States Constitution.  It states, "No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."  This is the only time religion is mentioned in the Constitution.

Carson's statement violates Article 6.  Men and women of any religious faith (or none at all) can hold federal office.  The President of the United States must swear to "defend the Constitution of the United States."  In other words, if Carson is elected President in November 2016, he will need to change his views.

But I think what Carson is trying to communicate here has less to do with religious practice and more to do with the way Islam has functioned when it informs the political philosophy behind a particular government.

Freedom of worship is one thing.  The failure to respect that separation of church and state is another.

I am not a Muslim, but I would vigorously defend the right of Muslim's to practice their faith.  I would even defend the right of Muslim politicians in the United States to allow their faith to inform their politics, as long as the way they do this is in keeping with the central tenets of a liberal democratic republic.  

I don't think many Americans--liberal or conservative--want a theocracy, an Islamic state, or a nation in which Islam is the state church or established religion.  There are many nations that are Islamic states.  I am no expert in Islamic studies or Islamic political philosophy, but I do think that the way most Islamic states (such as Pakistan or Iran) function is inconsistent with the principles of a liberal democratic republic.

The same thing goes for Christianity.  As an American, I would defend the right of a Christian to practice his or her faith without government interference, but I would oppose attempts to create a theocracy, privilege Christianity over other religions, or to make the Untied States a Christian nation. 

If Carson believes that a Muslim cannot or should not be President, he is constitutionally wrong.  If he is concerned with the implementation of an Islamic state in America, then I am with him.  (And I am "with him" for all kinds of reasons, from the way Islamic states treat women to the way they treat religious dissenters).

But two more things need to be said:

1.  It is wrong for Carson to suggest (as I think he is doing here) that those Americans who practice Islam as a religion automatically embrace the political philosophy of Islamic states.  Just because someone is a Muslim does not mean that he or she wants to create an Islamic state in America or wants to instill sharia law.  This is like saying that all Christians in the United States believe that we should be a Christian nation.

2.  If Carson is going to oppose an Islamic theocracy in the United States, he must also stop promoting the United States as a Christian nation.