Ben Carson is Right: Religion is Relevant

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Everyone in the media (and some on the right) are in full freakout mode over Ben Carson’s comments about whether we should elect a Muslim to be President of the United States. I’m not sure that I am in 100% agreement with Carson’s sentiments, but I find the caterwauling over the very idea that a person’s religion is a relevant consideration to be patently ridiculous.

It has become de rigeur in modern society to treat a person’s religion like you would their skin color – as something they are essentially born with that has no bearing on how they might act or behave. Suggesting that someone might think, act, or behave in a certain way because of their religion is treated as bigotry akin to racism. Some especially low-wattage intellects go so far as to actually call anti-Muslim sentiment racism, even though Islam is not a race and there are people of all races who adhere to it.

I think that this is primarily a function of the fact that modern Americans – especially on the left – do not understand how religions are supposed to work. Religions are basically treated these days like a social club that you pick based on the flavor of rhetorical style you prefer in your preaching and the style of person you prefer to have around you in the worship service. And hey, for a lot of people – especially liberals (read: members of the media) – that’s exactly how it works.

However, it’s important to understand that religion, at least of the monotheistic variety, does not work that way, on its own terms. All of the sacred texts of the world’s major monotheistic religions (of which Islam is one) set forth in clear terms, with no room for uncertainty, that they are supposed to be the central organizing force in your life.

Religion is supposed to lay claim to your highest and best allegiance in life, and is supposed to have real, meaningful influence on how you think, act, and behave. In fact, both the New Testament and the Torah are littered with condemnations of people who claim to be Christian/Jewish, but whose life does not reflect the teachings of Christianity/Judaism in action.

I am not any sort of expert on Islam, but I would be stunned to learn that the Koran doesn’t have a whole lot of equivalent passages. In fact, (and this is to the credit of Muslims), my impression is that most Muslims take being Muslim a whole lot more seriously in terms of their daily life than Christians do Christianity.

With all that having been said, it’s an open and valid question how a Muslim’s faith might or might not be compatible with faithfully discharging the duties of President of the United States, particularly with respect to defending a Constitution that contains the First Amendment.

 

Human beings, you see, do not operate according to perfect information or perfect rationality. We have neither the time, intellectual capacity, or perfect reason to analyze every question perfectly, so we operate according to heuristics.  Some things, we would hope they would not become elements of our own personal heuristic – things like predicting a person’s behavior/thoughts based on the color of their skin. However, when it comes to religion, this is a person’s outward expression of what they think and believe, and how they will act, and so therefore it becomes a valid part of our heuristic when we evaluate candidates for political office.

Virtually every major candidate who was the first of his religion to mount a serious candidacy for the Presidency has had to answer questions – publicly – about how his faith is or is not compatible with doing the job – whether JFK with respect to Catholicism or Mitt Romney with respect to Mormonism. And while I wouldn’t rule out a Muslim President out of hand, my own personal heuristic would say – in a manner consistent with probably much of the rest of America – that I would want to have some serious questions answered publicly and on the record about how such a candidate’s faith would be consistent with discharging the duties of the President of the United States. And one of the questions I would want answered, in light of Muslim doctrines like taqiyya – is how or why we should believe any public profession of tolerance or willingness to respect the religious pluralism of America.

I’m not ready to say, like Ben Carson, that I would automatically dismiss any Muslim candidate out of hand. But I’m closer to that position than the unthinking insistence that a candidate being a Muslim would not matter at all, in terms of discharging the duties of the President. That attitude is clearly more foolhardy and dangerous than Carson’s, by a country mile.

ADDENDUM: The idea that Carson’s comments somehow violate the Religious Test of the Constitution is a non-serious assertion that is being bandied about by people who are ignorant about the constitution. If the United States Congress passed a law that forbade any person from being elected President unless they were Christian, that would violate the Religious Test of the Constitution. A private citizen like Ben Carson saying he wouldn’t vote for someone because they are not a Muslim does not.

Nothing in the Constitution prevents you from voting or refusing to vote for any candidate for any reason that you want, including a person’s religion, their race, your belief that the world is controlled by a secret cabal of garden gnomes, or any other thing you think or might believe. All that the Constitution prohibits (or even can prohibit) is a person being barred from holding office due to these things by operation of law. The fact that certain people cannot grasp this is further evidence of the  benighted state of our educational system, which utterly fails to teach people about the difference between private action and government action, on even a basic level.