bencarsonIn April of 1990, Reader’s Digest pub­lished an arti­cle “Dr. Ben Car­son: Man of Mir­a­cles.” As a 9 year old child, I remem­ber read­ing that arti­cle and admir­ing Dr. Car­son. I admired his strug­gle, his abil­ity to over­come the chal­lenges of his child­hood. I mar­veled after his obvi­ous intel­li­gence and his mirac­u­lous accom­plish­ments. When I found out he was Seventh-day Adven­tist like me that cemented my fan­dom. His story spoke to me as a shy smart kid, mak­ing my way through my first year at a pub­lic school. Dr. Car­son showed me that with a lit­tle hard work and inge­nu­ity, you could accom­plish any­thing. I thought about Dr. Car­son when­ever I thought my dreams were unat­tain­able. I believed in Dr. Car­son. I read about him vora­ciously into my teenage years. Later that year (1990), I read his auto­bi­og­ra­phy Gifted Hands. In 1996 I read his sec­ond book Think Big. At that age I con­sid­ered him one of my role mod­els. I don’t just con­sider him a great sur­geon, but I con­sider him to be the great­est sur­geon who has ever lived. I thought that in 1990, and I believe it now.

My admi­ra­tion for Dr. Car­son almost makes me reluc­tant to say what must be said. Dr. Carson’s speech at the National Prayer Break­fast last Thurs­day was amongst the worst speeches I’ve ever seen given in such a pub­lic forum. I wish I could walk back from that assess­ment but I can’t. While I do not agree with Dr. Carson’s pol­i­tics, my assess­ment is not nec­es­sar­ily based on the fact that I don’t agree with many (if any) of his pol­icy pre­scrip­tions. Instead it’s based on what I believe makes a good speech. I am incred­i­bly dis­ap­pointed in Dr. Car­son. Par­tially because he has shown a seri­ous con­ser­v­a­tive bent in the past few years that seems to deny his own his­tory, but also because many things he said did not stand the test of logic. On some facts he was just igno­rant. Other times he engaged in some poor bib­li­cal analy­sis. There are sev­eral exam­ples in his speech, of which I have only picked a few. (You can find a tran­script and video of his speech here. Please go lis­ten to it. I could not fit all the issues I had with this speech in one post.)
  •  At a National Prayer Break­fast, it’d be nice if you talked about prayer —That’s right. In the entirety of his 26 minute speech, Dr. Car­son barely men­tioned prayer.  He quoted a verse at the begin­ning (2 Chron 7:14) and say­ing that his mother prayed for wis­dom to help him and his brother become more scholas­tic. For some, the most glar­ing prob­lem with this speech is that it was not appro­pri­ate for the occa­sion. Clearly I agree with that assess­ment. The National Prayer Break­fast has tra­di­tion­ally been a place where par­ti­san ran­cor has been laid aside, and Dr. Car­son ruined for many what should have been a break from that. Now I’ll admit that’s not the main rea­son I’m upset. If the speech had been bet­ter, I don’t know that I would be as con­cerned about it being out of place. I do know what’s out of place though. You prob­a­bly shouldn’t shill your book dur­ing your speech. I know that much.
  •  The PC police? — At the begin­ning of the speech, Dr. Car­son went on a rant about the evils of polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness, at one time say­ing we need to get over the sen­si­tiv­ity of being offended but also say­ing that we needed to be respect­ful of peo­ple with whom we dis­agree. He used as his exam­ple the tried and true war on Christ­mas, stat­ing that peo­ple shouldn’t be offended when you say Merry Christ­mas because it is a greet­ing of good will. I won­der what Dr. Car­son will do when some­one says, “The way you can show me respect is not say Merry Christ­mas to me because I don’t believe in God.” Some­times you can’t have it both ways. Of course the other thing that both­ers me is that Chris­tian­ity should not always be about say­ing what­ever you want to say no mat­ter how any­one feels about it. We should be com­pas­sion­ate and patient and lov­ing. (Col 3:12) More­over, polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness doesn’t keep peo­ple from say­ing what they feel, as Dr. Car­son asserted. What it does is help peo­ple be more respect­ful while express­ing what they feel. In other words, it keeps peo­plefrom look­ing like jerks.
  • A Church-State Prob­lem and some bad exe­ge­sis — The most glar­ing prob­lem to me was his use of tithing to sup­port the idea of a flat tax. The first prob­lem is that com­par­ing tithing to tax­ing is just bad exe­ge­sis. Tithing is not some­thing that we do sim­ply because we’re try­ing to fund the church. Tithing is a sign of faith between the believer and God. It sig­ni­fies that the Chris­t­ian believes that God pro­vides and there­fore I can return some of what He has given to me. Of course the other prob­lem with this is that Dr. Car­son does not tell the whole story of eco­nom­ics in bib­li­cal Israel. As my friend Pre­ston pointed out, eco­nom­ics in Israel also includes Jubilee Year, where all debts are for­given. Some­thing tells me Dr. Carson’s con­ser­v­a­tive friends would not be fans of that. Then there is the church-state prob­lem. We should not be pass­ing laws that are par­tic­u­larly reli­gious. So Dr. Carson’s argu­ment that we should have a flat tax because that’s the sys­tem God uses is patently fool­ish. What about the peo­ple who don’t believe in God? Should they be forced to fol­low the reli­gious deter­mi­na­tion of what is a fair tax sys­tem? I think not.
  • If you can’t fin­ish, don’t start — Dr. Car­son went on to try and explain the best thing to do in terms of health­care. He tried to describe a very com­plex sys­tem of health­care accounts and then said that it was too com­plex to fully explain in this set­ting. He was absolutely right about that. He broke what is the car­di­nal rule of pub­lic speak­ing — if you can’t explain what you mean suc­cinctly, then skip the point. All he did was leave us with a ram­bling and con­fus­ing sec­tion of his speech that came from nowhere and went nowhere.
  •  Get your facts straight — These are some minor points, but I think they show how far Dr. Car­son was out of his depth. First, the United States did not win the War of 1812. At best it was a draw, and the U.S. sus­tained more deaths and injuries, did not accom­plish their stated objec­tive (a takeover of Canada), and lost slaves as well. Fur­ther­more, the men who held the flag aloft at Fort McHenry and inspired Key to write our national anthem would not have thought of it as pro­tect­ing “one nation, under God,” con­sid­er­ing that no one ever said that until 1948 and it wasn’t offi­cial until 1954. Finally, I wish Dr. Car­son wasn’t so igno­rant about what they teach in law school. I went to law school and know a lot of peo­ple that have been there. No one at law school taught me “to win, by hook or by crook,” as Dr. Car­son claimed. I don’t know any­one who was taught that in law school. What were we taught? We were taught to think crit­i­cally, to be more obser­vant. They taught us how to medi­ate, nego­ti­ate, and solve prob­lems. Those are the things Dr. Car­son said were needed. Maybe we should have more lawyers in the room sir.
  • Spare me the false plat­i­tudes — Towards the end of the speech, Dr. Car­son just started throw­ing out half-baked state­ments to make points that I guess he didn’t have time to fully develop. He said that the rea­son our national sym­bol, the bald eagle, flies so high is because it has a left wing and right wing (insert laugh here). Lay­ing aside the fact that chick­ens also have left and right wings and barely get off the ground, this play for bipar­ti­san­ship rings hol­low in light of the speech that came before it. Dr. Car­son men­tioned no left wing prin­ci­ples or plans that he thought were good. This is fur­ther proven by the fact that in con­ser­v­a­tive cir­cles his speech has been reported as a crit­i­cism of the Pres­i­dent and his poli­cies. In the after­math of the speech, Dr. Car­son has been mak­ing the con­ser­v­a­tive media rounds in sup­port of this point. When you make such a par­ti­san speech, you seem even more disin­gen­u­ous when you attempt to throw the left wing a bone at the end.
With the excep­tion of his analy­sis of tithing and tax­ing, my crit­i­cism has noth­ing to do with Dr. Carson’s polit­i­cal beliefs. I don’t think that his opin­ions are what make this a bad speech. I will admit that my admi­ra­tion of Dr. Car­son is part of the rea­son why I hold him to a higher stan­dard. I expect that he would have a bet­ter sense of time and place. I expect that he would have the abil­ity to stay on topic for the event. I expect him to be effi­cient in his lan­guage and be able to explain his thoughts clearly. I expect him to say things that stand the test of basic logic. I don’t think that’s too much to expect from the great­est sur­geon ever. And what both­ers me most is that a lot of peo­ple thought the speech was great.



A Har­vard Law grad­u­ate, Jason Hines prac­ticed com­mer­cial lit­i­ga­tion in Philadel­phia for five years. In 2008, Jason decided to devote his life to work in reli­gious lib­erty. To that end, he enrolled at the Sem­i­nary at Andrews Uni­ver­sity, where he earned a Master’s Degree in Reli­gion. He is presently a PhD can­di­date in the Reli­gion, Pol­i­tics, and Soci­ety at the J.M. Daw­son Insti­tute for Church-State Stud­ies at Bay­lor Uni­ver­sity. Jason blogs about reli­gious lib­erty and other reli­gious issues at the​hi​ne​sight​.blogspot​.com and is also an asso­ciate edi­tor of Reli​gious​Lib​erty​.TV, an inde­pen­dent reli­gious lib­erty website.









  1. Glenn says:

    Your crit­i­cism of his crit­i­cism of PC is itself PC. If he had got­ten the memo of the talk­ing points he clearly ignored it. He should have towed the lib­eral line and talked the talk that is accept­able in the pres­ence of Mr. Obama. Mr. Obama can and does use such oca­sions to push his agenda. When he does, praise is heaped on him for doing so.

    Your com­ment also reflects the left’s under­stand­ing of bipar­ti­son­ship: bipar­ti­son­ship is when every­one sur­ren­ders to the lib­eral posi­tion and doesn’t even men­tion that there are other opinions..

    His point about tithe was by way of exam­ple. Not as what to do for reli­gious rea­sons. We all know a flat tax will never pass. Far too many prod­ucts of our edu­ca­tional sys­tem think that pay­ing the same per­cent­age is the same as pay­ing the same amount. Politi­cians capi­tolize on and rein­force that by say­ing things such as ‘it’s not fair that a rich man should pay the same as a poor man.’

    I feel for him because he is now squarely in the cross hairs of the Obam­abots gun sites. Oh, I’m not sup­posed to use such vio­lent rhetoric. But it’s only vio­lent when com­ing from a non-liberal. (FWI — Sarah Palin’s map was just like one ear­lier pub­lished by the DNC and broad­cast by the var­i­ous networks).

    The usual silenc­ing mech­a­nism for what he said is to some­how call him a racist. When an African Amer­i­can dares break from lock­step his mes­sage is ren­dered mute by call­ing him an uncle tom. You refrained from that but came close …“deny his own his­tory”. There was a bit of the “how dare he”.

  2. Rich DuBose says:

    I agree with this assess­ment. It was a golden oppor­tu­nity missed.

  3. Jason says:

    My friend … I read your arti­cle and you can­not make me believe for a moment that your pol­i­tics have not shaded your cri­tique of Carson’s speech, just as if I will not try to act as if my pol­i­tics do not favor my lik­ing of his speech. I think your piece is extremely knit picky on trees while com­pletely fail­ing to see the for­est. Let me share an obser­va­tion for your con­sid­er­a­tion … maybe Car­son is mak­ing his rounds as you put it on con­ser­v­a­tive media because that is the only media that allows a dif­fer­ent point of view. All the other media out­lets tend to express only one nar­ra­tive for the pub­lic and by in large you expect from the media to be anit con­ser­v­a­tive and pro lib­eral. There­fore if it is not in favor of the present admin­is­tra­tion it will not get expo­sure. You cer­tainly can­not count the other media out­lets to report on the speech period because that is what PC is all about. PC is not about com­mu­ni­cat­ing respec­tively. It is about intim­i­dat­ing peo­ple to be silenced by call­ing peo­ple big­ots or racists or what­ever you want to label them from hav­ing a dif­fer­ent posi­tion. This Dr. Car­son knows well being that stu­dents, facutly, and par­ents tried to have him removed from giv­ing a com­mence­ment speech at a major uni­ver­sity not too long ago because of his expressed belief in cre­ation­ism. That is PC — You will be pun­ished if you do not believe or act in a way that WE (who­ever we is, wants). Crit­i­cize Car­son for not speak­ing about prayer, how much did the Pres­i­dent say about it? He basi­cally sug­gested it doesn’t work because he prays at the break­fast and then goes back to the White House to watch CNN. But I think you really need to re exam­ine just how much of your prob­lem with Car­son was not about the speech but really about your polit­i­cal ideology.

  4. Alison Agins says:

    A friend gave me as a gift Carson’s book. I had not known any­thing about his con­ser­v­a­tive bent. I was astounded by so much of what he wrote. I cer­tainly agree with Jason Hines. That was no place to tout one’s book. But per­haps those con­ser­v­a­tive folk just ate it up.

  5. Jason says:


    I wasn’t going to respond because I think much of what you said is not wor­thy of response, but I do want to clear up one thing. My say­ing that his ideas, “deny his own his­tory,” was not about attempt­ing to call him an Uncle Tom (I actu­ally hate that phrase and do not use it ever.). It was about deny­ing the fact that Dr. Car­son would not be where he is with­out pub­lic assis­tance. Went to a pub­lic school, relied on pub­lic funds in many ways, and now he sup­ports deny­ing or reduc­ing many of those ben­e­fits to oth­ers. But while I’m here let me say this too. You dras­ti­cally mis­un­der­stand my point about bipar­ti­san­ship. I never said he should say his pol­icy pre­scrip­tions that are con­ser­v­a­tive. I said that it’s disin­gen­u­ous to make state­ments about bipar­ti­san­ship when you have said noth­ing that sup­ported any left wing posi­tion. Thanks for your comment.

  6. Jason says:


    I think we just spoke on FB, but I want to make it clear here, as I did there, that I did not hide the fact that I don’t agree with Ben Car­son polit­i­cally. But notice my post is largely about the rhetor­i­cal prob­lems with the speech (con­tra­dic­tions, bad exe­ge­sis, insuf­fi­cient expla­na­tions, incor­rect facts, false plat­i­tudes). Those are crit­i­cism that can be made regard­less of the con­tent. There are tons of speeches that I don’t like polit­i­cally but that make sense within their own frame­work. The same can­not be said for Dr. Carson’s speech. Thanks for your comment.

  7. I think it is naive to believe that pol­i­tics didn’t influ­ence your per­cep­tion of Carson’s speech. We all per­ceive the world around us through our own expe­ri­ences and beliefs. To deny that is silly.

    It is inter­est­ing that you haven’t expressed a prob­lem with Obama’s very polit­i­cal speech…just Carson’s. The so-called Prayer Break­fast long ago became a way for sec­u­lar politi­cians to appear reli­gious while espous­ing pol­i­tics. This annual forum would more accu­rately be called, “Prayer Break­fast for Politi­cians” Of course it is polit­i­cal. Duh.

    Do you really believe that Car­son shouldn’t have brought up any point that he couldn’t fully explain (“If you can’t fin­ish, don’t start”). So if you were giv­ing Car­son speech advice, it would be: “Don’t say any­thing unique or chal­leng­ing because there isn’t time to explain your­self fully.”

    Why has Carson’s speech become such a hot topic in the media? Why did it moti­vate you to go to the effort of scold­ing Car­son about his poor con­tent, deliv­ery, and sub­ject mat­ter? Would you have gone to the trou­ble if he had just talked about prayer? Of course not. Car­son was polit­i­cal. Just as you are polit­i­cal in your response to him. He said things you don’t agree with. Why didn’t you write a response point­ing out your dis­agree­ments, rather than find­ing it nec­es­sary to crit­i­cize the con­text or qual­ity of his speech?

    Car­son dared to speak out. Doing it five feet from Obama has added to the buzz and stirred up a lot of passion.

    Fur­ther, the speech was deliv­ered by a gen­uine hero of against-the-odds child­hood. But you don’t even want to give him that credit…wishing that he would give pub­lic edu­ca­tion (gov­ern­ment) the praise for his suc­cess. You are not alone in your crit­i­cism of the successful.

    Car­son believes in self-determination…individuals are respon­si­ble for them­selves and have the God-given abil­ity to suc­ceed. Obama believes peo­ple are vic­tims and must be taken care of by the gov­ern­ment, or at the very least, give gov­ern­ment credit for their suc­cess. Even more, Obama believes that they are not just vic­tims of cir­cum­stances, but vic­tims of those who are suc­cess­ful. As such, Obama’s pol­i­tics and beliefs have a built-in dis­dain for those who rise above their circumstances…for those who become suc­cess­ful. Car­son says, “You can be suc­cess­ful,” and Obama says, “If you are, you will be the enemy.” Car­son had the chops to even point that out, chal­leng­ing us to praise the suc­cess­ful and tell their sto­ries as a means of moti­vat­ing soci­ety to do better.

    Carson’s speech was, as his open­ing remarks pre­dicted, not polit­i­cally cor­rect. Had they been, you wouldn’t have gone to the trou­ble of exco­ri­at­ing the man your title says you admire.

  8. TheJMan says:

    Mr. Hines: I thought the speech was just right, in the right place and at the right time. This had noth­ing to do with pol­i­tics and every­thing to do with what is right. I am so glad he didn’t swell up and go PC. It may have been Brother Ben’s Best Oppor­tu­nity. Like Daniel talk­ing straight to Nebuchadnezzer.

  9. Fabian says:

    Jason: I under­stood your assess­ment of the speech. Car­son was on Fox News talk­ing about how all these peo­ple want him to run for pres­i­dent and he told Sean Han­nity that he wouldn’t mind. He is an arro­gant per­son with no orig­i­nal ideas who found a niche in a party des­per­ate for some­one dif­fer­ent. His stunt at the break­fast means he is either gun­ning for a posi­tion in the national GOP machine or try­ing to sell more books. Unlike you, I do not admire Dr. Car­son. His speech showed how unim­pres­sive he is.

  10. Dale Fuhrmeister says:

    Ed Dick­er­son says it all. Go to http://​out​look​mag​.org/​p​o​l​i​t​i​c​a​l​-​c​o​r​r​e​c​t​n​e​ss/
    Get off the manip­u­la­tion train! Polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness is a thinly veiled attempt, and all too suc­cess­ful at times, to con­trol oth­ers and quash all debate by those who don’t have a prayer and win­ning in such a debate!

  11. Marc says:

    Jason, when was the last time you “cri­tiqued a speech” given at a National Prayer Break­fast? To sug­gest that his pol­i­tics had noth­ing to do with you writ­ing this piece rings quite hol­low. What seems more obvi­ous is an attempt at dam­age con­trol for the per­ceived dis­as­ter of a con­ser­v­a­tive African-American.

  12. Ovi Rad says:

    A Seventh-day Adven­tist per­son­al­ity is it the news and guess what? some Seventh-day Adven­tists (or claim­ing to be…) already bull­doze the man. He is too con­ser­v­a­tive, he is too “smarty-pants”, he could’t fin­ish his argu­ment, he said noth­ing but “false plat­i­tudes”…
    It looks like the same story like this one: “For John the Bap­tist came nei­ther eat­ing bread nor drink­ing wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eat­ing and drink­ing, and you say, ‘Here is a glut­ton and a drunk­ard, a friend of tax col­lec­tors and sin­ners.’ But wis­dom is proved right by all her chil­dren.” Luke 7:33–35 NIV
    Dr.Carson, be care­ful with these (SDA) lawyers. They will sue you anyway…

  13. Jason says:

    Marc (and actu­ally any­one else who may come this way),

    I have received a lot of crit­i­cism about this piece. I don’t mind it actu­ally, and my only regret is that it would be prac­ti­cally impos­si­ble to respond to you all. I have found that most of the crit­i­cisms about the post fall into 2 main cat­e­gories, and so I responded on my blog, where this piece orig­i­nated. Feel free to go there and read the piece, and we can have a more full dis­cus­sion there if you like. Here’s the link to my response — http://​the​hi​ne​sight​.blogspot​.com/​2​0​1​3​/​0​2​/​t​h​e​-​a​f​t​e​r​m​a​t​h​.​h​tml

    Jason Hines

  14. […] I Admire Ben Car­son, But … That Speech! (Jason Hines). “My admi­ra­tion for Dr. Car­son almost makes me reluc­tant to say what must be said.” […]

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