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.

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JasonHines

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.