It defies logic and probability that all of America’s political leaders are people of faith, yet none espouse their lack of faith publicly, particularly those seeking the Republican nomination for the highest office in the land. I always enjoy the early campaigning in the political cycle because we get to see people mount an effort to climb to the summit that probably never stood a chance, but they make for an interesting few months. This year’s crop of wannabe leaders of the free world include today’s GOP frontrunners: Donald Trump and Ben Carson.
The beauty of watching these two duke it out in the headlines is the level of nonsense they can rise to when given the chance to speak to large groups of people. But what’s really fascinating about these particular men, in the context of my typical fare on this blog, is the way religion plays a part in their lives, and especially in their campaigns. First up is Mr. Trump.
Donald Trump is running based solely on his brand, and the major attributes of that brand are brash self-promotion, grandstanding, conspiracy theories, tribalism, stereotyping, and cliché. While that has been enough to make a nice splash in the polls in the early running, as a Republican he knows, or more likely someone on his campaign knows, that he has to court the Christian vote, because they’re a large block of active voters in the Primaries, when only the political diehards venture to the voting booths. Trump’s lifestyle doesn’t exactly ring out with piety, so he’s had to force it a bit, like when he explained his participation in a minor Christian ritual: eating the body and drinking the blood of their Lord and Savior.
“When I drink my little wine — which is about the only wine I drink — and have my little cracker, I guess that is a form of asking for forgiveness, and I do that as often as possible because I feel cleansed.” Can’t you just feel how Donald is filled with the Holy Spirit when you read that? When he discussed the Bible during a television interview, his answers displayed his rather significant lack of knowledge of the Word of God. Not being able to name a specific passage that is meaningful to him isn’t that big of a deal in my view, but when asked if he was an “Old Testament or New Testament” guy, his reply shows that he really has no clue. First of all, the question itself should have tipped him off, as no religious person looks at the Bible that way. But his response: “Probably equal,” was even more telling than not calling out his interviewers on their ludicrous question. Even a basic understanding of Christianity, or paying attention in church once or twice, would be enough to know that the arrival of God’s only son on Earth in the New Testament is the key component. If you just had to answer that “Old vs. New” question, as a Christian, the only answer you can give is that the New Testament, which describes the life, ministry and sacrifice of Jesus Christ for the salvation of mankind is the way, the truth and the light.
To add to his resume, he’s also held up a copy of the Bible at his rallies to let everyone know that hey, he’s a religious guy. Look at how he walks around with a copy of this terrific book. He loves the Bible. It’s a great book, really, really terrific. He’s a God guy–big time. His most recent spectacle was also at a rally where he told his audience to remember that he’s a Christian, and that when he’s President, everyone will say Merry Christmas. He’s not real big on Happy Holidays, because, you know, he’s a Christian.
When it comes to Dr. Ben Carson however, we have to do a 180 because this man is hardcore. Dr. Carson has stated that in his studies, he found that biology and physics didn’t mesh with a Christian worldview and so he had to choose, and he choose God. Ben is a Biblical literalist, which is something I can actually admire vs. the cherry pickers among the faithful. I figure if you’re going to go in, go All In. He believes the universe was literally created in 6 days, and fairly recently. He’s called the BIg Bang Theory a fairly tale dreamt up by highfalutin scientists. He doesn’t accept that life evolves, but many Americans don’t. What makes his position more interesting is that he surmises Charles Darwin was given the idea for natural selection by “the adversary.” If you know your Abrahamic theology, or your Rolling Stones lyrics, you know that the Devil has many names, but most will use his common name; Lucifer, or just Satan, or perhaps The Devil as Pope Francis is prone to do. “The adversary” is more of an inside baseball term for the epitome of evil and temptation who drags humanity into the darkness and awaits your doomed soul so that he may torture you forever on a fiery lake of burning sulfur.
As deeply religious as Dr. Carson appears to be, he is trying to be a politician, so he’s had to hedge his bets. He has made what are seen as very liberal religious statements by the Christian establishment, by taking a more tolerant approach to people of other faiths. He’s stated that he’s delighted that Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, Mormons and so forth believe in “something.” He’s stated that we’re all God’s children, even those with ideological differences regarding their take on Jesus. This is very alarming talk to those who believe that Jesus is the only path to Heaven, for all mankind is born in sin and depravity from the original Fall of Man in the Garden, and only through the sacrifice of Jesus can one be saved.
He may be tempting fate with his pluralistic approach to religions of all stripes, but Ben Carson certainly isn’t shying away from moving the United States in the direction of a Christian theocracy. He stirs his religion into his politics like a big smoothie:
“What I agree with is that we need a significantly changed taxation system, and the one that I’ve advocated is based on tithing, because I think God is a pretty fair guy,” Carson said. “And that’s why I’ve advocated a proportional tax system. You make $10 billion, you pay a billion. You make $10, you pay one. And everybody gets treated the same way.”
When one proposes to base US tax policy on God’s apparent tax policy, they’re pretty religious. Hell, Mike Huckabee would have to work pretty hard to out-religion Dr. Carson, and Huck’s an ordained Baptist minister!
So here we have the delicious mess that is religion and politics in the United States. Two men, leading the fray in the early rounds, one having to force feed himself religion to garner support, the other choking on his voracious religious appetite. Neither man will wear the GOP crown, of that I’m fairly certain, but they illustrate just how flimsy our secular democracy is when, despite the rise of the unaffiliated and the non-religious among our ranks, you still gotta get your Jesus on to win the race.