October 3, 2015

Race, Religion, and Politics in American society

    Saturday, October 03, 2015   No comments

When presidential hopeful Ben Carson appeared on Iowa Press (October 2), he was given a chance to explain to Iowans why he thinks that a Muslim should not be a president. He argued that Islam, because of sharia law, is not compatible with the U.S. constitution and because of that he thinks that American Muslims cannot be presidents of the United States. When he was told that the Bible, too, is not compatible with the constitution and a passage from the Old Testament was quoted for him, he dismissed that by saying that the New Testament superseded the Old Testament. He claimed that nothing in Christianity contradicted the constitution, because the Founders were Christians, not deists as some claim, and a Christian could not produce a document that would contradict Christianity. Ben Carson did not hide the fact that his political ideas are inspired by Biblical teachings but he disputed the fact that Christianity is incompatible with the U.S. constitution. 

If the recent Supreme Court ruling established that same sex marriage is in conformity with the constitution, and Ben Carson still believes that same sex marriage is not consistent with traditional (religious) marriage, he, then, ought to concede that Christianity, as he understands it, is not in conformity with the constitution. Using his own standard whereby one’s religious conviction would disqualify one from becoming president, should he be running for that office? After all, if he is elected, he will be required to uphold and enforce the law of the land as interpreted by the Supreme Court of the United States, notwithstanding his religious beliefs.

He defended his faith-based politics and policies again when he was asked about taxes. He argued that the federal tax system, too, must reflect the will of God. He stressed that if proportionality is good for God it is good for him. A fair tax system ought to be built on the Biblical principle of proportionality, he explained: If you make ten billion dollars you ought to pay one billion in taxes. If you make ten dollars, you ought to pay one dollar in taxes. It is unfair to consider other things in the name of fairness: “Proportionality is the only thing that is fair,” he concluded. 

I don’t know much about Dr. Carson’s background, but he must not have lived on $10 a day, he forgot how to live on $10 a day if he had lived on $10 before he became a physician, or his religious convictions supersede the plight of people who live on $10 a day. Perhaps he does not know, or does not care to know, that 80% of people on earth live on less than $10 a day and in the United States, at least 1.8 million Americans live on less than $2 a day. It is fair, then, based on Dr. Carson’s Biblically inspired principle of proportionality, that the government takes away from them $1 still. I suppose that, because of his literalist, Biblical sense of fairness, he cannot see that taking $1 from a poor person could prevent that person from buying a $10 meal, but paying one billion dollars in taxes after one has made ten billion dollars will not stop one from buying one’s meal, unless, of course, Mr. Carson thinks that rich people’s meals cost ten billion dollars.

There are Muslims who are dogmatic literalists whose interpretation of Islam makes it incompatible with the U.S. constitution and/or reason. Ben Carson, too, espouses ideas, like the ones expressed above, that are consistent with dogmatic literalist interpretation of Christianity, callous towards the poor and the vulnerable among us. Both are not fit to be president of the United States.

Before the start of the interview, the host introduced him as an accomplished surgeon. I have no reason to doubt his accomplishments as a physician. But he should not have quit his other job for this. His attempt to translate his success in medicine into success in politics is a good example I would use in classrooms to teach my students about false authority and specious reasoning.

* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.


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