Christian freaks and geeks

Okay, I’m now officially intrigued by Ben Carson. Not a supporter — but intrigued. The man has my attention.

And no, it’s not because he now appears to be the front-runner for the Republican nomination — but because Donald Trump, God bless him, shot off his mouth again.

In recent days, Trump has been calling attention to Dr. Carson’s faith. I knew, of course, that Carson was a Christian, but up until now, I assumed he was just some kind of orthodox Protestant. While he’s remarkably open about discussing his faith — which has apparently fueled his rising popularity among evangelicals — he also tends to discuss it in very general terms. So I was a little surprised to discover that, as Trump was kind enough to point out, Carson is a Seventh-day Adventist.

Trump apparently thinks this is knock against Carson, and it may in fact hurt his standing among evangelicals. But speaking personally, I had the opposite reaction.

Seventh-day Adventism is kind of an oddball sect, but I think that the fact Carson publicly identifies with it provides an important clue about his character. In contemporary America, it takes a tremendous amount of grit to proclaim oneself not just a proud Christian, but a member of a Christian sect that looks strange even to a lot of mainstream Christians.

But it must be unimaginably difficult for a man of Carson’s intellectual caliber and professional standing; unlike the average churchgoer, Carson is a super-smart man in a super-smart profession, and he undoubtedly spends a great deal of his time surrounded by super-smart colleagues who are either atheists or agnostics and who regard Christians of all stripes as a bunch of howling barbarians. It’s difficult to imagine a more hostile environment for a person of Carson’s particular faith profile, yet he appears to have weathered it with serenity and grace.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gradually come around to the view that character is important in politicians. It’s not everything, goodness knows, because otherwise you’d never, ever want to vote: Politics, like show business, is a profession that is tailor-made to attract hordes of nasty, amoral sociopaths, and sometimes you just have to settle for a nasty, amoral sociopath who votes your way.

But it’s not irrelevant, either, because politicians face many, many important choices where political philosophy provides no real guide and you can’t just take a poll to figure out what to do. It’s at those points where character makes a difference. So when I’m sizing up politicians, I try to listen not just to their policy proposals, but also try to look for clues to who they are personally. And for me, a peculiar Christian affiliation weighs heavily in Carson’s favor.

Of course, it helps that I am a true son of the Protestant Reformation and am thus temperamentally inclined to look favorably upon peculiar strains of Christianity; I view them as an important and vital part of America’s national character. This will strike some people as a strange line of argument, but as I see it, an ever-multiplying number of sects, splinter groups, crazy heresies and nutty fanatics is a sign that God and his gospel are alive in the hearts of the people. A living Christianity is supposed to breed freaks, cranks and weirdos, because the gospel is supposed to change your life. Jesus does not preside over a church of zombies, and he did not come to earth to ratify a tidy and efficient order which operates for the convenience of authorities. Christianity is not supposed to be the faith of the people that Ace over at Ace of Spades (in a different context) calls “Order-Obsessed Little Fucks — jerky-eyed, panicky little low-T hysterics — who just go to pieces at the idea that … there aren’t Agreed Upon Rules we can all follow blindly.”

The “Jesus” those people worship was granted his kingdom across much of continental Europe, and we can see the results today. (Alas, that “Jesus” has sadly made inroads into many American churches…) The kooky, crazy Christians of Europe — a group, I’d add, which eventually included many Catholic and Orthodox believers — all left Europe and its dead faith and dead churches and started the United States of America; whatever you may think of the idiosyncrasies of their various personal beliefs, the results show that they clearly got something right. So being part of a weird offshoot of Christianity is a net plus for me, at least when it comes to non-religious questions. I wouldn’t want Carson as the pastor of my church, but he’s not asking to be my pastor; he’s asking for my approval to occupy to the Oval Office, and last time I checked, there wasn’t a cross on top of the White House. (I was a big fan of the Mormon Mitt Romney in 2012 for similar reasons.)

There’s also the fact that Carson is, to quote Roger Simon,

the kind of person the Founders had in mind to lead our country, the private citizen who had led a noble life come to serve the public, a soft-spoken American Cincinnatus from Johns Hopkins by way of the Detroit ghetto.

To put it in computer terms, the software’s source code (the Constitution) was optimized for the exact hardware profile presented by Dr. Carson.

“Yes,” Simon drolly notes, “they might have been surprised to find that he is black, but I suspect some of them would not have been that surprised.”



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