Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Ben Carson was Right (But Not for the Reason He Thinks)

by Michael S. Russo

Much to my own surprise I find myself in agreement with a position made by Republican presidential contender Ben Carson. Last week, Carson got into a heap of trouble when he stated, “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation.” Expanding upon his remarks, Carson later said a Muslim should not be president because his or her faith would be inconsistent with the Constitution, but suggested that his opposition would apply to any religion that had tenets which would interfere with a president’s abilities to carry out his constitutional duties. 

The firestorm that erupted because of these remarks in the media was predictable. On the surface what Carson seemed to be advocating was blatant religious discrimination. In fact, Article VI of the US Constitution specifically states: “No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

So how on earth can anyone—and in particular a self-professed progressive like myself—possibly support a position that seems so morally problematic? 

My agreement with Carson’s statements is based upon my understanding that the founding fathers of our nation were products of the Enlightenment and established a government grounded in what they considered rational principles. First and foremost, they believed in the idea of the basic political and economic equality of human beings—a principle that our nation would expanded upon in the 20th century by recognizing the equal rights of women and minorities. They believed that tolerance for diverse viewpoints was essential to functioning democracy and thus emphasized freedom of speech and press. Having liberated themselves from the control of a snooping, intrusive government, our founders also advocated the right to privacy, which means that people have the right to live any way they so choose provided that they don’t interfere with other people’s rights to do the same. Finally, they established an unequivocal right for people to practice the religion of their choice without interference and rejected the idea of any state religion. 

These are not religious principles: they don’t exist in any sacred text that I know of. They’re rational principles—fundamental tenets of political life that our founders thought were absolutely essential to the healthy functioning of any political community. They are also principles that arose out of the Enlightenment, a period in which human beings rejected blind ideology and looked to reason and rationality as tools for organizing government. For products of the Enlightenment like our Founding Fathers, truth was not found in sacred texts or in the pronouncements of religious authority, but in the rational mind’s ability to uncover these truths logically and scientifically.

Unlike Ben Carson and other conservatives who view the Constitution as a sacred document inspired by God, I have no trouble with a president who doesn’t agree with everything in the Constitution (the Second or the Fourteenth Amendments, for example). But I would have problems with anyone running for President who doesn’t understand the basic Enlightenment principles which are the cornerstone of modern Western political philosophy. I would also never support any candidate who thinks that whatever “sacred book” he or she follows should be the foundation upon which to organize political and social life in this country and who takes the words in that sacred book literally. 

With the exception of the Pali Canon—the “bible” of Buddhists—I know of no sacred text of any of the world’s major religions that does not have some crazy talk about the subordination of women, the killing of gays, the support of slavery, and the persecution of non-believers. It’s fundamentalism, therefore, that would seem to be the disqualifier for running for President, not rigid devotion to the Constitution (which is itself another form of literalism and fundamentalism). If it’s true, as some scholars of religion suggest, that Islam by its very nature is a fundamentalist religion—in other words, that it views the Koran literally as the word of God as dictated directly to the Prophet Mohammed—then how indeed could one be a President and a Muslim without rejecting many of the guiding principles of the sacred text of Islam? 

But this same principle would apply to any other fundamentalist religions as well, including, but not limited to, Evangelical Christianity, Orthodox Judaism, Mormanism, and Scientology. Adherents of all these sects reject the basic principles of the Enlightenment upon which the United States was founded and are forced to accept many of the toxic, antidemocratic ideas within their sacred texts as literal truth. If a Muslim shouldn’t be President, then neither, I’m afraid, should any current Republican candidate, because they are all religious fundamentalists to one degree or another.

Please note that I didn’t say that one couldn’t be a religious believer and be president. Roman Catholics, Liberal Protestants and Jews, and many Buddhists, do not necessarily have literalist interpretations of their sacred texts. They accept that their scriptures must be read historically, and that the truths contained within them can be interpreted allegorically or metaphorically. They also have no problem using reason, logic, and scientific evidence as bases for organizing society. There seems to be no incompatibility, therefore, between the practice of these religions and the holding of high office in a country like the United States. 

So, I’m all for Bernie Sanders (a non-practicing Jew) being our next President, but Ben Carson (Seventh-Day Adventist fundamentalist), I’m afraid, just won’t cut it.


  1. This is absurd. (1) The United States is a nation founded on Christian principles. (2) Our founding father were all Christians who loved the Bible. (3) We've had fundamentalist Presidents before and they've all managed to balance their faith with their constitutional obligations.

    You may prefer to live in a completely secular society, but American's have always understood themselves to be "one nation under God." And that God is not Allah, but the God of the Old and New Testaments.

    I have no problem with immigrants coming to this country, but they need to come here knowing that our political principles are based upon Judeo-Christian values and they need to accept that fact. Otherwise our country will never be able to reclaim it's role as "the shining city on the hill," as Ronald Reagan, so aptly described it.

    1. It seems that you do have a problems with immigrants coming into this country. You can't force anyone to obey our Judeo-Christian values. These values express an acceptance to all people, no matter their character or mentality. Immigrants can be informed and taught these ideals, but they should not be forced to follow them.

    2. This comment is absurd. (1) The United States is not, nor has it ever been, a nation founded on Christian principles. It is a nation founded on Kantian and Rousseau-ian principles. While their philosophies do leave room for a god, they do not directly include them. These philosophers and others like them have direct influence on the people who wrote our Constitution. (2) Our founding fathers were NOT all Christians who "loved the Bible." (What does that even mean? The Bible was their favorite book? They longed for a movie version of the Book of Job? They wore tshirts with "John 3:16" on them?) Anyway, many of the Constitution writers were Deists or even nonbelievers. They certainly did not want any place in our Government for God or religion. The "one nation under God" bits were concessions in order to be sure that the Southern state representatives would ratify the Constitution. The idea that Americans have always understood themselves to be "one nation under God" is utter fallacy. Some of the greatest societal innovations in America happened because of secularists and with a secularist sensibility. This Christian nation ideal is a system of propaganda put in place BY Christian religions. We do not need a God (ESPECIALLY not a Christian God and Bible that supports the subjugation of whole peoples based on their race, sex, or sexual persuasion) in order to be the shining city on the hill.

  2. This is tricky. A lot of people couldn't bring themselves to vote for John F. Kennedy because he was Catholic. A lot of people couldn't bring themselves to vote for Mitt Romney because he was Mormon. Voters have exercised their right to vote their prejudices from the beginning of the country. That's a world of difference than the disqualification of a person from office by imposing a religious litmus test. The Moslem Radical fundamentalists get all of the press. However, despite public opinion, their are millions of moderate, democratically minded Moslems in the world and many living here in the U.S. The kind of rhetoric spewed out by Ben Carson opens the door to discrimination and violence against law abiding Moslem citizens. There are Fundamentalmentalist Christians serving in the House of Representatives and the Senate who hold the New Testament above the US Constitution. I've known Muslim Americans who would no more impose Sharia Law on Christians than would Bernie Sander moose the Talmud. I was of the opinion that as Americans we would be enjoined to judge the individual as qualified for office and not make assumptions about a person's faith.

    1. "There" not "their". "Impose" not "moose." I should read over my posts before posting. Sorry

    2. @Anonymous. There's not a word about Christianity in the U.S. Constitution. The Declaration of Independence mentions god but not Jesus. That's because Thomas Jefferson, like Washington, Hamilton, Paine, Franklin, was a Deists. They believed in the existence of a designer god but not in the divinity of Jesus. Note that the Declaration founds are rights on self-evident truths and not on religious tenets. The phrase "one nation under God" was added to the Pledge of allegiance during the Eisenhower administration primarily because of the Red Scare from godless Communism. The phrase "a City on a Hill" came from the Puritan leader John Winthrop who was attempting to establish a Calvinist theocracy in colonial America. Reagan added the word "shining." Winthrop's speech is not trying to claim American exceptionalism. In typical Puritan style he was telling the colonists that God and the world were watching their little experiment and it would be hellfire and brimstone for them if it failed to live up to its billing.

  3. What we see in this brief essay, is a fine illustration of an object that gives off more heat than light. One can clearly see Dr. Russo has strong feelings about religious belief, about the Enlightenment, and of course the utter dismissal as fanatics of 14 men and women running for President as Republicans. What is missing is what Dr. Russo proclaims he desires so much - a cool, rational, reasonable discussion of the matter at hand. I leave it to the reader to determine whether that essay reflects detached scientific analysis, or whether it is overrun with emotion and bias.

    So let's take some of the major points at hand:

    - Dr. Carson's comment on Muslims - Dr. Carson was not recommending that Muslims not be allowed to run for or be President, he was saying he doesn't think that people should vote for someone who is a devout Muslim. With him, I disagree on this, but nevertheless, let's be honest about what the man said.

    - I find this debate interesting, because the majority of Americans say they would not vote for someone who does not believe in God (an opinion with which I also disagree) - so what we seem to have here are two sides who have decided on a prejudice either for or against forms of religious belief - before they even have a real live candidate before them. Rational, reasonable thinking? You be the judge.

    - The Founding Fathers (and Mothers - shame on you Dr. Russo!) were people of reason, not religion - That would be news to them! They were people of faith AND reason. A number of them were devout clergy of their faith. Our country's most famous and founding principle is, "that they are endowed by their CREATOR with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

    How did these rational men of Reason let that bit of religious nonsense sneak into the first ever government document of the United State of America?

    I leave it to you, dear reader, to look up the twenty most important Founders, and determine for yourselves whether they rejected the Christian faith of the great majority of their own society.

    - As a philosopher, Dr. Russo adheres to a belief in proof and evidence in argument. Hold him to his own standard here ---- he states on the one hand, that Roman Catholics may run for President because they meet his threshold of reason. He also says that all 14 current Republican candidates are religious fundamentalists and therefore are all unqualified to be President.

    I state a simple fact - 6 of the Republican presidential candidate are Roman Catholic. Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, George Pataki, Marco Rubio, and Rick Santorum.

    What seems more likely- that they are all some kind of radical fundamentalist Catholic of which everyone is totally unaware - or that people who dislike Republicans find ways to smear them?

    Rand Paul and Carly Fiorina are Episcopalians (liberal Protestants) - secret fundamentalists too?

    Is Donald Trump ANY sort of religious person that we know of?

    Oh Reader, what to make of such anger and arguments? How can one intelligently respond?

    I say but this - look into these things for yourselves. Don't rely on Dr. Russo or myself to enlighten you - enlighten yourself.

    And when you know what issues in our society are most important to you . . . and you know what each candidate stands for . . . be free to choose the one that most closely believes as you do.

    As simple as that.

    That is America.

    Your humble correspondent,

    Scott Salvato

    1. Dear Scott:

      As always you are a thoughtful and provocative sparring partner. I just want to respond to a few of your points:

      1) Most of our important founding fathers were deists (Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, etc). This is the most hands-off and rationalistic form of Christianity that you can get. God creates the world and then basically doesn't interfere any more. He gives us the light of reason and trusts us to govern the world intelligently (or not).

      2) You are absolutely correct in attacking me for seeming to imply that all of the Republican candidates are evangelical Christians. They are not, but they might as well be. The Catholics running for office look, speak, and act like Evangelicals. They refer to the bible as though it should be taken literally. But you are technically correct: they do not come out of literalistic religious traditions. They are, however, products of a party that has been held hostage by fanatical evangelicals for the past 30 years. You cannot win the Republican Party nomination for President unless you appeal to this segment of the party and that means adopting the persona of and policies favored by religious fundamentalists.

      Scott is right on another point: Don't accept the words of any authorities--myself included--without running what they are saying or writing through the filter of reason and common sense. That's precisely why we need more philosophy in higher education!

  4. once again, mike, you want to have your cake and eat it too. i agree that there is no fucking way that a religious fanatic should ever be president. but, as scott points out, many of the republican candidates are actually catholics and you observed that they are every bit as fanatical and literalistic in their beliefs as the evangelicals. the problem is with religious belief in general. it turns people into moronic, fearful, children who pray to a divine father figure to save them from the world. organized religion adds to the miseries of the world, it never helps solve them. it can't because it preys upon people's fears and weaknesses and keeps them fixated on some fictitious kingdom beyond this world. it is a sickness and we need to eradicate it entirely in order for human society to begin to mature.

    scott thinks that you have an ax to grind against organized religion, but i think that you always try to hard to separate legitimate forms of religious belief from illegitimate ones. this can't be done because all religion is illegimate. it's illegitimate because, as nietzsche observed, it is life denying and spirit destroying.

    1. I am reminded of the observation by Malcolm X, "A man only curses because he doesn't know the words to express what is on his mind."

      Alex says, "we need to eradicate it entirely in order for human society to begin to mature."

      I can't figure out if this is more Stalinist or Hitlerian in conception. It's a toss-up.

      Hysterics who talk about eliminating ideas they don't like inevitably wind up exterminating people who persist in holding the ideas they don't like.

      All the while proclaiming their love of humanity and a better, more just world.

      Brooklyn Hipsters: The new birthplace of bad ideas.

    2. i - i fucking agree with you completely on the cursing issue: when someone has complex thoughts on his mind, it's often difficult to express those thoughts. thank you for the compliment.

      ii - calling someone you disagree with a stalinist or hitlerite doesn't seem to be the optimal way to promote a free exchange of ideas.

      iii - hipster brooklyn is the place where all ideas, good or bad, are allowed to ferment. that's what higher education used to be before it got so politically correct. come to brooklyn if you want to learn something about real political debate.

  5. Russo might be a brilliant philosopher, but his knowledge of US history is distorted by unexpected Founding Father worship. There was no Bill of Rights in the original Constitution. A proposed Bill of Rights was voted down by the convention. The absence of a Bill of Rights was a primary reason why the Anti-Federalists opposed ratification. Fearing the states would reject ratification, the so-called Founding Fathers agreed that the First Congress would consider amending the Constitution to include a Bill of Rights. So we owe the Bill if Rights to the Constitution's opponents. Reading Anti-Federalist writings is an excellent antidote to Founding Father worship, Professor Russo.

    1. MJ, I share some of your reservations about the motivations of our FFs and would certainly never try to canonize them the way that some conservatives do. But I refuse to believe the our FFs were all completely cynical individuals who were motivated exclusively by their own self interest. I've read enough about Washington and Adams, for example, to know that these were also individuals who were highly idealistic, believed in human freedom, and who were willing to sacrifice their lives to create a more just (not a perfect) society.

      I stand by my interpretation of our FFs beliefs, while recognizing that it took centuries and much struggle for their ideals to become fully realized.

  6. I do agree with Ben Carson to a certain extent. There is no room in any political office for any religious activity. Someone who runs for political office should exist solely to serve the public. America being the country that it is, on its foundation is open to any religious views. Since all different religions are welcomed to openly practice in this country, no one religion can be in a position of power so to speak. There needs to be a complete separation between church and state, this means that no political decision can be made based upon religious reasoning. this goes for any and all candidates that plan on running for any position of office. when the work day is done and you are on your own private time, you are entitled to practice any form of religion. As a president of the United States, you can not bring any religious views into your decision making.


    1. You may go a bit too far when you say that you couldn't bring any religious views into your decision-making if you were President. If you were an atheist, you'd still be bringing your religious views into your decision-making. We can't help but do this.

      The question is which views are you going use to help you decide. Some religious views are completely compatible with democracy, tolerance, and religious freedom. Others less so.

  7. I very much agree with the following statement made by Dr. Russo: “I would also never support any candidate who thinks that whatever “sacred book” he or she follows should be the foundation upon which to organize political and social life in this country and who takes the words in that sacred book literally.” I could not vote for someone who was going to make a decision regarding the nation based upon their religion. I feel this way regarding the argument about abortion. I firmly believe that a women should be able to decide for herself what she wants to do. I could not support a president who says that they are against abortions because of religious reasons, if they can come up with an argument that is not based in “It is against my religion” then I would be willing to listen. I think a president should be able make a decision without their religious beliefs taking over.


    1. What you are advocating for is the use of reason, logic, and rationality in the creation of laws instead of looking to sacred books for literal answers to our social problems. If a person were to make a case against abortion based upon rational principles (e.g., that the fetus is a person and that all persons have fundamental rights), that would be totally in keeping with the Enlightenment ideals that have shaped our country.

      So I think that we're in agreement.

  8. I believe that Dr. Russo's main message of his response is that one who allows a literal interpretation of a religious text is not fit for the position of President of the United States. I absolutely agree with this stance on Ben Carson's saying "Muslims are not fit to be President." I think that the stereotypical devout Christian is much different from the average idea of a devout Muslim. Devout Muslims especially the ones that ISIS is comprised of literally interpret the Koran while the same cannot be said for devout Christians who cherry pick what they believe from the bible. Most of the Christians I know just respond to the parts of the bible that say things such as "kill the gays" with nothing more than a shrug. I believe that people like this from any religion, be it the religion of Islam or Christianity, who loosely believe what is said in their religious texts wouldn't be so harmful in office as religious extremists who believe in the genocide of gays and the enforced subordination of women.

    The problem with religion is that it is up for interpretation. You will have religious people people who live healthy lifestyles who are able to coexist with others despite there are religious beliefs. You also have the crazies who believe that you should literally interpret these ancient tomes that tell us to treat minorities poorly and punish the non-believers. I think it is clear who is more fit to run a country that prides itself on being progressive and the "Land of the Free." It's not prejudice to believe this, it's common sense. That's why I don't think anyone should be saying that your point of view on this topic is racist or prejudiced in any way.

    1. Paul, I do think that there are Christians who have a very literalistic understanding of the bible. Perhaps U.S, fundamentalists don't want to kill gays, but they use their scripture to support discrimination against them.

  9. What seems to be the core of the argument is that Dr. Russo here believes that no fundamentalist - due to their literal interpretation of their chosen "sacred text" - should be POTUS since their views on any issue or policy would be obscured by their own code of law (the sacred text), instead of using the principles which the US were founded upon. But each president in office has interpreted US laws and policies based on these principles differently. After all, for as long as people have interpreted legislation differently, and disagree with others, political parties have existed.

    Even within the two "main" parties, Republican and Democrats have their own subsections because some members interpret or feel differently about a certain issue than other members. As noted, this is seen in the Republican debates where we have several people advocating for their policies because they feel that they are correct. We have political parties that hold different principles, ones they think the government or bigwigs are forgetting about, and it is yet another way of interpreting the principles of the US government.

    1. I think that were in agreement here. There's no problem using a sacred text to guide oneself morally or even politically. The problem lies in taking these texts literally.

  10. Though I do understand your fear, I still have to laugh at your position. How blinded are you Mr. Russo? You're just as crazy as the people who interpret religious text in a literal sense. Right now this very second the people who are running to become President in 2016 are having their pockets filled by various special interest groups. For as long as I've been alive every President has had their pockets loaded with money by special interest groups for "campaigning purposes". So let me ask you this Mr. Russo we live in a capitalist country right? I'm sure even you know that money is by far a much more enticing factor than religion in this country. Even some churches and religious organizations are motivated by money in reality even though they claim to be "non-profit organizations". Money, you can trace back to everything in this country. So maybe Mr. Russo you should focus your fear and knowledge on the real danger at large. Also to completely thrash your idiotic views once more America was founded on the fact of freedom of expression and speech so religious text interpretation in the literal sense is completely fair game as long as it does not harm to others. You see Mr. Russo people of your mindset are the reason society has as many problems as it does. Maybe if you can become a more open minded person and learn to evolve with the times we can hopefully keep the country around for a very long time. You seem to be a man of history maybe you should open up a book and see what happened to Empires such as Rome due to the fact they did not evolve with the times.

    1. I'm going to interpret "blind" here as "blind like Oedipus after he gained true wisdom" and I'm going to interpret "crazy" here as "crazy like a fox"!

      I agree with your assessment that money in politics, religion, and as a motivator in life is a problem. But I reject your cynical views about our Founding Fathers who were products of their time, but who also had some very idealistic ideas about how to organize a just society.

  11. Before I delve into this, I will say that any individual who is incapable of thinking for his/her self is unfit to be president. I think Dr. Russo and I can agree on that.

    What astounds me about this piece and its subsequent comments, especially given the collective brilliance of the post's PhD-holding author, a room of philosophers, and those who fancy themselves intellectuals, is that not a single one of you has made the following essential distinction:


    This is not something that you can simply brush aside as a Muslim student being offended and emotionally picky about semantics, because language is at the core of the discipline of rhetoric (and thought). You all use the word Muslim, but because you agree with Carson, I'm not convinced that any of you truly understand what that word means. You seem to equate the word Muslim to the word Fundamentalist (with a negative connotation), but you are kind enough to distinguish between Christians and Evangelicals. Why is that?

    Question: "So how on earth can anyone—and in particular a self-professed progressive like myself—possibly support a position that seems so morally problematic?"

    Answer: Because you don't understand why the very language of Carson's assertion is erroneous.

    1. Dr. Russo (and Company), you all appear to have a woefully uninformed view of what Islam is. If you agree with the assertion that a Muslim would not be a suitable president solely because (s)he is Muslim, then that tells me right there that you do not understand what a Muslim truly is. It shows me that you are generalizing whatever you think you know about Islam (evidently very little) to represent the entire population of Muslims. Given that, how could you possibly be qualified to assess whether or not a Muslim could be a viable president? Fortunately, in the English language, there exists a perfect adjective to describe (s)he who attempts to speak about that which (s)he knows nothing of: ignorant ☺

      I speculate that your (I'm sorry, but there's no other word for it) ignorance stems from the systematic vilification of a demographic that has been perpetuated by news networks and media outlets for years in order to accomplish the political agenda of a militaristic (but otherwise, BEAUTIFUL--please don't accuse me of lacking patriotism, I am a proud American and shouldn't have to prove it any more than any other citizen, although I definitely could if I had to--) nation. Look at it this way: are the members of ISIS or the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks Muslims? You all, I gather, would (wrongly) answer yes, but in so doing, fail to realize that these murderers (a radical, foolish, violent MINORITY) are condemned by, and thus do not belong to the set of ACTUAL Muslims, who comprise a much larger population, and whose conduct entirely contrasts with those who masquerade as Muslims. And since I mentioned THOSE ignorant murderers, I should mention that they're paradoxically named, because there's nothing truly Islamic about them.

      In that regard, it's not entirely your fault; you don't know any better because how could you know any better? The media shows you what the media wants you to see; rarely does that do justice to reality in its entirety*. We combat ignorance with education, and because I cannot, in good conscience, fault you for ignorance that is beyond your control, I most certainly will fault you if you do not take it upon yourself to properly educate yourself. If you would, please indulge me in the following crash-course, I'll keep it as concise as possible.


    2. The word "Muslim" literally translates from Arabic to mean "one who submits" and is exegetically understood to mean "one who submits to The One." Yes, that One is referred to as Allah, but Allah translates from Arabic to mean "The One [God]." It is a compound word that is formed from the article "al" meaning "the" (the same way that the article "el" means "the" in Spanish) and "ilah," which was an Arabic word for God (the same way that "deidad" means "deity" in Spanish). Yes, it is that simple. This may seem redundant, but Islam (an Abrahamic faith just like Christianity and Judaism) emerged during a time of extremely prevalent polytheistic Paganism. Therefore, reemphasizing the oneness of God is essential to an understanding of Islam. Too often, I have personally encountered those who regard Allah as exclusively the God of the Muslims. Allah just happens to be the Arabic word for God, the same way that the word "Dios" also means God in Spanish. Allah = Yahweh = God, they are all different names for the same ONE monotheistic God. Arab Christians (yes, they do exist) also use the name Allah to refer to God.

      So now that we have the language down, let's look at the requirements of being Muslim:

      1-Shahada) Testify that there is no God but God and that Muhammad was God's Messenger**.
      2-Salah) Offer prayers during the 5 daily prescribed times, ideally all 5 every day
      3-Sawm) Health allowing, fast during the month of Ramadan
      4-Hajj) Finances allowing, make the pilgrimage at least once to the Holy Land, Mecca
      5-Zakat) Give charity to the poor

      These are the ONLY requirements for any person to be Muslim. Do any of these requirements inhibit one from fulfilling presidential duties?

      Furthermore, a basic tenet for the conduct of Muslims that governs their actions with both fellow Muslims and non-Muslims alike is "Unto you yours and unto me, mine." This conventional wisdom is not foreign to any of us, and is more familiar in the form of the peacekeeping Golden Rule: "Treat others how you want to be treated."

      28:55 "To us our deeds and to you yours; peace be to you"
      109:6 "To you, your religion, and to you, mine."

      ^These are lines from the Qur'an, and I invite you to research them for yourselves if you doubt their accuracy.

      Islam has always and will always teach the overarching value of peace.

      In summary, this introductory lesson (because I'm by no means an Islamic expert) should serve to correct this misunderstanding and make it obvious that the statement "a Muslim is not fit to be president" could not be a better example of a non-sequitur fallacy. In other words, what does one have to do with the other?

      Much in the way that there are Christians and Jews who interpret their respective texts literally, allegorically, and spiritually, there are also Muslims who interpret the Qur'an literally, allegorically, and spiritually. It is beyond me why people don't recognize the double standard inherent in treating Judaism and Christianity with one accommodating understanding and not justly treating Islam with the same kindness, not least of all because these three faiths are more similar than different. As with anything, exercise common sense and the human faculty of reason.

      With the sincerest wishes of peace and blessings to all,

      Rayaz Ahmad Khan
      Proud American
      Passionate Student
      Peace-loving Muslim

      *To be fair, that's a tall order and raises the question "can reality be wholly captured via cameras and reporters?" which could get real metaphysical real fast and would certainly be a digression from this topic.

      **Note that the Islamic understanding of God's Messengers includes prior prophets such as Jesus, Moses, and Abraham among many others.

    3. Really nice critique of the position. I think that you effectively attacked Carson's arguments about why a Muslim could not be supported for President. But my critique was not about the religion of Islam per se, but rather about any fundamentalist religion--any religion in which sacred books are taken literally, rather than allowing for allegorical and metaphorical readings of these texts.

      Your interpretation of Islam shows that you are definitely NOT a literalist, I'm sure that there are millions of Muslims who share your understanding of the Koran, and if this is the case, then my critique doesn't apply to them either.

      It applies exclusively to religious practicioners--whether Christian, Jew, Muslim, Scientologist, or Mormon--who adopt a literalistic reading of their sacred texts, all of which contain ideas inimical to democractic societies that value tolerance, inclusivity, and religious freedom.

      If we can read the Koran or the Bible with an appreciation for the fact that some of the ideas in these texts--e.g., the subordination of women, for example--need to be reinterpreted in light of our modern understandings of human society or discarded completely because they are morally dubious, then there is no problem at all.

      But I do love your tenacity in ripping apart my initial post. Bravo!

    4. One more thing....

      When you write this.....


      do you mean to say that no Muslim in the world has a fundamentalist understanding of Islam? Or that anyone who does is not a true Muslim. You need to clarify this a bit.

    5. Thank you, Dr. Russo. I truly appreciate the opportunity and definitely had fun with this.


      It seemed to me that the necessary distinction between Muslims and narrow-minded literalists was lacking, not just by you, the author, but also each person who commented.


    The aim of this post was to intentionally choose a topic designed to provoke, and judging from the responses from those on both the left and right, I think that I succeeded.

    But it's also important when developing a position to state ones views clearly--in a way that won't give rise to misunderstanding. This was the problem with Carson initial statement about not thinking that a Muslim could ever be President, and he's been forced to spend the past two weeks backsliding on that position.

    But I also slipped up a bit by implying that one could not be a Muslim without adopting a literalistic interpretation of the Koran. That's not my position or my belief. But by saying that some people thought that was the case, I made it seem as though I myself supported this position.

    We need to be very careful in what we write, particularly on the internet. Take this lesson to heart from my own mistake.

    So let me clarify again, my critique is of literalism and applies to all those who cannot accept the idea that sacred texts are products of the times in which they were written and therefore need to be subjected to historical interpretation. At times this might mean rejecting completely the outdated and antidemocratic ideals expressed in sacred books. At other times, it might be reinterpreting them allegorically or metaphorically to make them more compatible with ideas of Western democratic society.

    I hope that this helps to clarify my position a bit more!

  13. I agree with a few of the points you make. Our president should have an understanding of the Enlightenment principles, which guided the foundation of our country. You also make another great point with the idea that our constitution should not be regarded as an infallible text because it was written under the assumption that it would need modification. Our founding fathers were not gods and were susceptible to biases and imperfections as we all are today. You then make a final good argument that anyone who takes religious texts literally does not deserve to be president. I would go further and say that anyone who believes any religious text literally does not deserve to be a member of a democratic society.
    Although you make some good arguments, you are wrong on the main point that you have made about a Muslim being president of the U.S. You fail to recognize that there are Muslims who do not interpret all of the Koran literally. Plenty of Muslims interpret the Koran while believing strongly in our country’s democratic values. You are just looking at the fundamentalists; plenty of Muslims’ have different interpretations of the Koran and live their life according to Enlightenment principles.
    Our Middle-Eastern ally, Turkey, has a population that vastly identifies as Muslim. Their democracy is much like ours in principle and most of their people are Muslim. How do you explain how their democracy is functioning?

  14. Better late than never – right?

    Since this is a tough one, I wanted to dig down into exactly what Carson said (I’ve included a link at the end of this post if anybody is so inclined to watch the minute-long clip). The conversation went on as follows:

    Reporter: “Should a president’s faith matter? Should your faith matter to voters?”
    Carson: “I guess it depends on what that faith is. If it is inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter. But if it fits within the realm of America, and consistent with the constitution, I have no problem.”

    Reporter: “So do you believe that Islam is consistent with the Constitution?

    Carson: “No I don’t, I do not. I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

    Let’s look at Carson’s first statement. He’s asked whether or not a president’s faith should matter, and answers with: “I guess it depends on what that faith is.” This is a fair statement. If somebody is a faithful believer of the Great Pumpkin, then I think it is fair to say that this individual is not in the right an conscious state of mind to serve as our Commander-in-Chief (although I’d advocate for Linus seven days in a week).

    Carson’s next statement: “If it is inconsistent with the values and principles of America, then of course it should matter.” Okay, this statement would seem reasonably fair if we had an answer to the following question: what are the values and principles of America? If I were to ask Mary Jo, she would take an Anti-Federalist/Anti-Mt. Rushmore approach, while Professor Russo would argue that the teachings of the Enlightenment created our nation’s moral compass. Ray may say that the values and principles of America are none different than a practicing “Peace-loving Muslim,” while Phillip might argue for the extermination of non-secular matters when regarding American principles. What does this show? It shows that even in our tiny computer-lab classroom, the eleven of us can’t agree on what the values and principles of America are. So how can we expect 321 million Americans to agree on a common platform of our nation’s values and principles? We simply can’t. So then how can we label a Muslim as an inadequate candidate for the oval office, simply based on the fact that his/her religion may differ from American values and principles, when we can’t even define said principles. We simply can’t.
    Then what’s my personal opinion? I tend to lean towards Phillip’s line of thinking regarding the separation of church and state; but with a more realistic approach. I would argue that most, if not all, human beings cannot separate church and state (in their own minds) for the purpose of decision-making. As Professor Russo mentioned, even an atheist’s anti-deistic perspectives will be reflected in their decision-making. It’s inevitable, because our faith (or lack thereof) is hard-wired into who we are. I understand where Carson is coming from. Literalistic religious views can indeed clash severely with rational political decision-making. But so can non-literalistic religious views! And even anti-religious views! We can’t rip religious beliefs out of individuals’ minds while they’re making decisions, keep them on ice, and then give them back when the decisions are made.

    With that being said, I believe that Carson is flawed in implying that a Muslim is not suit for presidency. I believe that a prime presidential candidate can understand how their religious views effect the decision they are about to make, weigh the implications of their decision, and seek assistance if they believe that they are acting religiously-biased – regardless of their religion. But, now I’m not sounding much like the realist I claim to be. I guess a boy can dream.