Editorial Note: When I make a mistake, I have to acknowledge it, and this is one of those times. In this column I mistakenly – and unfairly – attributed the views of Ben Carson to official doctrine of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. The links I made to web sites purporting to be Adventist were actually to schismatics, or at least to people who do not represent the Church. In reality, the Adventists – I am told – are quite antiwar, which would put them into conflict with Carson’s stated foreign policy views.
Carson, it seems, is tailoring his views to the post-millennialist dispensationalist evangelicals, who are quite different from the pre-millennialist (non-dispensationalist) Adventists. There might have been a column in that – but unfortunately I didn’t write it.
I thought about simply taking the column down, but that would be dishonest. Let it stand as a monument to the perils of hasty research.
My profuse apologies to the Adventist community.
In the fantasy world of Ben Carson – neurosurgeon and Fox News star-turned-presidential candidate – the roots of Muslim hostility to Israel go all the way back to the rivalry of Jacob and Esau. Asked by conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt about the roots of the Islamic State, Carson replied:
“Well, first of all, you have to recognize they go back thousands and thousands of years, really back to the battle between Jacob and Esau. But it has been a land issue for a very long period of time. Possession is very important to them. And one of the things that we’re doing, I think, incorrectly right now is not recognizing that they are expanding their territory. Not only the land that they’ve taken in Iraq, but what they’ve taken in Syria, they’re creating an Islamic state. And we can bomb it all we want. But unless we actually can take the land back, we’re really not doing them any damage.
“HH: Dr. Carson, but you know, Muhammad lives in 632AD, so it’s a 1,300, 1,400 year old religion. How do you go back to Jacob and Esau, which are BC?
“BC: I’m just saying that the conflict has been ongoing for thousands of years. This is not anything new, is what I’m saying.
“HH: So it’s not specific to the Islamic faith or the Salafist offshoot to the Islamic faith
“BC: Well, the Islamic faith emanated from Esau.”
Carson’s description of the origin of Islam seems a bit crazy to anyone familiar with actual history, but to the Bible-believing fundamentalists, who make up a worrying percentage of the Republican electorate, it makes all the sense in the world. According to the Bible, Jacob and his elder brother Esau, of the line of Abraham, represent Israel, on the one hand, and, on Esau’s side, the non-Jewish tribes that inhabited the land alongside them. In the biblical story, Jacob cheats Esau out of his inheritance by deceiving their father, and the latter is cast out into the wilderness, where he intermarried – a big no-no – with non-Jewish women: their descendants were the Arabs. As one fundamentalist sect puts it:
“Esau married one of the daughters of Ishmael, as well as other women, resulting in the birth of twelve ‘princes’, the start of the Arab nations. Jacob married Laban’s daughters, Leah and Rachel, having twelve sons in all to the women and their handmaidens. These were to become the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel.
“The conflict which began as a dispute between Sarah and Hagar, later to be reinforced by the struggle between Jacob and Esau in the womb, was given new life when Israel reclaimed its birthright in 1948, thereby displacing millions of the descendants of Esau. Now, this same conflict has the whole world as its battleground, as Islamic extremists declare war on both Jew and Christian alike. However, the center stage of the conflict is Jerusalem. On the surface, the fight seems to be about land rights and ownership. On another level, it is about clashing cultures and spiritual beliefs. But on a much deeper plane, this is a momentous battle between spiritual powers not seen or understood by any of the participants.”
So Hewitt’s objection to Carson’s seemingly out-of-whack timeline is irrelevant – if you’re a fundamentalist Christian who happens to interpret the Bible in a particular way. Forget the land issue, and never mind that Israel’s interests are not identical to American interests – the religious zealot’s interpretation of the Bible trumps all that in the minds of adherents, such as Dr. Carson, who is a Seventh Day Adventist. Here is what the Adventists have to say about Islam:
“The seed of Abraham are, in the last days, to receive of the covenant promises made by YHWH to Abraham and his posterity; and right now when these promises are to be realized, the enemy of righteousness is at work again, seeking to frustrate their fulfillment, and destroy a people destined for divine favor. But as surely as he failed in the days of Daniel, Esther and Joseph, thanks to Michael our Prince, he will fail today as well. The titanic battle between Jews and Muslims will be over, and even the desperately wicked group known as ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), also known as ISIS and IS, will study war no more, but give up their weapons of warfare for the Good Shepherd’s Rod and Staff which restores and comforts the sin-benighted soul.
“The two principal groups which are responsible for the destabilizing political and military crises in our world today are the Jews, and the Muslims, both descendants from the seed of Abraham. And as surely as Ishmael vexed Isaac in their family’s home in Canaan – the Levant, so also it is today. The old family squabble is today tipping over into the formations of the next world war! That war will be fought in the Middle East, a war in which the great nations of the earth will be engaged, and the United States and her allies will suffer a stinging military defeat! It is an uncontested fact that, were it not for the return of the Jews to the land of Israel in 1948, the current war on Terror would never have been, and it is equally true that 95% of the global conflicts today are initiated by agents from the Islamic faith.”
Oh but don’t worry, God – or YHWH (Yahweh), as the Adventists call him – has a Plan, and everything will turn out for the best:
“The rise of Zionism and the rise of the Islamic State are both instruments of the Devil, and are designed to take possession of the Promised Land on their own terms. But God will drive both of them from the Holy Land and give it to a righteous nation who will obey the truth. He will also cause both seed of Abraham, Muslim and Jew, to receive the everlasting gospel, and they will both humble themselves to the God of Israel, YHWH.”
No reporter has the guts to ask Dr. Carson if he believes Zionism is an instrument of the Devil, but if they did ask him I’d be willing to bet the soft-spoken doctor would give an honest answer according to the dictates of his faith. I wonder what that would do to his soaring poll numbers…..
Unlike the evangelicals, orthodoxAdventists don’t ascribe a prophetic quality to the ingathering of Jews in Israel. Yet the Adventist view is just an idiosyncratic version of what all fundamentalist Christians believe – that when the End Times are upon us, and the great battle between Good and Evil takes place on the plain ofArmageddon, Christ will return and both Jews and Muslims will be converted to Christianity (or else be cast down into the Nether Regions, a.k.a. Hell).
So why bring up Carson’s religion – isn’t that a personal matter if not outright bigotry? Well, it isn’t a personal matter, not when a presidential candidate takes his religious views as a guide to policy, as Carson undoubtedly does. To the Christian fundamentalist, and surely to the Adventist, one’s religion isn’t just a matter of going to church on Sunday (or Saturday, in the case of the Adventists): it encompasses an entire worldview. And that worldview includes a series ofprophecies that explain – and dictate – the course of world events.
According to the fundamentalists, the world is approaching the End Times in which the ultimate showdown between God and the Devil is fated to take place: World War III will begin on the plain of Armageddon, and this is prefigured by the conflict between Islam and the US, where we will face down the descendants of Esau (i.e. the Muslims).
Oh, but don’t worry: God will return to earth to save the day.
According to the fundamentalist vision, this isn’t debatable: it’s inevitable. All we can do is go along for the ride.
So it doesn’t matter if Dr. Carson didn’t know that the Baltic nations are already members of NATO. It doesn’t matter that he has no experience and very little knowledge in the foreign policy realm. All Carson has to do is study the fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible and act in accordance with God’s wishes. What this entails, in foreign policy terms, is supporting Israel down the line – and preparing for World War III.
Behind the image of Dr. Carson as the soft-spoken and seemingly reasonable neurosurgeon who rose up out of a hardscrabble youth to become an American success story lurks the real Ben Carson: a zealot whose deterministic view of the world would take us down the road to disaster. No wonder Adventists are worried at the scrutiny they will have to endure due to Carson’s candidacy.
That Carson is second in the GOP presidential polls – trailing behind a demagogic fraud equally ignorant of world affairs – speaks volumes about the political bankruptcy of the Republican party and what passes for the conservative movement today. If I were a Christian of the fundamentalist variety, I would preach that this is in itself a sign of the End Times, solid proof that the Great Tribulation is upon us.