Worry of the Week – 25 October 2015: Ben Carson Chosen by God

Carson, Ben

Ben Carson (Source:

The success of so-called “outsider” candidates has been a feature of the GOP presidential nominee race. So far, Donald Trump has won almost every poll since he entered the race. That changed this week.

Until now, it was possible to put the success of complete f**kwits like Trump, Mike Huckabee, and Ted Cruz down to name recognition. When someone like Carly Fiorina was noticed in the debates and talked about in the media, she went into the mix too. Currently Fiorina’s not being talked about nationally, so her numbers have slid a bit.

However, both the latest Quinnipiac University poll and the highly respected Des Moines Register poll have come out this week with Carson well ahead in Iowa. Given that Carson was politically a virtual unknown before his controversial speech at the National Prayer Breakfast on 5 February 2015, it may be that this is a sign of genuine traction with voters. (Although I’m still struggling with the fact that the US has a thing called the “National Prayer Breakfast” in the first place. Surely the fact that it’s seen the rise of Carson to political prominence is reason enough to ban it, quite apart from constitutional reasons.)

It may be that Carson has actually been leading in Iowa for longer than just the last week or so too. A ‘Club for Growth’ super-pac poll was released on 6 October that showed him well in the lead, but was dismissed by pundits because it was used by them to claim that their US$1 million worth of TV ads opposing Donald Trump’s support for eminent domain laws was working. However, the release of two quality polls showing even better results for Carson indicates he may have been leading in Iowa for a while now.

Iowa GOP Oct 2015

Iowa is traditionally the first state to caucus in the January before the election and a win there is sought after by contenders. GOP caucus voters there are dominated by evangelical Christians. According to Vox:

The key to winning the Republican Iowa caucuses is winning the evangelical vote. Though evangelical or born-again Christians make up about a quarter of the state’s population, they made up 57 percent of GOP caucus attendees in 2012 and 60 percent in 2008, according to entrance polls.

In 2008 the state was won by Mike Huckabee and in 2012  Rick Santorum was successful there. Both have strong appeal to evangelical voters, as does Carson.

Overall, Trump continues to bleed female voters (see what I did there – that was for you Megyn Kelly), and they appear to be going to Carson. According to the Quinnipiac survey, Trump has only 13% of female voters while Carson has 33%. Trump and Carson are doing equally well will male voters though – 24% vs 25% respectively. Carson has 32% of self-identified Tea Party voters, while Trump scores 20% Lisa Loserwith them. The other big difference in their supporters is with White Born-Again and Evangelical voters and those who identify as “very conservative.” Carson has 36% and 32% of those respectively in Iowa; Trump 17% and 16% respectively. In fact, Ted Cruz also beats Trump with both Tea Party (21%) and very conservative (18%) voters. Marco Rubio beats Trump with women voters (15%) along with Carson.

So the news is out: Trump is vulnerable and can be beaten.

Now it’s understandable that Carson would appeal to the Republican caucus voters of Iowa. They don’t care about the controversial positions he’s taken on several issues. In fact, as this portion of the Des Moines Register survey shows, they positively revel in them:

Des Moines Register Carson

It’s pretty scary so many people with the ability to vote hold these opinions. The Des Moines Register poll showed that these views are normal amongst GOP caucus voters. 69% thought it was unacceptable for a Muslim to be president of the United States (25% acceptable), and 75% think the Benghazi investigation is worth the time and money (19% don’t).

What’s an awful lot scarier is that Carson believes that his god, the Christian God who thinks the bizarre Seventh Day Adventist sect he belongs to are the chosen people, is behind all this:

You heard that right. This is what he said:

I said, Lord, I don’t particularly want to do this … but if you want me to do it open the doors and I’ll walk through them. And if you close the doors, I’ll sit down. And the doors began flying open, much to the consternation of all the professional class and all the pundits, who said it’s impossible, you can’t possibly put together a national organization as a political neophyte, you don’t know any of the people, you’ve no money, you can’t do it. It’s impossible. Forget it. And yet, you see, it’s happening. And they don’t understand the power of God.

God ExistsCarson has made a series of controversial political statements, but disagreeing with someone politically isn’t a reason for them to be dismissed as I do Carson. Carson is unfit to hold high political office because of statements like the one above. Many people won’t see anything wrong with his statement – declarations of faith in US political candidates have become a requirement for public office.

But let’s just replace Carson’s faith in his god with Santa, fairies, or a deceased grandparent. Would people still look so benignly on his statements? No. They’d be seeking psychological of psychiatric help for him. Carson either believes his god is literally giving him messages to run for president or he’s lying. Either way it’s seriously problematic.

The First Amendment of their Constitution is the most admirable thing about the United States. Candidates like Carson who want to ride rough-shod over that are dangerous. He likes the look of a theocracy – a Christian theocracy. Be careful what you wish for USA – you just might get it.


69 Responses to “Worry of the Week – 25 October 2015: Ben Carson Chosen by God”

  1. Ken says:

    Again, never say never in the States, but I don’t think Carson is electable. While other religious people have been elected, none have been so open about their wacko beliefs like Carson’s creationism. Even Bush fudged it a bit.

    By the way, the National Prayer Breakfast is privately funded, so is not unconstitutional and couldn’t be banned.

    • I sort of think Carson is unelectable, but as Martin says, it’s possible he is. In head to head match-ups with all voters between Sanders and Carson for example, Carson wins by more than 20 points. I hope that’s because all they know about Bernie is “socialist” which is anathema in the US, and Carson is “Christian neuro-surgeon” which sounds pretty good.

      Glad the NPB is privately funded. Still, can you imagine how it would go down here?

  2. Regrettably I think that the statistics suggest that Ben Carson may be electable.

    Only in America!

    Correctly identified as the worry of the week

    • He amazingly popular for such an idiot. I find his End Times beliefs particularly worrying. Just think how he’d look in our political climate? He makes Colin Craig look positively normal and rational!

  3. Diane G. says:

    “In 2008 the state was won by Mike Huckabee and in 2012 Rick Santorum was successful there.”

    That tells you how much you have to worry about the Iowa caucus.

  4. Coel says:

    Hi Heather,

    It’s pretty scary so many people with the ability to vote hold these opinions. […] 69% thought it was unacceptable for a Muslim to be president of the United States

    I struggle to see what is so wrong with this opinion. Take this:

    Carson is unfit to hold high political office because of statements like the one above. […] The First Amendment of their Constitution is the most admirable thing about the United States. Candidates like Carson who want to ride rough-shod over that are dangerous.

    Thus you yourself adopt that stance that religious opinions that are incompatible with the First Amendment make someone unfit to be president. Well, main-stream Islam has many doctrines that reject the First Amendment (rejection of church/state separation, rejection of free speech on religion, rejection of religious freedom and laws against blasphemy and apostasy, etc).

    Thus, any person who holds to mainstream Islam would surely be unfit to be president. Though, yes, there are some moderate Muslims who would reject all those mainstream Islamic tenets and who would endorse the First Amendment.

    Still, if, when they say that it would be unacceptable for a Muslim to be president, they’re thinking of the normal, popular, mainstream versions of Islam, then I’d agree with them.

    • Ken says:

      To be fair, Carson said only that he wouldn’t advocate for a Muslim to be president, not that he would seek to ban Muslims from the job, later “clarifying” that he wouldn’t support anyone who didn’t hold the Constitution higher than their religion. Maybe someone in his situation shouldn’t say that, but I certainly can’t claim to have any difficulty with it as a personal position, given I couldn’t advocate for a creationist like Carson to be president either.

    • That’s how I take it. A person, whatever their religion or lack thereof, should be able to be president as long as the First Amendment comes first. If a Muslim candidate advocated Sharia, then of course they shouldn’t be president, and good luck getting any votes anyway.

      Carson (supposedly along with his wife – I don’t know whether or not anyone places any credence in that, but they act like they don’t) has just written a book called “A More Perfect Union” in which he goes on about making the US better by making it more Christian. He says that’s what the founding fathers wanted. He writes about “all men being imbued by their CREATOR…” and “one nation under GOD” etc meaning the US is a Christian nation, that’s what it was meant to be, and that’s what it needs to get back to. I need to write about that book at some point, but I can’t bear to put any money in his pocket by buying it.

      • Paxton marshall says:

        I think a number of the candidates believe that God has chosen them to do what they are doing: huckster, Santorum, Cruz, Rubio, Kasich, Bush, maybe even Trump, as well as Carson. I’m not so worried about Carson, as about Rubio. He is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. We had a born again president in W Bush, and I don’t think enough attention has been paid to his religious motives for his Middle East interventions. Same with Blair, who seems to at least be taking a little responsibility for the mess they created. Why don’t anti religious atheists pursue serious questions about the societal consequences of religion, such as this? Who is talking about the Roman Catholic Synod on marriage and the family? Where all decisions that will impact the lives of billions, are being made by 270 avowedly celibate men? Is that not perverse? And these “Eunichs”, to use Jesus’ terminology, are declaring that homosexuality is “disordered” and it is against the laws of God for two people of the same sex to form a conjugal Union. And they can decree that people who make a mistake in their first choice of a mate, are cut off from the church’s pathway to eternal life if they find a new mate? 270 celibate men can decree this! But where are the New Atheists? Why should anyone give any credence to an organization that not only excludes women from decision making positions, but all non-celibate men. And yet homosexuals are disordered! The level of weirdness in this situation is beyond my ken.

        • I agree Rubio is a wolf in sheep’s clothing and have written about some of the extreme religious views in his background on this website.

          The RC Church produced a preliminary document after their first synod about the family, which I’ve read, and mentioned in passing before. I’m planning to write about it when the final document is produced. I don’t know whether other NAs will write about it or not. I’m sure some will.

          However, it’s not up to anyone else to tell me what I should and shouldn’t write about, and what my opinion should be. I suspect my opinion of the RCC pretty much dovetails with yours. A lot of what you say above are things I’ve been saying about the RCC since I was a teenager and still a Christian. NAs tend to be stronger against the RCC than the average atheist anyway. Lots of atheists think we should give them a break, and they especially seem to like Frankie. My opinion is he’s another wolf in sheep’s clothing. His opinions are just as appalling and revolting as every other pope – he’s just better at the packaging.

        • Diane G. says:

          “But where are the New Atheists?”

          This only shows how addicted you are to your own view of new atheism and how little you actually pay attention to it. I can’t think of any other group that denounces the sexism, homophobia, etc., of the RCC more than the NA’s! Name one!

          Also, just for the record, we had another Born Again president, Jimmy Carter, who worked & still does for peace in the Middle East.

          • I particularly love the IQ squared debate on Catholicism. Stephen Fry and Christopher Hitchens did a marvellous job representing New Atheism: Two hours long, but if you’ve never seen it, you’re missing out.

          • Paxton marshall says:

            You’re right on both counts, Diane. Jimmy Carter is a great man as well as being a born again Christian. And I don’t pay such close attention to new atheism, though I have read the foundational documents, and read more of Dawkins and some of Coyne. When I said where are the New Atheists, it was intended to provoke discussion. And I was introducing an aspect that is seldom considered among the criticism of sexism and homophobia. The R C power structure isn’t just sexist, it excludes 99% of males as well. Votes on church doctrine concerning marriage and the family were restricted to 270 professedly celibate men. My criticism is of anyone who focuses on the symptoms rather than the problems. If that’s not new atheist, let it be.

          • Ken says:

            Totally agree, Heather. Stephen and Hitch are devastating!

  5. paxton marshall says:

    An interesting, and I think encouraging, development in Christianity in the US, is the almost total cessation of the wars among the sects. Fifty years ago, it would be unthinkable for evangelical protestants to vote for a Catholic like Rick Santorum, or a Seventh-day Adventist (which many protestants denied was even Christian) like Carson. Sure, you can find on the internet plenty of fundies who argue that any one who holds their worship services on Saturday, or who prays to Mary is doomed to perdition. But for the most part Christians have circled the wagons against the looming secular threat. Evangelicals and Catholics have been almost indistinguishable in their outrage against abortion and gay marriage. Maybe I’m wrong, but I regard this as a sign of weakness and a crumbling Christian certainty.

    • Diane G. says:

      @ Paxton

      That was gracious of you! Sorry if I came on a bit strongly.

      You bring up a good point about the Cardinals, et al, being not only (elderly, white for the most part) men, but supposedly totally chaste. How bizarre is it possible to be?!

      • paxton marshall says:

        Thanks Diane. The contrast between born-again Presidents Jimmy Carter and GW Bush is instructive. Carter is very disciplined and scrupulous. He would not presume to think he was chosen by God for greatness, but labours to achieve the commandments of his religion, to love one another. He’s proudest of his record as a peacemaker. “”We kept our country at peace. We never went to war. We never dropped a bomb. We never fired a bullet. “

        Bush is vain and not very scrupulous, just the kind of person who can imagine himself chosen by God to achieve great things. He had visions of grandeur. Gen. Wesley Clark has related that a fellow general told him of a memo in 2002 “that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.”

        I think the contrast between the two shows how tricky it is to ascribe motives, religious or otherwise, to behavior. People are often not aware of their motives, which may stem from a variety of psychological factors as well as conscious factors like religious dictates and revenge. I am an atheist and ant-theist of long standing, and wary of religious reasons for doing anything. After 9/11 it became clear that the right wing Christians in the US were looking for revenge against Islam as a whole. It didn’t matter whether they were actually engaged in 9/11 or not. It didn’t matter that Bush chose to invade Iraq and not Saudi Arabia, the source of the 9/11 killers. They are all Muslims and thus evil. This attitude is still very much alive in this country. It was and is dismaying to me that some of my fellow atheists have joined the Christian right in vilifying Islam without examining other factors, including the role of Christianity and Judaism in provoking Muslim reactions.

        Much harm has been done by every religion, but much good as well. And in neither case has the motive been purely religious. People have channeled their hatred, greed, love and empathy through their own religious conduit. I think much of the condemnation of religion as the cause of violence and other evil has been simplistic and superficial. It’s too easy to look at the symptoms and ascribe causation, as when a terrorist proclaims he is killing for Allah, rather than examine the whole history and social infrastructure behind the event in question. Religion has been deeply woven into the fabric of every society we’ve ever known. To distinguish religion from other factors in the behaviors of people is not a task to be taken lightly.

        • Ken says:

          Carter is a saint compared to almost every other president, but we should not think his record so flawless as “We never dropped a bomb. We never fired a bullet.” would suggest. The best counter example might be in Central America, where several covert operations got under way or were increased during the Carter years, in Nicaragua particularly. Many died as a result of US interventions there.

        • Ken says:

          This just in from Sam Harris; he and Maajid Nawaz on Oz tv. It’s a good overview of the thesis in their new book. So much to support here, though they still gloss over the importance of geopolitics. Sam even agrees with Maajid that we shouldn’t put Western boots on the ground in Syria as it makes it easier for ISIS to recruit (air strikes apparently don’t though!), yet argue that global jihad has always been part of the programme and would it seems happen even had Western interventions never started. And of course no mention of the role of Saudi Arabia and the free pass they have from the West to promote Sunni radicalism. The mind boggles.

          • Ken says:

            Dave Rubin interviews Maajid Nawaz. The beginning is familiar stuff if you know anything about Maajid’s journey and his relationship with Sam, but this is really worth listening to. In particular, at about 25m in, he defines “regressive left” and why he feels they give a pass to theocratic oppression and accuse people who don’t of being neocons even when that is plainly absurd. He postulates that it is a matter of priority and that they see geopolitical state terrorism (my words, not his) as being a bigger issue, and that it is too difficult to deal with both issues at the same time. I think he is onto something here. I also like his rationale for the need to distinguish between Islam and Islamism; that for Muslims (and all of us) to be able to have conversations about reform, we must have accurate definitions for what it is that we want to argue needs to change.

            I think Rubin is doing some good stuff with his new show. What I do wish he’d ask Maajid is just why the left feels geopolitics is the bigger deal. Maybe next time (hmm, I may write to Rubin to suggest it).


        • I agree with most of what you say here, but there’s one sentence I have difficulty with:

          It’s too easy to look at the symptoms and ascribe causation, as when a terrorist proclaims he is killing for Allah, rather than examine the whole history and social infrastructure behind the event in question.

          The “killing for Allah” thing is why Islamism is such a problem. Islamism has interpreted Islam so that “killing for Allah” is OK, and it doesn’t matter who you kill either because good Muslims go to paradise, which is better than being here on earth, and everyone else goes to hell, which is where Allah wants them to be, and you’re doing Allah’s work.

          Of course there are other reasons for all the problems, but because of how Islamists interpret the theology, their solution is too often murder, and there’s no problem with that for them, even if they kill someone who in their eyes is the wrong person.

          • Ken says:

            Heather, nothing you’ve said here leads logically to a difficulty with that line of Paxton’s. He’s saying it’s more complex than just religion and you agree. Your points perhaps explain why Islam tends more towards violence than other religions, but that is a separate point surely.

          • Yeah, but he said we can’t ascribe causation. In the case of a person who believes killing for their god is a good thing, I believe you can ascribe causation. It’s about the method of fighting back – the whole gamut from armchair activism to the sort of thing DAESH indulges in. If you are convinced by a theology of murder/suicide/afterlife, it becomes an acceptable tool in the fight.

          • Ken says:

            Yeah, but he said we can’t ascribe causation.

            No, he said we ascribe causation too easily based on what seems intuitive (symptoms) rather than doing a proper investigation.

            In the case of a person who believes killing for their god is a good thing, I believe you can ascribe causation.

            Until you do that proper investigation, you’re just guessing. In the case of Islamic terrorism towards the West, your guess would be so incomplete as to be largely useless in deciding what to do.

            It’s about the method of fighting back –

            Now that’s exactly right, it is about how they’re fighting back, not about what caused them to feel they need to fight back in the first place. The causes are much deeper, as we’ve often discussed.

            Sam Harris makes this method/causation mistake too. He likes to point out that a Jain would never react the way a Muslim does and so therefore most of the problem is religion. React to what, one might ask? If it’s to a religious cartoon, I have a lot of sympathy with the view. But if it’s to multiple foreign invasions that have wrecked your country and killed your family – or even people you don’t know, but who share your beliefs so that you identify with them, then I can only say you’re not thinking hard enough.

            There’s something about a Western atheist (I’m talking about Sam, of course) lecturing Muslims that they must as a matter of top priority reform their religion, because they’re reaction to his country’s mass violence against them is just not acceptable and certainly something a Jain would never do. As another Western atheist from the same country, I find such logic truly embarrassing.

          • paxton marshall says:

            Well said, Ken!

          • You’re quite right about the can’t/too easily thing. It was sloppy of me and I apologise, especially to Paxton.

            In the case of a person who believes killing for their god is a good thing, I believe you can ascribe causation.

            I’m not talking about the causation in relation to why they’re fighting – I agree that’s usually multi-faceted, and different in different situations. I’m talking about the choice of fight-back method. Someone who doesn’t believe in suicide/paradise theology for example, is unlikely to choose that method unless they’re mentally ill. For someone who believes in that theology, it’s a perfectly logical choice. That’s the argument I’m making.

          • Ken says:

            Ok, I’d say that’s not at all controversial. Need to be careful with language though, as Paxton *was* taking about the other kind of causation.

          • The part of the sentence that I thought made it clear what I was talking about was:

            It’s too easy to look at the symptoms and ascribe causation, as when a terrorist proclaims he is killing for Allah, rather than examine the whole history and social infrastructure behind the event in question.

            Is someone says they’re “killing for Allah” they accept that theology and so it becomes an acceptable tool, whatever their motivations. In the context, I thought it was obvious what I was referring to, especially as I agree with everything else.

          • paxton marshall says:

            Heather, I don’t understand the distinction you are making here: “If someone says they’re “killing for Allah” they accept that theology and so it becomes an acceptable tool, whatever their motivations”. If religion is not the motivation, then what does an “acceptable tool” mean? Something one gives as a reason that is not the real reason?

          • 1. There is a problem between two groups. As always, the reasons are many, but often there’s one thing that was the straw that broke the camel’s back and leads one group to fight back.
            2. There is a whole range of tools that can be used in that fight. As I said before, the whole spectrum from armchair activism to the most brutal of terrorist tactics.
            3. Which tools you choose to use depends of your beliefs/ethics etc. If one of your beliefs is murder/suicide/afterlife theology, it becomes a tool you can use. It becomes acceptable in your mind. You are a tool of your god, doing what he wants. And even if you make a mistake and kill the wrong person, it’s still OK because that person is now in paradise and better off.

          • paxton marshall says:

            Heather, I see that the word “tool” can be used in different ways. It can be used as a word for weapons and tactics. Don’t you think that most people use the weapons and tactics that are available to them? The US and Israel use fighter jets and bombers and guided missiles. The Muslim rebels don’t have those things so they use stones, knives, Molotov cocktails, explosives, whatever they can get their hands on. I don’t think it’s usually a religious choice. ISIL uses stoning and beheadings more as a propaganda weapon than as a military weapon.

            But religion is also a tool used by the authority structure to get the masses to do what they want. Wars are almost never in the interest of the common people and the warmongers are faced with the task of generating hatred for the other and a fighting spirit among the populace. Religion is an excellent tool for this, and is applied liberally, even when the two sides are nominally of the same religion, as in WW2 and the Sunni-Shia conflict in the middle east today. The promise of an afterlife is a powerful tool employed in such enterprises as the Christian crusades and Muslim suicide bombings. But just the portrayal of the enemy as worshipping an alien, evil God is often enough. Or the enemy says they worship the same god, but they have distorted the message of that God. The enemy within is often hated more than the enemy without. But I think the declared motive of the “cannon-fodder” is only one of the symptoms of using religion as a tool in this manner. If we want to understand the real role of religion in war or imperialism, we need to look at the religious leaders cooperation with the political and religious leaders in creating the desired atmosphere. The Kipling’s “Take up the white man’s burden”, the “Onward Christian soldiers”.

            Why, we may ask, did poor whites take up arms for the Confederacy when they had no stake in slavery? The Christian churches were active in propagandizing that slavery was sanctioned in the Bible and the abolitionists were godless underminers of true religion. Even then, I don’t think it was religion itself that drove poor boys to enlist, but the public opinion and peer pressure from a society that was indoctrinated to think their way of life was under attack. Religion played a role, but it’s hard to separate it out from other factors.

          • I don’t disagree with anything you say. I don’t remember if you followed this site back in December, but I wrote this about how the churches reacted to the Great War:

            Religion and other propaganda are just as important tools of war as guns and tanks. Winning the battle is often down to believing you can win, and it’s all but impossible to get people to fight if they don’t believe they have a Just Cause. The RC Church even has a definition of a Just War, developed in medieval times but still considered valid today, as you probably know.

          • Ken says:

            Yes, that’s reasonable, but not to belabour the point, others, like Sam, make exactly the same argument as you, using the same words, but for religion as motivation/causation rather than as just a tool or method.

      • paxton marshall says:

        Diane, it’s interesting how leery people are to talk about clerical celibacy in the RC church. A bunch of celibate men proclaim homosexuality to be “disordered” and contraception sinful. Plenty of people disagree of course and criticize church doctrine, even pointing out that their God Jesus never said a word against either. But almost no one is willing to ask what credibility a bunch of eunuchs (to use Jesus’ term) have on either issue. Celibates have just as much right as homosexuals to practice the life-style they choose, and I raise the issue, not to vilify their choice, but to question why they are the only people allowed to have a say over issues that affect over a billion people. But when I bring it up, it is like I am using the N-word or a derogatory term for gays. It’s common to hear criticism of various religions for excluding women from positions of authority, but the RC church excludes men also, unless they are celibate. Have any of the new atheists addressed this issue at all? Why is it such a taboo issue?

        • The Church itself doesn’t want to talk about it because they don’t want their history on the matter examined too closely. Clerical celibacy wasn’t always a requirement, and even once it was, it wasn’t enforced for literally hundreds of years, especially for the lower ranks. The father of the infamous Lucrezia Borgia was a pope (Gregory VI), for example. I’m pretty sure there is more than one case of the papacy being passed from father to son too, although the men are presented as nephews.

          Monasteries used to be joint houses, and more often than not the senior woman was the overall leader, not the man. It was often a career choice of noble women once their husbands had died and their children left home. Their skills in running a large castle or estate were perfectly suited to running a monastery. In Ireland, monks and nuns were often married to each other, and brought up their children in the monastery in the service of God.

          The change was one that spread gradually from Rome, as they got more and more political power, wealthier, and more corrupted. One of the problems was inheritance, and whether a priest’s property should go to the Church or to his wife/children. Of course, the Church arranged things so that they got everything. Another rule was that the Church dissolved the marriages of men becoming monks and took all their property leaving their wives destitute. The women were not allowed to ever marry again though because their husbands weren’t dead, and in those days the Church had the power to enforce that.

          In fact the Church had the power to enforce all sorts of things. It’s one of the reasons separation of Church and State is such an important issue historically. The battle between Henry VIII and the RCC wasn’t about religion, it was about who was in charge of England. The practices and theology of the Church of England after the break with Rome in his reign were indistinguishable from Catholicism except it was the king who was prayed for, not the pope.

          • paxton marshall says:

            Thanks Heather. Clerical celibacy has a fascinating history. I’m not opposed to anyone’s decision to be celibate, and I think it is possible that the lack of a sex drive is genetically determined, as is a sex drive directed towards one’s own gender. And I wouldn’t consider the internal arrangements, as opposed to the mandates and external actions, of the Catholic Church to be any of my business. But when these celibates lay down the law for non-celibates and families, I think that not only what they say, but who it is that says it, deserves scrutiny.

            You say “The battle between Henry VIII and the RCC wasn’t about religion”, but I think it is a good example of the difficulty of separating religious motives from other motives. Was Henry’s motive to be able to marry another woman who would give him a male heir? No doubt. Was his motive to seize the vast properties of the monasteries? Quite likely. But would the break have occurred if many in England had not become infected with the Protestantism of Luther and especially Calvin, which was roiling the continent at that time. it is not true that nothing changed in the religion. The married Thomas Cranmer became archbishop of Canterbury in 1533. It may have taken awhile for the English clergy to follow the protestant clergy on the continent in marrying, but clearly the spirit of Protestantism was alive in England and played a role in the split. As Karen Armstrong points out in her excellent “Fields of Blood”, religion is almost always involved in any large geopolitical movement, but is seldom the only or even the predominant cause.

          • “Wasn’t about religion” is an exaggeration, I’ll definitely grant you that, and there were changes, but while Henry VIII, they weren’t major. However, if the RCC had given him a divorce from Katherine of Aragon, I think it unlikely he would have gone down the road of declaring himself head of the Church in England. And, of course, the reason the divorce wasn’t granted was purely political – the pope was a virtual prisoner of Katherine’s nephew, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, after the Sack of Rome in 1527.

            I haven’t read Fields of Blood, and don’t plan to. I disagree with her premise. That there is never only one reason is a tautology. Her ambition seems to be to disavow or minimize the role of religion, and that just won’t do. Often, although the cause of a war has nothing to do with religion, it is what is used as the motivation to get people to fight. Without that driver the wars wouldn’t have happened. The Crusades are a classic example.

          • paxton marshall says:

            Heather, as an historian, I think you would like Fields of Blood. I too thought it would just be a big exculpation of religion from all responsibility for anything. My daughter wanted to get it for me for Xmas last year and I told her I didn’t think I would read it, But I did and I think it is informative and balanced.

            BTW How do you treat Christmas? When our daughter was young we always had a tree and exchanged gifts. Now we have a grandchild and go through the motions for him. None of it is religious, but I dislike associating with the whole religio-commercial orgasm. Why do people do what they do? Largely because their family does it, their friends do it, their neighbors do it, the word on the street tells them to do it.

            I hope you’re over your crook. You are entering your season of brightness and hope, as we are entering ours of darkness and foreboding. Cheers.

          • We did the whole bit when we were kids (four of us), but I was brought up Christian (Presbyterian). It was always a family time, sometimes nuclear, sometimes extended. Of course, it’s the middle of summer here, so we do it differently anyway. My father’s birthday was Christmas Eve, so it all got a bit mixed up with that too. There’d be up to fifty people there for Christmas day if it was at my grandmother’s farm – aunts, uncles, cousins etc. It was always outdoors, barbeque food, playing games outside etc.

            When we got older it became fun to walk to the midnight church service. My father never came (he was a heavy drinker) and so we relaxed and laughed all the way there and back. Mum, my two sisters and I also giggled all the way through the service at how seriously the other people there took it all, which my brother was a bit disapproving of at the time, though university sorted him out.

            Now it’s always a family time, and the younger kids have Santa. It’s the summer school holidays here, and a lot of businesses shut down between Christmas and New Year too (and many for another week or two after that as well). Neither my mother nor any of my siblings are religious anymore (I plead guilty!), but two are married to people who are, and two of my nieces are at a private Christian school, and a nephew and two nieces are nominally Buddhist, but live a normal Kiwi lifestyle, including eating meat. They do all the Santa stuff just like all the other kids they interact with. NZ has a high Asian popn, but they mostly live a Kiwi lifestyle, which includes Santa. The only ones who don’t do Christmas are a few Christian religions. The Santa part isn’t considered religious so much here, though it used to be. Because we’re now a largely secular country, the contribution of Christianity to Christmas is basically moaning about it not being religious any more.

            Not having kids myself, I’m everybody’s favourite aunty, which is really nice, and for the kids I always have a tree to put my presents for them around, and decorate the house. They love the lights and decorations, and I love their enjoyment of them. There’s nothing religious in anything I do, and I make sure to avoid any religious iconography. I always talk about it as a time of the year when family gets together from all over the country/world (depending on the year). Because it’s a school holiday time here anyway, it’s a convenient time, and I talk about the “school” holidays, not the specific public holidays we get for Christmas, which the younger kids don’t know about yet anyway.

          • paxton marshall says:

            Sounds idyllic Heather. I think many anti-religionists forget, or don’t know, how much of every religion is primarily about family and community solidarity and only secondarily about gods and doctrines and such.

            Speaking of which, I was raised Presbyterian also, and although I never delved very deeply into the theology of Calvinism, I was aware of the doctrine of predestination. Today, as I read arguments among atheists about free-will and determinism, it occurs to me that this argument was anticipated by Calvin in his criticism of Catholic doctrines of free will and the role of “works” in salvation. Calvin, it seems was a strict determinist, and if we replace his god with the physical laws of the universe (I know this is a big stretch), he is surprisingly modern in his outlook. There is apparently a movement called “new Calvinism” I’ve been meaning to look into but haven’t yet. Do you know anything about that?

          • No, I don’t know anything about it. I don’t know much about Calvin either – when he came up at uni we were assigned him or Luther and I got Luther, which I was pleased about because I thought he was more interesting.

            Being of Scottish descent, the person I associate with Presbyterianism is Knox, who from the time I first heard of him at a the age of about nine I considered a misogynist a-hole, so he’s not someone I’ve looked into either. My sympathies as a child were firmly with Mary, Queen of Scots, though I have a more balanced view of her these days.

          • Ken says:

            Very interesting question, Paxton. I can see how the Calvinists could claim this supports them, though the logic of Calvinism overall seems contradictory and escapes me. But there is one huge issue. The most important consequence, it seems to me, of not having free will is that the concepts of blame (as distinct from responsibility) and therefore punishment for our actions just disappear. The implication of this for human culture in general and for our systems of justice in particular, are huge. Yet sin is so important to Christianity and particularly the Calvinists, that they can’t possibly accept that, so they would be left arguing on the one hand that the science supports them, while on the other that the logical consequences of the science are wrong. No doubt such practiced religionists will be up to the task. Fortunately, we need not waste much time thinking about the problems of Calvinism, old or new.

          • paxton marshall says:

            Ken said: “Fortunately, we need not waste much time thinking about the problems of Calvinism, old or new.”

            I agree, except it is still of interest to understand how Calvinism made such inroads in the 16th and 17th centuries. Is it really connected with the Spirit of Capitalism as Weber claimed? What was Calvinism’s contribution to the Scottish enlightenment of the 18th century, and the success of the Scottish diaspora? Many of the early industrialists in the US were Presbyterians.

            As we see the Christian religion fading out in the west, we have to ask what will replace it. I don’t see much evidence that the decline of religion has made people more rational or less superstitious. How will this superstition be expressed without religion? We have already witnessed nationalism, communism, and fascism substitute for religion in justifying extremist behavior. The Anglicans are concerned about a 10% attendance rate, but if Britain were to get in a war, the seats would fill up quickly. In the US, libertarian capitalism is the national religion.

            It seems that people yearn for some kind of creed to guide their thinking and create cohesion with their neighbors. Evidence based reason will not suffice for most people.

            We cannot know the future, but mass movements of the past may give us some insights into it. How did Christianity supplant Roman polytheism as the dominant religion of the Empire? How did Islam not only conquer much of the Roman and Persian Empires, but supplant the language and culture of the areas they conquered with their own? There are no simple answers. But viewing religion as just as set of supernatural beliefs that can easily contradicted, misses the psychological hold that religious myths have on humanity.

          • There was a big thing about working hard in Calvinism that contributed to the success of the Scottish diaspora. Hard work became a Christian Duty, and idleness a Sin.

  6. Night-Gaunt49 says:

    Must be hard having that pro religious advert on your page. “Does God Exist? Yes”

    God? What do you mean, a short hand? Sorry names only and “god” is not a name, it is an invoking of a deity not that it matters since everyone uses it like some kind of universal pronoun.

    Ben Carson has some scary ideas he wants to implement including political police for our schools, and probably everywhere else. Reminds me of the old USSR and their Political Officers like the local Inquisition making sure everyone was politically correct for the prevalent dictatorship.

    • That’s not an ad – read the bit underneath. I put it there. It’s saying God doesn’t exist – he’s all in your head. I did wonder if I had chosen a bad graphic to say that people who think God is talking to them are deluded, and I obviously did! 🙂

  7. Randy Schenck says:

    Just wanted to say from here in Iowa, on the edge of the bible belt, lets not spend too much ink on Trump or Carson. They should not be able to make it to the end of the republican primaries, whenever that is. Just think of the lack of competition and realize there are no qualifications for this office, except breathing and 35 years old.

    Just think how pathetic either would do if nominated by their party, against Hillary in a real debate where hopefully, they will ask a couple of questions of substance. The women’s vote alone should make this a non-contest.

    The national vote in California alone, will favor the democrat by 5 million, maybe more. That is more people than in all of Iowa and Nebraska combined. I shouldn’t even mention California because as it goes here on actual voting day, the winner will be known before the polls close out west.

    • You’re right Randy. My prediction has been from the start that Jeb Bush will be the Republican nominee, Clinton will be the Democratic nominee, and she will win, and I haven’t yet had a reason to change that.

      It does scare me though just how popular some of these characters are with literally millions of people. It’s a phenomenon that I have trouble understanding, which makes me think about it, and therefore write about it. I haven’t written so much about Trump because I think it’s pretty obvious why he’s popular. There is actually a chance that he’ll be the Republican nominee, and that’s scary. He can’t win a normal election, but in your country elections depend very much on one person, and there’s always a chance of disaster falling on Clinton and that could throw a spanner in the works. It would be better if the Republican candidate was at least a reasonable choice.

  8. j.a.m. says:

    When all is said and done, it comes down to who shows up to vote in Ohio and Florida. Aside from liberal suburban white feminists who are mad for Hillary, Republican-leaning voters are far more motivated. It’s rare for either party to win a third consecutive presidential election, and Obama has the distinction of being the only second-term president whose base actually shrank. As the Democrats become ever more concentrated in a handful of very rich or very poor zip codes, Republicans have won significantly more elections than Democrats, up and down the ballot, since Obama took office. And the Republicans’ Congressional leadership is almost a generation younger than the Democrats’.

    Hillary can’t win the way her husband did, because there won’t be a third party candidate (unless Trump breaks his pledge). She can’t win the way Obama did, because she lacks both the charisma and the ideological purity.

    Come 2017 Hill will have plenty of time for the grandkids. And she finally can divorce that horny hillbilly.

    • Night-Gaunt49 says:

      Obama’s “purity” was because he let others decide what he was. He wasn’t and isn’t a Liberal except in comparison to the most extreme in the Republican party. Same with Hillary Rodham Clinton, both Neo-Liberals of the first order. Though the Democrats give out sops to the liberal culture without violating their fealty to their fellow Plutocrats.

    • The demographics of presidential elections have been very different in recent years to the elections in the ‘tween years. The ‘tween year demographics favour the GOP, but the electorate as a whole favours the Democrats. The Republicans are more motivated this cycle, but assuming Hillary will have a good ground game, and the evidence is she will, she should win the election.

      I think Obama’s vote shrank because of Obamacare. That issue is barely registering for 2016.

      The Republicans do appear more dynamic overall. The Democrats haven’t done a good job of succession planning, and have kept some candidates around past their use-by date. It’s definitely something they need to sort out before 2020. If they don’t, I’d lay odds now on President Rubio.

  9. paxton marshall says:

    A good article on the candidates’ position on Israel and the decline of support for Israel among young people and minorities.

    • It’s a good article. Diplomatically, the US has little choice but to continue to support Israel no matter what they do, and Netanyahu takes advantage of that. I like Bernie Sanders’ position. Both sides have responsibilities here, and concessions they need to make in order to move the situation forward, but both are too busy blaming the other side and using the faults of the other to justify their own bad behaviour.

      The increase in settlement building in particular is something that is making people less sympathetic towards Israel, including me. As long as it continues, it’s impossible to believe that they want the two-state solution that’s the only thing that can solve this. I’ve mentioned several times that I think Netanyahu is the problem here. As the article says, his actions are alienating those prepared to stick up for Israel. I think if the other side had won the last election we’d be in a very different place now.

      I’ve said it before – both sides are too busy blaming the other for things that have happened on the past and looking for revenge to negotiate properly. In addition, the Islamists (who are worse than the Jewish fundamentalists because they have a martyr/afterlife theology), with every attack, give Israel an excuse not to engage. The Palestinian leadership has to get them under control.

      • Ken says:

        Diplomatically, the US has little choice but to continue to support Israel no matter what they do, and Netanyahu takes advantage of that.

        That’s it in a nutshell really. It is this defeatism that emboldens the Israeli radicals and which makes the situation harder to resolve with each passing year. The rhetoric that both sides need to move is of course the right one, but must be accompanied by real diplomatic pressure and particularly on Israel to halt settlements.

        Because it is not true that the US must support anything Israel does. Of course, they will not take any steps that would threaten Israel as a state, but there is much else that can be done. Not vetoing UN resolutions, for instance, and otherwise allowing Israel to wallow in the hole of international disrepute they’ve dug for themselves, rather than actively protecting them from the international community’s opprobrium as the US does now.

        Sooner or later, and it’s already way over due, the US will have to tap into the growing discontent Paxton’s article notes and take some much stronger positions with Israel. There is no reason to think “the other side” will ever win an election in Israel so long as the radicals can so credibly claim that they can get away with anything, because the US is too fearful to really challenge them.

  10. paxton marshall says:

    Heather, it looks like NZ has drawn Israel’s ire:

    “ambassador, Jonathan Curr, was called in for a meeting with National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen, who made clear in no uncertain terms that the Israeli government will countenance any diplomatic effort to re-ignite peace negotiations with Ramallah.” [I think that should read “NOT countenance”]. Bossy aren’t they?

    • Yeah. It was in response to this:

      Looks like Netanyahu’s bluff is being called here. At different times in the past both sides could be blamed for sabotaging peace attempts. At the moment it’s mostly Israel, which this makes clear.

      NZ is one of the few countries that has previously had good diplomatic relations with both Israel and Palestine. Someone seems to be trying to shut that path down for now.

      • paxton marshall says:

        Good on you! I fear it is already too late for a two state solution. But is there anyone else in the world who is being held in a situation where they are not citizens of any country? UN resolutions are good, but withdrawal of US aid and protection from UN resolutions is the only pressure that will make a difference. But we are showing no signs of doing that, and in fact are said to be increasing our military aid from $3.1B to $4B. Like war, military aid to almost anyone has a large constituency in the US. All the big defense contractors make large profits from military aid. Congressmen get job producing contracts for their districts. Other countries with military industries want in on the action too. So we seed the whole world with dangerous weapons, just as in the US we have seeded the whole country with guns. Where have all the flowers gone?

    • paxton marshall says:

      Except much (most?) of it is not really economic aid, but military aid. And apparently we are increasing aid to Israel to $4B to atone for the Iran deal.

  11. Ken says:

    “What the Koran really says about women” – now this is really interesting and, if true, provides a real reason to hope that change is possible.

    • Paxton marshall says:

      So it’s all Aristotle’s fault? It’s a good article, but it by no means tells us everything that the Quran says about women vis a vis men.

      The Quran is patriarchal as is the Bible, the ancient Greeks, the Romans and virtually all societies we know of before the 20th century. Even now where there is full de jure equality, there is seldom de facto equality.

      I like to feel hopeful also, Ken, but I am doubtful if newly discovered feminine influence in early Islam is going to have much influence on present day behaviors. Yes, change is possible, and the sheikh is right when he points out the recency of women’s rights in western countries. But it was not a reinterpretation of Christian doctrine that pioneered women’s rights in the west. It was extending the enlightenment ideal of human equality. Sounds like this sheikh is getting there and we can only hope that more will also.

      • Ken says:

        Didn’t mean to sound too hopeful 🙂

        I don’t know what the Koran says, but have been led to believe that, for instance, Islamic violence can be directly supported by it’s passages. That makes change all the more difficult, while at least if the poor treatment of women was not so directly supported there is more hope for change.

  12. Ken says:

    In case yet another reason not to support Hillary was needed. You won’t see such opinion expressed in mainstream US media.

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