Update 08/15/16: Ben Carson lost a good deal of my respect by endorsing Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential primaries, after his own bid softly fell asleep to the sounds of the good doctor’s gentle intonations of some fairly incomplete policy plans. Thus, take this older post with a grain of salt.
In a culture that wants to bubble-wrap our kids, eat gluten & MSG free, as well as hand-sanitize everything, and yet doesn’t see the problem of the bigger risks facing us (i.e. $17 trillion debt, failing education, and horrendous health care system), the calm and collected voice of Dr. Ben Carson is rather refreshing. He also has a great first name! Dr. Carson gained notoriety for being the first neurosurgeon to successfully separate twins conjoined at the head. I, however, first heard of him after he spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast on February 15, 2013. His comments on the problems in our country, with President Obama sitting only a few feet away, garnered more than a little attention. The buzz began that he could be a possible presidential candidate.
Being the political nerd that I am, I wanted to dig into more about who the man is, what his worldview is, and what bearing that might have if he were to run. I found he had written a handful of books, and has a truly compelling “rags-to-riches” sort of story. I chose to read his book “Take the Risk” because it is a theme that I teach and preach on regularly. We all too often run from imagined fears into the arms of real nightmares. With his easy-going tone, Carson encourages his readers to weigh all their decisions with what he calls a “best/worst analysis.” In essence, what’s the best that can happen if I do XYZ, what’s the worst that can happen if I do XYZ, what’s the best that can happen if I don’t do XYZ, what’s the worst that can happen if I don’t do XYZ.
It is a simple “formula”, in a simple book. Carson endears himself to readers not with high-brow sophistication or with highfalutin technical terminology, but with a gentle candor that reminds one of, well, a doctor. He’s got the bedside manners that, at least in my perspective, brings the sort of trustworthiness, reliability, and honesty that one would want in a doctor (or anyone else placed in a position of trust and responsibility).
His Christianity is a slightly more docile one than what I lean towards. That being said, I deeply appreciate his calm and unashamed enunciation of the importance of faith in his life. He even was fairly frank (if a little bit vague, specifically in regards to the centrality of the Gospel) in encouraging readers to consider making faith (using the term very broadly to connote a generic belief in God) a central aspect of their life. He certainly doesn’t shy away from making it clear what he believes and where he stands, but he has a knack for doing it in a very disarming way.
Here are a couple of my favorite take-aways from this book:
- He makes it clear that safety and security are illusory and if we refuse to take reasonable risks we will miss grand opportunities to do great things and enjoy great accomplishments. This quote embodies the main theme of the book: “[…] the greatest, most significant, and universal risk factor in death is being born. This implies that it really isn’t very helpful to approach the subject of risk by focusing on how we might die; rather, it’s far wiser to consider how we should live and what risks we will live with. I agree with Teddy Roosevelt, who once declared, ‘Far better is it to dare mighty things than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much.’” I really like that. It is a great nugget of wisdom to seek to “die by living.”
- One aspect which I enjoyed was Dr. Carson’s anecdotal stories of when he faced risked and decided to take a certain risk. One story in particular that I thought was rather inspiring and showed that Carson has quite the spine, was when he shared the stage with über-atheist Richard Dawkins. They were on a panel discussing “Faith and Science” with Dawkins obviously holding that faith ought to have no place in scientific research and study. Carson made a rather profound rebuttal by explaining, “as sophisticated as we are, with all our MRIs and our PET scanners, we have yet to discover the origin of a thought. We don’t know the origin of a feeling. We can talk about electro-physological responses, but we cannot take it to the next level; we cannot put that in a box. I think that’s one of the things that makes us different [emphasis added].” He then continued, “I simply don’t have enough faith to believe that something as complex as our ability to rationalize, think, plan, and have a moral sense of what’s right and wrong just appeared.”
This, and other stories, show numerous times when Dr. Carson applies wisdom, insight, analysis and honesty in the midst of tense and potentially difficult situations. I think this point, in regards to faith and science, is a very important one. Especially since the modern scientific community has become merely a servant of the humanist cause. Holes need to be poked in this worldview, and Dr. Carson shows that he isn’t afraid to do so! Further, the argument he makes here is an age old one, but still just as effective and necessary to make! Reason points to a Source of reason.
- My favorite quote and I think the most profoundly stated idea in the book was this: “The more rights you think you have, the more likely someone is going to infringe upon them.” This is incredibly important in the midst of a governmental atmosphere that would like to have absolute sway over every facet of human experience.
In essence, governments often seek total control over its citizens by promising all sorts of rights. Dr. Carson hits the nail on the head by pointing out that the more rights you believe you have and demand to have, the more likely it becomes that you will be in bondage to someone who made some nice promises about protecting your rights. Our founders distinguished for us the difference between a right and a choice. This is why they kept the basic definition of human rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” If personal choice becomes a government protected right, we are in grave danger of our right to personal choice itself being removed.
We must recognize that liberty is truly the only catalyst towards hard work and success. If a government promises to provide a living wage, free healthcare, free education and a free housing for all its citizens, and the citizens agree to this arrangement, they are handing the keys of liberty over to a jailor known as tyranny. I am a strong advocate for financial wealth and stability, great health care, world class education, and a place called home. However, my right to pursue these things will be taken away from me as soon as I demand them as rights in and of themselves. Which is the point Carson makes so very well, and articulates so helpfully and simply!
There was one glaring theological bumble that was of concern to me. He said, “[…] not believing in God doesn’t make you a bad person, just as believing in God doesn’t make me a good person.” While I think I can understand the point he is endeavoring to make, it dances over some doctrinal land-mines. Unbelief is at the very root of mankind’s wickedness (Gen. 3:1); there must be a God in order for goodness or badness to have any reference point. I agree that just because someone says they believe in God doesn’t make them good, and vise versa; however, the only way for man to become good is to believe in God (and more specifically, the saving work of God through Christ Jesus). Otherwise, a man remains in his wicked, fallen state. This was the most significant bone I’d have to pick with Dr. Carson. However, even here I still understand what he was attempting to articulate.
Finally, there is much discourse swirling around as to whether he’ll run for president in 2016 or not (and he seems to be leaning towards a run). Dr. Carson political sensibilities and leanings seem to be towards common sense solutions and away from government solutions. By way of clarification, those two are generally not the same thing.
While it is far too early to give an endorsement of any candidate, and I may not agree entirely with all of Dr. Carson’s political opinions, I have a high regard for the integrity, honesty and prudent wisdom he has shown thus far. It seems to me that our founders envisioned a republic in which, as my daddy often said, “we elect honorable and wise men” who are known to be men of restraint, strength of character, and clear morality . . . not career politicians. By way of another clarification, those two are also generally not the same thing.
You might not like the sort of policy a man takes, but I think we are at a juncture of American history when we need to elect the right sort of man. Party trumps person, I realize. However, so long as we keep electing scumbags on both sides of the aisle, we should not be surprised at the growing reek across the Potomac.
Although Dr. Carson is obviously a very gifted, talented, and intelligent man, his tone is strikingly (and refreshingly) humble, steady, and even-keeled. He’s the sort of man you’d want to have holding the scalpel if you had the misfortune to need brain surgery. The issues facing our country are rather delicate and we are in a precipitous time; while some might say that Dr. Carson does not have the governing experience to be elected president (and that discussion I’ll save for another time), he has the right sort of character to handle the delicate issues that face us! His closing words in the book are once more full of simple and helpful wisdom for both the individual and the society as a whole:
“We can decry the dangers we face or ignore them or even allow ourselves to be paralyzed by fear.
Or we can ask ourselves, do we have a brain?
Then let’s use this incredible tool God has given us to assess the risks we face every day. We have the means to analyze risks and decide which are worth taking and which should be avoided.”