At the BGAV Annual Meeting a few years ago, I attended a breakout session led by the Religious Liberty Committee. Admittedly, I don’t remember what the presentation was about. But I do remember a conversation I had with one of the hosts before the session began. After some small talk, we found ourselves on the subject of worldviews, religions, and who can be President.
He made the point that the Constitution in article 6, paragraph 3 specifies that there be no religious test when it comes to the office of President. He stood firmly on both the genius and importance of this rule. In this country, anyone who meets the basic criteria of the office can run for President. I agreed with him but went on to push the matter just a bit by observing that while there is indeed no religious test for serving in an elected office in the U.S., nevertheless, the worldview of the person running matters.
Our Constitution came out of a particular worldview context. Not only did it come out of a particular worldview context, but any one of a number of different worldview contexts could not have also produced a document like it. A group of Buddhists could not have produced a document like our Constitution. Their worldview would not have allowed for it. Neither could a group of Hindus. Or Muslims. Or Animists. Or Confucianists. Or Taoists. Or New Agers. Or secularists (and as specific evidence of this last point consider that the contemporary French Revolution was much more explicitly secular in its philosophical foundations than ours, and it ended with the guillotine rather bloodily cutting short scores of lives and Napoleon on the throne as Emperor).
Let me push this just a bit further, though. Not only did our Constitution come out of a particular worldview, but a person who does not subscribe to that worldview would not make a good candidate for President regardless of what religion he or she happened to claim.
What got me thinking about all this was the recent observation from Dr. Ben Carson that he would not support a Muslim as President. The ensuing brouhaha was pretty predictable. There were the immediate denouncements, the hand-wringing about the Islamophobia his comments would create, the calls for him to withdraw from the race for saying something so judgmental and narrow-minded and bigoted. When later given a chance to back down from his remarks, he refused but did clarify that while a Muslim could certainly run for President, unless he publicly denounced Sharia Law, several parts of the Koran, and a number of cultural features of modern majority Muslim nations, he would in no ways be willing to support that candidate.
The question that kept rattling around in my head was this: Was Carson right? Ignore the politics of the matter for a moment, was he right in what he said?
I think he was and on two different fronts. First, the most obvious one. The Islamic worldview is not without its problems. The goal of Islam is to submit oneself fully to the will of Allah and to do so by living in as close an approximation to the life of his prophet, Mohammed, as possible. Things like Sharia Law are designed to help with that goal. On its face that doesn’t seem like such a bad thing…until you look around the world at places where Sharia Law is in force. Those aren’t very good places to live for non-Muslims, and they aren’t all that good for Muslims. Things like religious liberty and individual freedom are foreign notions there.
But forget about Sharia Law for a moment. Simply go down the list of nations where Muslims make up a majority of the population and have majority control of the government – where the Islamic worldview is the majority worldview of the people. Do that and then compare it to a report by Freedom House ranking various nations based on how free they are. Overwhelmingly, Muslim majority nations rank at best partly free and a sizable percentage are not free. Take a look at the Open Doors World Watch List of the 50 worst national persecutors of Christians. Seventy-five percent are Muslim majority nations including 90% of the top ten. A person subscribing to the worldview that consistently accomplishes these kind of results when held by a majority of the people including the leaders of the government has a whole lot of things he needs to explicitly denounce before any clearly thinking citizen should support him for President of the United States. This is not to say that there is something wrong with any particular Muslim, but rather to say that their worldview is deeply problematic. They may or may not accept all of it, but in a Presidential race it is entirely appropriate to query which parts they do and do not and for what reason.
Dr. Carson was also right on a second point, though, and this is one that while everyone acts on it, admitting as much publicly is usually problematic because it is politically incorrect. What I mean is this: what someone believes matters and, whether it is socially acceptable to admit as much or not, we carry our beliefs with us into the ballot box. To put that another way, while no religious test can bar a person from seeking the office of President, we vote based on our values. The ability to freely cast a choice for the leader of our nation is an important duty and should be approached with a great deal of care and concern. We should take a whole range of issues into account including the religious worldview of the candidate. Some worldviews are simply not consonant with our Constitution and while a person of any worldview is technically legally entitled to run as long as they fulfill the requirements, a person who subscribes consistently to one of these would not be worth supporting. So while Dr. Carson was perhaps not as politically artful as he could have been in what he said, he was nonetheless right. Worldview matters, and we ignore it to our peril.