Ben Carson Flunks Foreign Policy, History

Ben Carson doesn't seem to know much about foreign policy or history. And he doesn't belong on anyone's list of serious Presidential candidates.

Dr. Ben Carson Speaks At Launch Of New Media Online Network In Scottsdale, Arizona

In an appearance on what would generally be seen as a “friendly” format for conservative candidates, Ben Carson didn’t seem to know that the Baltic states were in NATO and placed the roots of “radical Islam” at a date thousands of  years before Islam even existed:

Ben Carson, the retired neurosurgeon poised to seek the Republican presidential nomination, appeared not to realize Wednesday that the Baltic states are members of the NATO alliance. He also claimed that the rage being expressed by radical Islamist groups dates back to Old Testament days.

Those were among several odd answers from the first-time candidate as he defended his lack of foreign policy chops during a radio interview with Hugh Hewitt, the conservative commentator who will moderate a GOP presidential debate later this year.

Like several other Republican presidential prospects, including a few of the governors in the field, Carson showed the limits of his knowledge about the world, even as national security has come to dominate a larger share of the debate.

Hewitt asked if NATO should be willing to go to war if Russian leader Vladimir Putin attempts to do in the Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania) what he’s already done in Ukraine.

“I think they would be willing to go to war if they knew that they were backed up by us,” Carson said. “We need to convince them to get involved in NATO and strengthen NATO.”

“Well, the Baltics, they are in NATO,” Hewitt responded. [In fact, they’ve been member states since 2004.]

After a commercial break, Carson explained that he was confused. “Well, when you were saying Baltic state, I thought you were continuing our conversation about the former components of the Soviet Union,” he said.

The Baltic states, of course, were former components of the Soviet Union, having been absorbed into the nation when in 1940 and remaining part of the nation until the Soviet Union collapsed at the end of the Cold War. Indeed, these nations have been in the news quite a lot over the past year given Russia’s moves against Ukraine as well as threats of future territorial expansion elsewhere in Eastern Europe. One would think that anyone who has even been paying a moderate amount of attention to the affairs of the world would realize these facts, not to mention someone purporting to be a candidate for President of the United States.

Carson didn’t do much better when the subject shifted to ISIS and terrorism:

Much of the interview focused on the current turmoil in the Middle East. Carson said he’s been reading a lot about Al Qaeda and “the radical Islamic movement in general.”

The 63-year-old argued that “the origin of their rage” dates all the way back to the book of Genesis in the Old Testament and that the groups are mainly focused on claiming land.

“First of all, you have to recognize they go back thousands and thousands of years, really back to the battle between Jacob and Esau,” Carson said.

Hewitt interjected that Islam’s Prophet Muhammad was not born until nearly 600 years after the death of Jesus, and that Islam is really only a 1,400-year-old religion: “How do you go back to Jacob and Esau, which are B.C?”

“I’m just saying that the conflict has been ongoing for thousands of years,” Carson said. “This is not anything new, is what I’m saying.”

Carson doubled down by asserting that “the Islamic faith emanated from Esau.”

“It has been a land issue for a very long period of time,” he said. “Possession is very important to them. And one of the things that we’re doing 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.”

To some extent, of course, what Carson is saying here mirrors what many on the right seem to think about Islam. It also demonstrates quite well the extent to which Carson and people like him tend to view the world through a Biblical, and quite often apocalyptic, lens. Tying issues arising in Iraq in the 21st Century to the stories in the Book Of Genesis, which only a relatively small group of Evangelical Christians consider to be literal history, is a rather bizarre way to view an incredibly complex situation. It does have the advantage, though, of providing the people who engage in this type of “analysis” with a rather simplistic view of the world that make the distinction between “good” and “evil” rather clear, and tends to justify whatever it might be that the forces of “good,” invariably the United States and its allies, do in their war against the “evil” of Islam. The fact that such a war only tends to create more enemies, of course, is something that never seems to actually occur to these people. The fact that Carson clearly ascribes to this worldview probably isn’t surprising given his comments on other issues facing the world, is rather alarming given the fact that Carson is supposed to be a well-educated man and, at the very least, suggests that he really doesn’t belong anywhere near the levers of political power.

Carson, meanwhile, seems to think that his ignorance about some of the most important foreign policy issues facing the world is a good thing:

“I’ve read a lot in the last six months, no question about that,” Carson said. “There’s a lot of material to learn. There’s no question about that. But … we spend too much time trying to get into these little details that are easily within the purview of the experts that you have available to you. And I think where we get lost is not being able to define what our real mission is, and not being able to strategize in terms of how do we defeat our enemies.”

“I could spend the next six years learning all the details of all the SALT treaties and every other treaty that’s ever been done and completely miss the boat,” he added.

This kind of Palinesque celebration of ignorance has become far too common among hardcore conservatives in recent years, something that others on the right have lamented given the fact that conservatism was once dominated by figures that celebrated the virtues of intellectualism and intelligence. Like Carson, though, there is now an entire subculture on the right of people who think that not knowing things about the world, or indeed not being curious about the world beyond the closed ideological bubble that they live in, is a good thing. In Carson’s case, given the fact that his education at the University of Michigan and Yale, and his career as one of the top pediatric neurosurgeon’s in the country, indicate that he’s quite obviously not an unintelligent person, one has to wonder how he can rationalize his own life with his apparent willful ignorance and his celebration of that ignorance as a good thing. At the very least, it indicates that he doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously as a candidate.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2016, US Politics,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. John Peabody says:

    Agree and agree. Who rises to a well-regarded position in one field and thinks they are then qualified to be the number-one politician in the country? It’s not a wise move.

  2. al-Ameda says:

    This kind of Palinesque celebration of ignorance has become far too common among hardcore conservatives in recent years, something that others on the right have lamented given the fact that conservatism was once dominated by figures that celebrated the virtues of intellectualism and intelligence. Like Carson, though, there is now an entire subculture on the right of people who think that not knowing things about the world, or indeed not being curious about the world beyond the closed ideological bubble that they live in, is a good thing

    Dr. Carson is a neurosurgeon, presumably expert in that field of knowledge. That, of course, does not mean that he is an expert or is knowledgeable with respect to anything else. The fact that he plays loose with facts, or is genuinely ignorant of the facts, generally does not hurt him with voters in his party.

    Also, the public is for the most part uninformed when it comes to the historical record, therefore it is easy for guys like Carson or Palin to run this stuff out there. No chance it will be noticed in the moment, and that’s probably not the point anyway as the people who are their audience do not care much about the facts.

  3. michael reynolds says:

    Conservatives are ignorant. They have to be, because if they weren’t ignorant they’d be liberals.

  4. C. Clavin says:

    Speaking of history…12 years ago tomorrow we launched “shock and awe” and thus committed the biggest foreign policy blunder in US history.
    Those accountable are still out there pontificating as though they hadn’t wasted the lives of 4000 troops and spent >$2T in taxpayer money.
    People like Carson are side-shows.

  5. CSK says:

    The most recent poll I’ve seen (CNN) has Carson garnering 9% support among Republicans, leading Christie and Rubio at 7% each, Rick Perry at 4%, and Rick Santorum at 1%.

    From what I’ve read, the vast majority of his supporters are Protestant fundamentalists.

  6. dmichael says:

    Why stop with Ben Carson? Recently, we saw Senator Marco Rubio demonstrate his ignorance of the Middle East with his questions of Secretary of State John Kerry. Rubio did not understand either ISIS or its conflicts with Iran. Celebration of ignorance is a feature, not a bug of the current crop of Republican candidates and dates at least back to John McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as his VP candidate.

  7. Ken says:

    To some extent, of course, what Carson is saying here mirrors what many on the right seem to think about Islam.

    Lies, half truths, exaggerations and total bullshit? Yeah, it does

  8. Kylopod says:

    Carson’s remarks about Esau and Islam demonstrate something I’ve noticed for the past several years: a lot of people on the right use “Muslim” as just a vague slur basically meaning “bad guy.” I’ve seen this tendency whenever I’ve tried to engage those who claim Obama is a Muslim. I point out things like: haven’t you noticed that Obama has never refrained from eating pork? That he isn’t exactly known for praying 5 times a day? And the answer I always get is something along the lines of “Well, he’s supporting the terrorists” or some such nonsense. It’s not that different from the way anti-Semites have long used the word Jew; if they don’t like you, they call you a Jew, and it’s got nothing to do with your actual religious or ethnic affiliation.

  9. Ron Beasley says:

    We had a pediatric neurosurgeon run for governor here in Oregon in 2014. She was unable to answer questions about domestic and state policy.

  10. Rafer Janders says:

    One would think that anyone who has even been paying a moderate amount of attention to the affairs of the world would realize these facts

    OK, but “anyone who has even been paying a moderate amount of attention to the affairs of the world” would in fact not be a Republican presidential candidate.

  11. Slugger says:

    When conducting a poll or questionaire type of study, it is useful to have a few validation questions to assess the reliability of the instrument. You throw in a couple of items that will give you an idea about the number of sleeping people, dumb people, or bots in your sample. Dr. Carson serves this purpose well. From the results he’s been getting, I’d say 10-20% of poll respondents are not paying attention. I sort of want Gallup to include a fake candidate to make this clearer. I wonder if Dr. Carson would outpoll a James T. Kirk for instance.

  12. Rafer Janders says:

    Like Carson, though, there is now an entire subculture on the right of people who think that not knowing things about the world, or indeed not being curious about the world beyond the closed ideological bubble that they live in, is a good thing.

    What do you mean, “subculture”? That is the culture.

  13. anjin-san says:

    @Rafer Janders:

    What do you mean, “subculture”? That is the culture.

    That’s about it. Conservative politics at this point are basically a cult that enshrines ignorance. The irony of it is remarkable, when you consider that the aggregate knowledge of the human race is just a few mouse clicks away at any time.

  14. Franklin says:

    To be perfectly honest, these statements are the least offensive things I’ve heard him say. Yes, the Baltic/NATO thing was a flub. And while I totally agree with Doug that his Biblically-centered thinking about Muslims is silly, it does appear to be true that some historians link Esau to Islam.

    But I actually don’t have that much problem with those last quotes above about knowing all the little details. The President can’t know and do everything himself. Unless you think Obama personally coded all the bugs into healthcare.gov, it’s completely reasonable to rely on experts. Carson isn’t ‘celebrating’ ignorance here, he’s just talking about the delegation of duties.

  15. michael reynolds says:

    @Franklin:

    I’ll make a point I’ve made before. I know way, way, way more about history and current events than Dr. Carson. I am a high school drop-out who writes stories for teenagers.

    Any candidate who knows less than a high school drop-out kid book author has no business applying for the job of president.

  16. Pinky says:

    I’m fairly sure he confused Esau with Ishmael. Abraham favored Isaac over Ishmael, who is later considered to have founded Mecca and fathered the Ishmaelites. Isaac, in turn, fathered both Esau (father of the Edomites) and Jacob (father of the Israelites). So I can’t be sure, but I think he got the biblical reference wrong.

  17. Another Mike says:

    @al-Ameda:

    The fact that he plays loose with facts, or is genuinely ignorant of the facts, generally does not hurt him with voters in his party.

    I bet it does hurt him.

  18. Ron Beasley says:

    I don’t know if it’s not knowing the facts or ignoring them. I have put this quote up before:

    “There’s been a certain amount of pop sociology in America … that the Shia can’t get along with the Sunni and the Shia in Iraq just want to establish some kind of Islamic fundamentalist regime. There’s almost no evidence of that at all. Iraq’s always been very secular.”
    ~Willaim Kristol, April 4th, 2003

    And an other of my favorites that seems to apply:

    Unfortunately, some wars are won by the side that is the most fanatical in the religious sense. The victorious leaders harness the holy energy of collective insanity.

    COGITOR KWYNA

    [From the Machine Crusade by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson]

  19. Guarneri says:

    @michael reynolds:

    But he did, in 2008.

  20. Rafer Janders says:

    @Franklin:

    And while I totally agree with Doug that his Biblically-centered thinking about Muslims is silly, it does appear to be true that some historians link Esau to Islam.

    Actually, no. No historians link Esau to Islam because Esau is a ficitional character, a made-up person in an ancient Stone Age desert tribe’s mythology. And Esau, even if he had existed, would have been alive about 2,000 years before the birth of Islam.

  21. Rafer Janders says:

    @Franklin:

    But I actually don’t have that much problem with those last quotes above about knowing all the little details. The President can’t know and do everything himself.

    We saw how well not bothering with the details and delegating to experts worked out for George W. Bush, after all….

  22. al-Ameda says:

    @Another Mike:

    @al-Ameda:
    The fact that he plays loose with facts, or is genuinely ignorant of the facts, generally does not hurt him with voters in his party.

    I bet it does hurt him.

    Really? Was Sarah Palin hurt within her party for this kind of staff? If so, I missed that. Generally the point of those comments isn’t the facts, it’s the message they’re trying to get out.

  23. PD Shaw says:

    @Franklin: “his Biblically-centered thinking about Muslims is silly, it does appear to be true that some historians link Esau to Islam.”

    As does the Quran, or at least Esau’s relatives have strong links to Islam:

    Abraham, his grandfather, is a prophet of Islam.
    Isaac, his father, is a prophet of Islam
    Jacob, his brother, is a prophet of Islam
    Ishmael, his Uncle and Father-In-Law, is a prophet of Islam (and father of the Arabs)

    The Quran is uncreated, i.e. it was not created after these religious figures existed or are said to have existed.

    The revisionist historic rendering known as Hagarism (after Abraham’s wife and Ishmael’s mother) is that Islam emerged as a Judaic messianic movement among Arabs, seeking to gather Arab/Jewish support to conquer the Promised Lands from the Byzantine occupiers. This groups emphasized a shared religious / cultural inheritance and religious entitlement based upon the Torah, particularly Ishmael and Isaac. Ultimately there were a series of breaks btw/ the two groups and the Islamic movement relocated further South.

  24. Pinky says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Was Sarah Palin hurt within her party for this kind of staff? If so, I missed that.

    I guess you did miss that.

  25. michael reynolds says:

    Am I the only one troubled that we are still talking about the families of camel-traders from 5000 years ago?

  26. J-Dub says:

    one has to wonder how he can rationalize his own life with his apparent willful ignorance and his celebration of that ignorance as a good thing

    Same way an Islamist Fundamentalist does, I would think.

  27. J-Dub says:

    @michael reynolds: Am I the only one that is troubled that most of our country has based their moral foundations on those same families?

  28. al-Ameda says:

    @Pinky:

    I guess you did miss that.

    Did any Republicans not vote for the McCain-Palin Ticket because of her remarks? Really?

  29. gVOR08 says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Was Sarah Palin hurt within her party for this kind of staff?

    Acually, after her flubbed speech at CPAC or wherever it was, and her fading looks, some of my conservative acquaintances seem to have lately decided that they always disliked her. We’ve always been at war with East Asia. It’s fascinating to watch. Scary, but fascinating.

  30. CSK says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Actually, there is evidence to suggest that Palin was indeed a drag on the 2008 Republican ticket. (And as soon as my computer stops acting up, I’ll provide some citations.) She was enormously popular with the fundamentalist “values” voters, and still has a flock of devotees who persist in the delusion that President Palin will be inaugurated in 2017. By October 2008, however, she had pretty much blown any support she had among Republicans outside the southern Bible Belt. Northeastern Republicans never could stomach her.

  31. gVOR08 says:

    A couple days ago Paul Krugman was looking for a new phrase. This was in the context of an economist who couldn’t conceive of insufficient demand. Dr. K feels we need a word for this phenomenon. It’s kind of like Dunning-Kruger, but instead of being so incompetent you can’t recognize your incompetence, it’s being so ignorant you not only don’t recognize your ignorance, but believe you have some special insight.

    Some of our friends in these threads frequently offer examples. All they know is a few sound bites from the RW echo chamber, and think they have special knowledge vouchsafed only to intimates like themselves.

  32. MikeSJ says:

    Dr. Carson will serve as a good reminder that someone can be both brilliant and a crack-pot.

  33. Kylopod says:

    @gVOR08: Well, there’s the Al Franken line, “Social scientists call the phenomenon ‘pseudo-certainty.’ I call it ‘being a f***ing moron.'”

  34. humanoid.panda says:

    @Pinky: Yep he did. According to Biblical tradition, Ishmael, son of Abraham and Hagar, was the forefather of the Arabs. Esau, Jacob’s brother, sired the Romans.

  35. C. Clavin says:

    @michael reynolds:
    Wait…Sarah Palin’s family were camel-traders 5000 years ago?
    The only connection I see is a camel-toe.

  36. humanoid.panda says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Also, the public is for the most part uninformed when it comes to the historical record, therefore it is easy for guys like Carson or Palin to run this stuff out there. No chance it will be noticed in the moment, and that’s probably not the point anyway as the people who are their audience do not care much about the facts.

    That being said, Palin’s career trajectory indicates that the American public is more intellegent that we give him credit for..

  37. michael reynolds says:

    @MikeSJ:

    Bobby Fischer syndrome. Brilliant. Batshit.

  38. Another Mike says:

    @al-Ameda:

    Was Sarah Palin hurt within her party for this kind of staff?

    Exactly what kind of stuff? It seems like I remember viewing a televised debate between Senator Biden and Governor Palin, and it wasn’t Palin who came off looking bad. Although he spoke with the aura of authority Biden botched basic facts about the constitution, which jumped right out at any knowledgeable viewer.

  39. Slugger says:

    @michael reynolds: Hey, Michael, be careful. I am listening to Johnny Winter’s cover of Highway 61 Revisited and am loving the camel trader’s story. “God said to Abraham, Hey kill me your son…”

  40. PD Shaw says:

    @Pinky: I missed your comment earlier. He may have confused Esau with Ishmael. Both were the eldest sons that did not inherit their father’s birthright, though for different reasons.

    Esau married one of Ishmael’s daughters, so I think the Biblical story is supposed to read as though Esau (the Edomites) became aligned with the Ishmaelites (Arabs), so there may not be much difference. But I suspect he may be suggesting that the Palestinians are the modern-day Edomites, people that are very close to the Jews, closer than the Arabs, but in a state of nearly timeless conflict.

  41. al-Ameda says:

    @Another Mike:

    Exactly what kind of stuff? It seems like I remember viewing a televised debate between Senator Biden and Governor Palin, and it wasn’t Palin who came off looking bad. Although he spoke with the aura of authority Biden botched basic facts about the constitution, which jumped right out at any knowledgeable viewer.

    You missed the gritty ambush interview by Katie Couric – where Sarah was unable to answer a question like, what do you read?

  42. grumpy realist says:

    @MikeSJ: Heck, that’s one of my boyfriends. Absolutely brilliant physicist, absolutely clueless about humans.

  43. Pinky says:

    @PD Shaw: Yeah, it’s possible he didn’t make a mistake. I’ve just never heard the Middle East characterized that way. As Isaac versus Ishmael, yes. As Jacob versus Esau, no.

  44. An Interested Party says:

    Those accountable are still out there pontificating as though they hadn’t wasted the lives of 4000 troops and spent >$2T in taxpayer money.

    Not only are they pontificating, they are also advising Jeb Bush…something to remember should he eventually become the GOP presidential nominee…

    But he did, in 2008.

    Bull$hit…give us the quotes that show Obama being as clueless as Carson…

  45. Hal_10000 says:

    @PD Shaw:

    But I suspect he may be suggesting that the Palestinians are the modern-day Edomites, people that are very close to the Jews, closer than the Arabs, but in a state of nearly timeless conflict.

    I have heard this from other Biblical literalists: that the Palestinians are the descendants of Edom and will therefore never have a homeland because Esau spurned his birthright. But I do think Carson was confusing Esau and Ishmael. I’m trying to remember — it was a long time ago — but I seem to recall a Jewish leader using the Isaac-Ishmael thing as an example of why Arabs and Jews should be reconciled as brothers.

    Still, the Baltic think is something any Presidential candidate — hell, anyone plugged into politics — should know.

  46. C. Clavin says:

    @Slugger:
    I love me some Johnny Winter.
    His set at Woodstock was the best of the weekend…and most people don’t even know he was there.

  47. aFloridian says:

    Tying issues arising in Iraq in the 21st Century to the stories in the Book Of Genesis, which only a relatively small group of Evangelical Christians consider to be literal history

    Really? Maybe it’s because I’m from the Bible Belt or whatever, but I always have had the understanding that virtually all mainstream Christians (the Mainline denominations and the evangelicals/pentecostals) believe in a literal interpretation of the text. I mean, sure, I knew about the Quakers and such but still, I’m surprised you reach that conclusion.

    As for this, Ben Carson is only a legitimate candidate for the Breitbart/Newsmax crowd that’s been fawning over him for years. His flub on the Baltic States is forgivable if careless. The Islam/Esau thing I have no problem with really. Yes, it sounds a little nuts, but a lot of people like to take the long view of history – I don’t think his comment should necessarily mean he thinks Islam predates its actual origins by thousands of years. I thought he meant more than there was a cultural heritage and way of thinking underlying Muslim beliefs. I realize it sounds like I’m defending him, but I’m just trying to acknowledge these are not deadly flubs. He’s said plenty of crazy stuff either way.

  48. C. Clavin says:

    I see that Netanyahoo is now walking back his racist comments about Arab voters and his denunciation of a two-state solution, which he made just hours before the election.

  49. gVOR08 says:

    @Hal_10000: Even were it to turn out that Carson was absolutely correct within the context of some obscure literalist interpretation of the Old Testament, would not his belief that this should guide 21st Century US policy still be absolutely disqualifying, Baltic states aside? (I keep forgetting that one myself, probably because I wish it weren’t so. Buffer states are no longer buffer states if we have mutual defense treaties.)

  50. aFloridian says:

    Also, michael and Rafer and others take issue with the religious aspect but I’m a little less quick to condemn here. Yes, it’s pretty crazy to think that the belief system of a people who would, without it, have been lost to history (might as well be talking Hittites otherwise) has persisted and shaped the world. As a white person my ancestors were tree-worshiping pagans, and African Americans animal/ancestor worshipers until conversion. I’m simplifying, but it’s bizarre when one looks at it that way.

    But I still feel, as someone ambivalent about religious beliefs, that our Christian heritage is very important culturally. It helped make Western culture what it is, including its identity as the most pervasive and successful culture (with all the bad that came along with it). Our emphasis on individuality, free will, and other qualities we have. And for those of you who are essentially ethical humanists, would those sorts of views even been able to flourish without coming out of the Christian tradition (not to discount pre-Christian and Asian thinkers)? We can easily see the differences, good and bad, between non-Christian and Christian societies. The non-Christian ones are not all alike, but none have the flavor of our Western society.

  51. gVOR08 says:

    @aFloridian: Many years ago my mother read some article about new theology and became concerned. She asked my brother, the Reverend Bruce, if he believed in the literal truth of the Bible. Without pausing a beat he replied that he absolutely believed in the literal truth of the gospel. She was happy. What she didn’t know, and I knew only because of an earlier chance conversation, was that “gospel” is a term of art, meaning the parts of the Bible inspired by God and literally true. As a good Lutheran, he admitted we have no clear idea which parts those are.

  52. David M says:

    Maybe career politicians are the least worst option.

  53. Rafer Janders says:

    @aFloridian:

    Maybe it’s because I’m from the Bible Belt or whatever, but I always have had the understanding that virtually all mainstream Christians (the Mainline denominations and the evangelicals/pentecostals) believe in a literal interpretation of the text.

    Yes, you’re right: it’s because you’re from the Bible Belt.

    Most mainstream Christians (Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Copts, Lutherans, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, etc. etc. etc.) do not believe the Book of Genesis to be literal history. It is understood as allegory and mythology, mostly.

  54. KM says:

    @Pinky:

    I’ve just never heard the Middle East characterized that way. As Isaac versus Ishmael, yes. As Jacob versus Esau, no.

    You have – just not by name. Issac vs Ishmael is supposed to be about race and tribal groupings (“They’re not us – they don’t have the right!”). Esau only gets pulled out when the concept of rightful vs righteousness comes into play (“God gave us this land because we’re the righteous ones even if it already has an owner”). The interpretation here is Jacob cheated Esau out of his rightful inheritance under God’s Law because he was unworthy and thus Jacob needed to seize it in order to keep it holy (and with God’s blessing, no less!). Esau was seen as crude, barbaric and ill-suited of what was due to him…. and that makes it ok somehow for his younger brother to usurp him and take his stuff. Esau has connotations of unworthiness in fundie circles – somebody who doesn’t deserve the privileges they have or the rights they’ve been granted. It’s ok to deprive them and their rage at being taking advantage of is considered childish, unjust and violently inappropriate before God. There’s no sin in stealing from the unworthy, apparently.

    “It has been a land issue for a very long period of time,” he said. “Possession is very important to them”

    Carson may have made a mistake but his mistake revealed a greater truth: he feels they don’t deserve what they have and are wrong to not only seek more but to seek at all. They’ll get nothing and like it. That Esau’s grave is reputed to be in the West Bank only adds to the symbolism…..

  55. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    Tying issues arising in Iraq in the 21st Century to the stories in the Book Of Genesis, which only a relatively small group of Evangelical Christians consider to be literal history

    Really? Maybe it’s because I’m from the Bible Belt or whatever, but I always have had the understanding that virtually all mainstream Christians (the Mainline denominations and the evangelicals/pentecostals) believe in a literal interpretation of the text.

    There is a difference between “literal history” and “literal interpretation”. Roughly speaking: the mainline denominations use historical criticism as method of interpretation. This means that the bible is considered infallible only in matters relating to personal salvation, not history.

    More conservative Christians (mainly evangelicals) follow the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy which states that inerrancy applies only to the original manuscripts (which no longer exist) but not to the copies or translations themselves. It allows for figurative interpretation as long as it was the original author’s intent to present a passage as symbolic.

    The hardcore notion that the bible is completely historically true and can be understood literally even from translations is a relatively recent phenomenon (basically surfacing in the 1980s AFAIK) and is really to the right of even the most conservative traditional doctrine.

    Just goes to show how much parts of the US have drifted rightwards since the days of the “moral majority”.

  56. michael reynolds says:

    @Ebenezer_Arvigenius:

    People who claim they believe in the literal truth and inerrancy of the Bible are lying, of course. What they believe is a cherry-picked Bible that sidesteps anything inconvenient, like wife-stoning and daughter-murder and slavery. And of course the Beatitudes. And the Golden Rule. And the ‘Judge not” part.

    They believe in the accuracy of all those parts that support their personal preferences and offer them opportunities to posture.

  57. PD Shaw says:

    @Hal_10000: The nice thing about the Esau/Jacob story is that it has this verse when the twins were still in the womb:

    The children struggled together within her, and she said, “If it is thus, why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD.

    And the LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.”

    But the Ishmael story provides the better analogue because Muslims accept it as well.

    @aFloridian: “Maybe it’s because I’m from the Bible Belt or whatever, but I always have had the understanding that virtually all mainstream Christians (the Mainline denominations and the evangelicals/pentecostals) believe in a literal interpretation of the text.”

    No, most Christians do not profess Biblical literalism. This opinion poll says most American Protestants do not. That would be the primary distinction between Christian fundamentalism and evangelicalism, which split the two groups about 100 years ago.

  58. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @Franklin: As a person who grew up on that side of the relitious divide, I think that both you and Dr. Carson have the right (but not necessarily correct) event cycle, but the wrong names. For the at large Arab/Israel conflict and Biblical curses on families, the names you need are Isaac and Ihsmael, not Jacob and Easu.

    As to why Dr. Carson doesn’t kinow this, my guess is that he slept in Sunday School class more than he realizes. But he may be just mis-parroting some televangelist.

  59. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @Guarneri: You really think John McCain knows less than a high school dropout? I agree, mind you, I just wouldn’t have thought you would think that.

  60. James P says:

    @al-Ameda: Sarah smoked Biden in that debate and you know it.

  61. James P says:

    @michael reynolds: You mean people who think there are 57 states, Austrian is a language, doesn’t know the difference between Memorial and Veterans Day (either that or he sees dead people), thinks we breathalyze asthmatics, and hasn’t a clue what a Navy corpsman is has no business running for office?

  62. James P says:

    @CSK: [“Northeastern Republicans never could stomach her.”]

    I live in Connecticut. John McCain was my LAST choice to be the GOP nominee. I was planning on staying home and for the first time in my life not voting.

    The only reason I voted for McCain was because he was very old and picked Palin as his VP. I convinced myself that I was actually voting for Palin and not McCain. That’s what motivated me to go the polls in Connecticut (where my presidential vote doesn’t exactly count anyway).

    McCain would have lost by a wider margin than he did were it not for Palin. McCain got more votes than Romney precisely because he had a VP candidate who energized conservatives.

    There are many people who would have stayed home but went to the polls for McCain only because of Palin (that’s why Mitt got millions fewer votes). While I would never vote for a Choom Gang Marxist community organizer, I would have stayed home. I didn’t because I wanted to support Palin.

  63. David M says:

    @James P:

    McCain got more votes than Romney precisely because he had a VP candidate who energized conservatives. There are many people who would have stayed home but went to the polls for McCain only because of Palin (that’s why Mitt got millions fewer votes).

    You’re not very good with numbers are you?

  64. gVOR08 says:

    @James P:

    Sarah smoked Biden in that debate and you know it.

    Umh, no.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_vice-presidential_debate,_2008

  65. PD Shaw says:

    @Ebenezer_Arvigenius: I would place the origin of strict Biblical literalism to the 1910-1920 period with the release of “The Fundamentals: A Testimony of Truth” that contained the series of essays that created the concept of Christian Fundamentalism. One of the five points was strict literalism. That is, it denies the glory of G_d to deny that Jonah was swallowed by a large fish, or that G_d could not make it so. That the world was created in six twenty-four hour days, etc. This was the era of the Scopes trial, and mainstream acceptance of “Historical criticism,” which is trying to understand the text through the context it which it was created and received. The fundemantalist failed to persuade the mainline Protestant churches and withdraw from national organizations, suspicious of outside trends. I think the 80s represented a strong reversal of this separatist tendency.

  66. James P says:

    @gVOR08: Oh, Wikipedia thinks crazy uncle Joe won the debate. Oh, well OK, then I guess that proves it.

    Did you write the Wikipedia article yourself?

    If I post a Wikipedia article saying that Obama was born on Neptune would that similarly prove that Obama was born on Neptune?

  67. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    I would place the origin of strict Biblical literalism to the 1910-1920 period with the release of “The Fundamentals: A Testimony of Truth” that contained the series of essays that created the concept of Christian Fundamentalism.

    Completely agree on the historical record. I was talking about the movement entering the mainstream with open references by respectable people in public etc. (since that was the context of the original question).

    Should have worded that clearer, sorry.

  68. gVOR08 says:

    @James P: That’s not even good trolling.

  69. al-Ameda says:

    @James P:

    If I post a Wikipedia article saying that Obama was born on Neptune would that similarly prove that Obama was born on Neptune?

    Would that prove it? Of course not.
    Close to half of Republicans would assume that your were saying that Obama was born in Neptune, New Jersey, when in fact they know that he was born outside the United States.

  70. grumpy realist says:

    @PD Shaw: It’s somewhat sad to see that American Fundies don’t even have the understanding of Christian doctrine in the Middle Ages, which taught that there were multiple modes of interpretation of anything in the Bible.

  71. James P says:

    @al-Ameda: My point was that referencing a Wikipedia article is not proof of anything.

    I have never claimed that Obama was born anywhere other than Honolulu. I know you want to call me a birther, but I’m sorry to disappoint you Senor Iniesta.

    Obama’s worldview is certainly un-American and he does not like this country, but he was in fact born in the US.

  72. grumpy realist says:

    Speaking of what grifters get up to….

    At some point you just have to shake your head and say to yourself: “in order for grifting to take place, you have to have someone who lies, and someone who is willing to be lied to.”

  73. grumpy realist says:

    @James P: Just because President Obama does not have the same opinions that you do does not make him “un-American.” That’s an extremely vicious slur and you should be ashamed of saying it.

  74. aFloridian says:

    This really is interesting to me. I got to the top 5% in educational attainment and never figured that out. It really is because of my region, I guess.

    Seriously though – first, I consider evangelicals mainstream Christians (no, they are not mainline, but they are not one of the further offshoots, e.g. Seventh Day, Christian Science, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons) because their beliefs are not that fundamentally different in the “big” ways that most Christians consider important, like accepting the Trinity. And I thought, seeing the Bible as the literal word of God was another telltale sign. And yes, Rafer, I’m not sure if you were suggesting my list was too short, but I’m aware of the great breadth of Christianity beyond Presbyterians and Pentecostals.

    Learning that is a relief though – I think it’s much easier for the non-literalist group to function in modern society when one is not chained to the idea that everything in the Bible happened word-for-word. But there’s a middle ground for textualist Christians that believes it is 100% literal and those who buy into the Ussher-Lightfoot calendar. I actually met a guy in undergrad years ago who told me, in all earnestness, that dinosaurs obviously coexisted with the first men. Whoa!

  75. grumpy realist says:

    Looks like the Republican Party is getting the Outreach To Women program started early…..

    (I swear, do these guys even think before opening their mouths?)

  76. C. Clavin says:

    @James P:
    You live in CT? Huh…The education system in Blue States is usually better than that.

  77. C. Clavin says:

    @michael reynolds:
    The Bible is useful as parable.
    As fact, it’s ridiculous.

  78. MarkedMan says:

    @aFloridian:

    I consider evangelicals mainstream Christians

    Hmm. I have to say that I never considered evangelicals remotely mainstream. But your comment prodded me to ask myself ‘why’? I don’t have a complete answer, but a partial one is that, at least in my dealings with evangelicals (or fundamentalists of any religion) is that they seem primarily concerned with what other people are doing. They are constantly rating themselves against the ‘others’ on how purely they follow the supposed tenets of their religion (in the evangelical case these ‘fundamental’ tenets seem to consist mainly of a kind of amorphous mishmash of whatever blow dried TV preachers in $2000 suits are saying at the moment). The christian religions I consider mainstream are more focused on themselves.

    I remember my first encounter with evangelicals, in college, two of my good friends. We didn’t talk about religion much but one day something triggered them to start telling me what Catholics believed and were taught (did you know we are not allowed to read the bible?). I mentioned that I was raised Catholic and had gone to 12 years of Catholic school and what they were saying didn’t match my experience in any way shape or form. That was when I first encountered what I call the “fundamentalist clutch”. This happens when a fundamentalist is challenged by actual reality and you can kind of see them disengage their mental gears while it is happening and then they either pick up where they left off as if nothing had happened or they change the subject.

    Religion came up a couple of more times with those two but at one point I realized this was really, really important to them and to me it was just an intellectual exercise. We stayed friends, went camping together, studied together when we had the same classes, but after that we had an unspoken agreement not to discuss religion.

  79. michael reynolds says:

    @MarkedMan:

    That was when I first encountered what I call the “fundamentalist clutch”. This happens when a fundamentalist is challenged by actual reality and you can kind of see them disengage their mental gears while it is happening and then they either pick up where they left off as if nothing had happened or they change the subject.

    Yep. That attitude now informs the entire Republican party. Assumptions and prejudices are given far greater weight than fact. It’s like talking to a wall. They live in a different reality.

  80. DrDaveT says:

    @aFloridian:

    our Christian heritage is very important culturally. It helped make Western culture what it is, including its identity as the most pervasive and successful culture (with all the bad that came along with it). Our emphasis on individuality, free will, and other qualities we have.

    Not exactly.

    The same Christians who introduced the individuality movement were the ones who tended not to believe in free will. (Go figure.) Most of the other ‘qualities’ of Western civilization that we value and are proud of are actually products of the Enlightenment, in direct reaction to (and sometimes direct opposition to) the Christian teachings of the day.

    Of course, any resemblance between Christianity after about 600 AD and the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth is purely coincidental. Once it became a state religion, the die was cast.

  81. James P says:

    @C. Clavin: I wouldn’t know. I didn’t go to government indoctrination centers, err. I mean public schools. My parents cared enough to send me to private schools.

  82. James P says:

    @grumpy realist: Agreed – having opinions which differ from mine does not make one unpatriotic. Disliking the country, and intentionally seeking to weaken it as Barack Hussein Obama is attempting to do, makes one unpatriotic. The guy is a Fifth Columnist.

  83. Jim R says:

    @C. Clavin:

    The Bible is useful as parable.
    As fact, it’s ridiculous.

    Most of it is ridiculous even as parable.

  84. KM says:

    @MarkedMan:

    That was when I first encountered what I call the “fundamentalist clutch”. This happens when a fundamentalist is challenged by actual reality and you can kind of see them disengage their mental gears while it is happening and then they either pick up where they left off as if nothing had happened or they change the subject.

    They tend to double-down when the “nothing just happened” part occurs too. I had a good friend show off a pearl necklace and tells me it was a gift in honor of Proverbs 31:10. When I pointed out the line was “rubies” and she got it confused with “pearls before swine”, the recriminations started (I got the whole Catholics don’t read the Bible thing too!). After 10 mins of arguing, she pulls out her Bible app…. and goes beet red. She then insisted “jewel” (another possible translation) meant “pearl”. As pearls are typically mentioned with a different word then “jewel”, something an avowed scholar like her should have known, I called BS but told her it was a lovely necklace and it doesn’t matter what it was as long as it reminded her of her verse. I never saw the necklace again and she later admitted to giving it away – it reminded her of her “error” too often!

  85. Barry says:

    @Franklin: “…,it does appear to be true that some historians link Esau to Islam.”

    I’m sure that they do. And ‘some historians’ believe just about anything, give the right values of ‘some’ and ‘historians’.

    ” I actually don’t have that much problem with those last quotes above about knowing all the little details. The President can’t know and do everything himself. Unless you think Obama personally coded all the bugs into healthcare.gov, it’s completely reasonable to rely on experts. Carson isn’t ‘celebrating’ ignorance here, he’s just talking about the delegation of duties.”

    The point is that Carson is bone-headed stupid/ignorant/lying about a very long list of things, many of which a well-informed person would know.

  86. Barry says:

    @aFloridian: “Really? Maybe it’s because I’m from the Bible Belt or whatever, but I always have had the understanding that virtually all mainstream Christians (the Mainline denominations and the evangelicals/pentecostals) believe in a literal interpretation of the text. I mean, sure, I knew about the Quakers and such but still, I’m surprised you reach that conclusion.”

    No, that’s not true, unless one accepts the definition of ‘christian’ used by those who claimed to believe in biblical literalism.

  87. Barry says:

    @Just ‘nutha’ ig’rant cracker: “You really think John McCain knows less than a high school dropout? I agree, mind you, I just wouldn’t have thought you would think that.”

    He does a fine job of acting like it. Why do you think that McCain knows anything other than how to be reelected as a Senator?

  88. KM says:

    @aFloridian:

    I consider evangelicals mainstream Christians

    because their beliefs are not that fundamentally different in the “big” ways that most Christians consider important

    I would submit that this is a standard fallacy of every later group trying to associate with its predecessors. Back in the day, Protestants and Catholics would have been horrified to be considered equally mainstream – it’s only centuries (and a ton of bloodshed) later, that the thought would even occur to anyone. It might simply be a timing thing for evangelicals- these are too “new” to be considered mainstream since time hasn’t smoothed over some of the rough edges of the break.

    Biblical literacy is a huge fundamental difference because it changes the very interface a believer uses to understand their world. Think Windows vs Linux – both are operating systems using the same basics like coding but lead to vastly different (but comparable) experiences for users. A Windows user given a machine running Linux will be confused when they go to do simple daily tasks and find them fundamentally different – the Start menu is a good example. It’s still a computer, they’re figure it out eventually… but it’s enough of a variation to give someone unfamiliar pause and cause difficulty in usage. This is why fundamentalism/evangelism is not considered mainstream by most – it’s clearly a later invention in the traditions and represented a major theological departure from the existing denominations. Oh, they kinda get to the same ballpark but the methodology is so unique you can be speaking the same language and having two different conversations.

  89. Barry says:

    @KM: “This is why fundamentalism/evangelism is not considered mainstream by most – it’s clearly a later invention in the traditions and represented a major theological departure from the existing denominations.”

    I would add that the current (white, right-wing, US) version has a number of heresies, such as thinking that there’s a special theological status for the USA, pre-millenial dispensationalism, and frankly, worship of Mars.

  90. al-Ameda says:

    @James P:

    Disliking the country, and intentionally seeking to weaken it as Barack Hussein Obama is attempting to do, makes one unpatriotic. The guy is a Fifth Columnist.

    another content-free observation
    “f*** that bulls***”
    (John McEnroe, c. 1980)

  91. Pinky says:

    We’re making the world “mainstream” do a lot of work here. Contemporary US evangelicalism is definitely in the Protestant tradition. Its roots are in the Baptist emphasis on individual interpretation and Calvinist ideas about the elect. Doctrinally, they’re well within the broad Protestant sphere.

    But they don’t see themselves as Protestant so much as Christian – they see their roots in the early church. Again, that wouldn’t make them much different than the Baptists. But it does separate them from the US mainline Protestant tradition, which sees its roots in the Reformation. They have a very different understanding of what it means to be a church.

  92. KM says:

    @KM:

    OK, I’m curious (and asking for it)…. I know we have serial downvoters, professional contrarians, trolls and such but what exactly earned that the downvote? I told a story about a super-religious person who got a Bible quote wrong and was insistent even after looking it up herself that she was correct. What was the objectionable part?

  93. wr says:

    @KM: I didn’t downvote you, but I did think it was kind of a dick move when all she was doing was expressing pleasure over a piece of jewelry she’d bought, and you took all the joy out of it for her… I’m fine with people being wrong about the Bible when it comes to buying jewelry, not so much when using it as an excuse to deprive people of their rights…

  94. Loviatar says:

    @KM:

    What was the objectionable part?

    There was nothing objectionable in your comment, you just got clutched.

    Because you told a story that made light of their beliefs, someone disengaged brain and responded with a negative symbol. It happens all the time, luckily it was only a down vote, we’ve seen so called Christians in this country respond with violence when their beliefs are questioned.

  95. Just 'nutha' ig'rant cracker says:

    @Barry: I don’t. “I agree” referred to agreeing with the previous statement “John Mc Cain knows less than a high school dropout.”

    But keep at that reading course and you’ll get better at it.

  96. the Q says:

    “one has to wonder how he can rationalize his own life with his apparent willful ignorance and his celebration of that ignorance as a good thing”

    Doug, you silly goose, he’s a wingnut dipschitt Republican….thats “how”!

  97. Barry says:

    @Just ‘nutha’ ig’rant cracker: “I don’t. “I agree” referred to agreeing with the previous statement “John Mc Cain knows less than a high school dropout.”

    But keep at that reading course and you’ll get better at it.”

    I’m sorry, but could restate what you wrote in coherent English?