FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Free Speech, Culture Wars, and Enlightenment

by LORENZO OSPRI

Dr. Ben Carson, director of pediatric neurosurgery at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, likes to pose as a man of faith, a steadfast Christian deriving his worldview from the Bible – heroically, unapologetically, in the face of wanton persecution by the liberal PC-police.

As a sedulous, restless oracle, he’s grown wont, of late, to offer his take on a variety of social and cultural issues. And like the ancient Pythia at Delphi, his utterances have shown the power to strike his audiences agape. Darwinists are nihilistic time-bombs – he maintains – since true morality only stems from the literal word of the Bible; parents should be encouraged to mete out a sound caning to their misbehaving tots, as the Book of Proverbs says so; fiscal policy is divinely-ordained to stand to benefit the rich; and last but not least, we’re assured the Good Book is riddled with warnings throughout that marriage is only the union of one man and one woman.

Not wholly surprisingly, a fierce row has finally erupted over one or the other of his eclectic remarks. His speakership at the 2013 medical class commencement at Hopkins is on the verge of an unprecedented revocation, prompting fury from the Right over alleged liberal intolerance.  Apart from the unabashed dogmatism exuding from Dr. Carson’s pronouncements – standard fare in the raging culture wars of America –, we need only wonder whether they withstand rational scrutiny or not.

The Seven Hundred Wives of Solomon

What’s the viewpoint of the Bible on marriage? Contrary to common wisdom, the Good Book doesn’t provide any consistent definition. If anything, it seems to lean overall toward polygamy. The list of Old Testament figures having multiple wives is endless: from Abraham to Esau, Jacob, Gideon, Elkanah, and so on and so forth. Solomon, indefatigable stud, outdid them all, by taking 700 wives and 300 concubines. The New Testament is perfectly ambiguous on the subject, sporting some verses in support of monogamy (Mark 10:11, Matthew 19:4) and others hinting at polygamy (Matthew 25:1, 1 Timothy 3:2). Saint Paul himself recommended eschewing marriage altogether, in favor of a life of chastity – something we regret to learn Dr. Carson was all too quick personally to discount.

The Scarlet Letter

If the Bible’s stance on marriage is murky, other pieces of Bible-based morality are crystal clear:

“Anyone who blasphemes the name of the Lord is to be put to death.

The entire assembly must stone them. Whether foreigner or native-born,

when they blaspheme the Name they are to be put to death.”

The capital punishment is prescribed with largess for many other sins, notably adultery, disrespecting one’s parents, having sexual relations with a menstruating woman, and various forms of incest. If we really are to believe Dr. Carson’s protestations that he’s a staunch, coherent, and fearless believer in the literal truth of the Bible, we should ask him what he proposes to do with adulterers. If he doesn’t support stoning them, as we all know he doesn’t, mustn’t we logically conclude he’s a hypocrite who cherrypicks passages from the Bible and wields them as a cloak, or disposable political tool, for his prejudices?

Jesus, the Commie

What about the Bible-mandated tax cuts for the rich? We confess after reading Dr. Carson’s words on the subject we were left wondering whether the good doctor has actually ever been introduced to the Gospels, where a prominent character named Jesus not once mentions the Gays, but adamantly condemns Roman Judea’s top 1% of earners:

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 19:21)

As for the saying, “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s”, we’re acutely reassured it came from Brutus.

The Parapet of Separation

Beyond scriptural (in)accuracy, the fundamental flaw in Dr. Carson’s reasoning lies, of course, in his failure to realize the United States is not a Christian nation, but a secular Republic, where there’s a constitutionally-mandated distinction between sin and crime, between civil order and religious institutions.

Whatever the Bible, or the Koran, or the Upanishads, have to say about “traditional marriage”, taxes or anything else is irrelevant to civil policies. This is for the safeguard of religion as much as the state. As James Madison (not Lenin) put it, the entanglement of religion and politics yields “in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution”.

Immanuel Kant, Party-Pooper

Finally, Dr. Carson seems utterly positive the only possible foundation of ethics is a supernatural law-giver descending from the clouds to hand over stone tablets to His favorite prophet. Murder is bad because God said so. Had God decided in His own free will that murder should be good, then it would have been so. The bedrock of morality, according to this line of thought, is God’s whim.

But the worse has yet to come.  We all know God shies away from making regular appearances into the world to confirm which are His authentic wishes for ethical behavior.

Thus we’re left with a plethora of conflicting religious ethical systems, each urging people on to arbitrary commandments (“don’t eat pork!”, or “stone the blasphemer!”) that need to be revealed, or interpreted, or enforced, by God’s earthly representatives, be they priests, pastors, rabbis, imams, ayatollahs, etc.

Is there an alternative to this tottering source of ethical legitimacy?

Immanuel Kant, Jeremy Bentham, Isaiah Berlin, John Rawles, and a host of other modern philosophers have variously come up with universalist moral systems, all based on the common notion that there are objective moral truths out there applying to all, because each and every one of us has some shared feature with his fellow humans, be it practical reason or a common nature that favors what benefits us and is vulnerable to suffering. It is nothing less than game theory, the mathematical tool used to study the evolution of animal behavior, that suggests whenever rational, social agents evolve, a non-arbitrary set of rules (“ethical norms”) emerges in the fitness landscape that ensures an optimal outcome. For instance, cooperation among agents leads to demonstrably greater benefits than violence or exploitation. Nihilistic selfishness is not rationally defensible, as a universal morality based on reason requires one to rise above petty short-term interests, and see things as if sub specie aeternitatis (under the viewpoint of eternity).

Free speech and Personal Responsibility                 

What should we make of Dr. Carson and the backlash he’s suffering?

Nobody proposes the good doctor should be gagged.  In fact, we’re pretty sure a lucrative contract is waiting for him at Fox News after his retirement, where he’ll be able to preach to willing crowds as much as he pleases.

What we should all demand, and indeed expect, is to hold him accountable for his declarations.

If Dr. Carson feels compelled to go on national TV to spout out ludicrous and embarrassing arguments about gays, evolutionists, or whatever ghost haunts his imagination at a given time, he’s free to do so. But once he’s lost his credibility, speaking at a university commencement is not something he should be rewarded with.

And this has nothing to do with free speech, but everything to do with bearing responsibility for one’s own actions.

Lorenzo Ospri is a graduate student at the Johns Hopkins Department of Neuroscience.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

January 24, 2017
Anthony DiMaggio
Reflections on DC: Promises and Pitfalls in the Anti-Trump Uprising
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
Developer Welfare: Trump’s Infrastructure Plan
Melvin Goodman
Trump at the CIA: the Orwellian World of Alternative Facts
Sam Mitrani – Chad Pearson
A Short History of Liberal Myths and Anti-Labor Politics
Kristine Mattis
Democracy is Not a Team Sport
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Mexico, Neo-Nationalism and the Capitalist World-System
Ted Rall
The Women’s March Was a Dismal Failure and a Hopeful Sign
Norman Pollack
Woman’s March: Halt at the Water’s Edge
Pepe Escobar
Will Trump Hop on an American Silk Road?
Franklin Lamb
Trump’s “Syria “Minus Iran” Overture to Putin and Assad May Restore Washington-Damascus Relations
Kenneth R. Culton
Violence By Any Other Name
David Swanson
Why Impeach Donald Trump
Christopher Brauchli
Trump’s Contempt
January 23, 2017
John Wight
Trump’s Inauguration: Hail Caesar!
Mark Schuller
So What am I Doing Here? Reflections on the Inauguration Day Protests
Patrick Cockburn
The Rise of Trump and Isis Have More in Common Than You Might Think
Binoy Kampmark
Ignored Ironies: Women, Protest and Donald Trump
Gregory Barrett
Flag, Cap and Screen: Hollywood’s Propaganda Machine
Gareth Porter
US Intervention in Syria? Not Under Trump
L. Ali Khan
Trump’s Holy War against Islam
Gary Leupp
An Al-Qaeda Attack in Mali:  Just Another Ripple of the Endless, Bogus “War on Terror”
Norman Pollack
America: Banana Republic? Far Worse
Bob Fitrakis - Harvey Wasserman
We Mourn, But We March!
Kim Nicolini
Trump Dump: One Woman March and Personal Shit as Political
William Hawes
We Are on Our Own Now
Martin Billheimer
Last Tango in Moscow
Colin Todhunter
Development and India: Why GM Mustard Really Matters
Mel Gurtov
Trump’s America—and Ours
David Mattson
Fog of Science II: Apples, Oranges and Grizzly Bear Numbers
Clancy Sigal
Who’s Up for This Long War?
Weekend Edition
January 20, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Divide and Rule: Class, Hate, and the 2016 Election
Andrew Levine
When Was America Great?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: This Ain’t a Dream No More, It’s the Real Thing
Yoav Litvin
Making Israel Greater Again: Justice for Palestinians in the Age of Trump
Linda Pentz Gunter
Nuclear Fiddling While the Planet Burns
Ruth Fowler
Standing With Standing Rock: Of Pipelines and Protests
David Green
Why Trump Won: the 50 Percenters Have Spoken
Dave Lindorff
Imagining a Sanders Presidency Beginning on Jan. 20
Pete Dolack
Eight People Own as Much as Half the World
Roger Harris
Too Many People in the World: Names Named
Steve Horn
Under Tillerson, Exxon Maintained Ties with Saudi Arabia, Despite Dismal Human Rights Record
John Berger
The Nature of Mass Demonstrations
Stephen Zielinski
It’s the End of the World as We Know It
David Swanson
Six Things We Should Do Better As Everything Gets Worse
Alci Rengifo
Trump Rex: Ancient Rome’s Shadow Over the Oval Office
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail