“Now the trouble with trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed.” – C.S. Lewis
The national media prides itself in its ignorance of religion but that can sometimes lead to unintentional blackouts, where the news makes no sense to them or anybody else. This past month we experienced such a blackout in American politics and so I am tasked with offering an explanation.
As you know, presidential candidate, Donald Trump announced we should temporarily ban all Muslim immigration into the U.S. The media is still puzzled about what he is up to. Most just chalk it down to his erratic behavior, a random act of trying to stay in the headlines.
Then there is the Ted Cruz lift off and the Ben Carson collapse. With no explanation for either one. It is just something that happened. Evolution.
Now, here is the skinny, I summarize for those of you locked into the Boston-New York-Washington corridor who have just a tad bit of intellectual curiosity. Those of us dirty, ignorant, religious rabble living on the outside knew this all along and have been watching with fascination as you have tried to put together this political rubrics cube.
On December 1, 2015, Sally Quinn wrote a piece for the Washington Post on “Why Ben Carson doesn’t believe in hell.” Now, I should point out that Sally Quinn is not your typical, left wing, ultra liberal bigot. She is an informed person who knows the width and breadth of American culture, including its Evangelical Christian plains and Southern cities. She has bumped into the 51% of Americans who claim to be “born again.” She and her late husband, Ben Bradlee, must have had a cousin or sibling or servant who was “born again” because they had a knowledge of how it works that not many in their circle can boast. So when Sally cornered Ben Carson, she knew what she was doing.
Unfortunately for him, Ben Carson, did not.
Sally asked Carson if he believed in a literal hell. Carson said he did not. He should have said, “None of your damn business.” Or, “The U.S. Constitution says there is no religious test for office. Now, if you want to give this list of questions to Hillary Clinton go right ahead but my faith is a very private and personal thing.”
But in that moment, Carson, who was leading in some national polls, was agonizing over how he was going to win the general election and, perhaps, how he was going to win the “Sally Quinn Caucus.” And so he gave his answer and those of us who understand religion know what followed.
61% of all Americans believe in hell. 87% of Evangelicals do. And who knows how high that number gets when you narrow it down to Republican activists most likely to vote in Iowa?
Soon after the Sally Quinn piece appeared, the Ted Cruz folks started passing it around the internet and the Carson bubble burst. Even Evangelicals who didn’t believe in hell started to slip away. Did it mean that Carson did not believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God?
The move to Ted Cruz became so pronounced that Bob Vander Platts, the Family Life-Tony Perkins- incarnation in Iowa, who prides himself with picking the winner, rushed to get in on the act. Wait for me, I am your leader. I am the guy who names the winner. People pay me money to endorse them. Vander Platts endorsed Ted Cruz on December 14.
Meanwhile, right after the Carson-Quinn interview from hell, insiders with Donald Trump saw a disaster in the making. The original thinking was that the Evangelical vote in Iowa would be divided between Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Rand Paul, Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum. The Catholic vote would be divided between Chris Christie, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush and, again, Santorum, who is a switch hitter. But now the Carson collapse was feeding into a Ted Cruz ascent.
The Trump camp was confronted with this reality. Cruz would win Iowa, cause an explosion of excitement, maybe lose New Hampshire to Trump the next week but come back to win South Carolina and lock in his place as the Trump alternative and win the nomination. Trump had to do something. And it had to be newsworthy. It had to be bigger than anything before it, which was a bit of a challenge. And yet it had to be something he could walk back later in the general election. Hey, forget the general election. If Trump didn’t win the nomination who cared?
And so, one week after Carson told Sally Quinn that there is no hell, Trump announced we should stop all Muslim immigration.
Two days later he also made a clumsy attempt to hurt Cruz by saying, “Not many Evangelicals come out of Cuba.” This was Trump trying to sew doubt about the purity of Cruz born again bona fides. Like other Trump statements there was a seam of something dark here. Was Trump trying to appeal to an imagined Evangelical anti-Catholic bias?
And that, my poor, dear, ignorant, religious free, members of the mainstream media, is how and why it all happened. I thought you should know. The rest of us do.
Here is the story in Newsmax