What Really Was Wrong With the Ben Carson Interview on the End-Times

When it comes to the end-times, Ben Carson may just be confounding the typical narratives about conservative Christian presidential candidates.

If a conservative evangelical or Pentecostal candidate talks about the end-times, everyone’s ears perk up and they wonder if, as an elected official, this person would allow their apocalyptic beliefs to dictate policy, particularly Middle East policy. (Think Sarah Palin, ca. 2008.)

After Carson was asked about the end-times on Sharyl Atkisson’s new show Full Measure on Sunday, this typical reaction kicked in. In Salon, for example, the headline read: “Ben Carson’s apocalyptic fantasies: ‘We are getting closer to’ the End of Days.'”

If you look a little closer at Carson’s answer, though, it’s not at all clear he believes we are hurtling toward the apocalypse. I did not read his answer to mean that he himself has apocalyptic “fantasies.”

First, Atkisson asked Carson about his faith, and what role that would play in his decision-making as president. “I’m a Christian,” Carson replied. “I belong to the Seventh-day Adventist denomination. I believe in godly principles, of loving your fellow man, caring about your neighbor, developing your God-give talents to the utmost so you become valuable to the people around you.”

That seems pretty uncontroversial.

Later, Atkisson asked him about global turmoil, and whether he thought we are seeing the the end-times. When I watch the video, it seems to me that he is saying that others have that belief. That’s why Atkisson’s follow-up question— if it was possible to “change the course” from “something that’s prophesied”—doesn’t make any sense. (If you don’t believe it’s prophesied, then why would you have trouble “changing the course?”)

Atkisson hadn’t done her homework. Carson just told her he’s a Seventh-day Adventist. Seventh-day Adventist eschatology is not the same as the evangelical eschatology popularized in the Left Behind series. Instead, as I wrote yesterday, Adventist eschatology is based in the belief that the American government, along with the Catholic Church, will mandate a Sunday law, forcing Adventists to abandon their Saturday worship. In other words, Adventist eschatology is centered on events in America, involving the U.S. government persecuting Adventists.

You might see how this could get politically complicated for Carson to explain, and he picks the part of Atkisson’s question that enables him to avoid addressing Adventist eschatology. She asks him, “What is your view on what’s happening around the globe and in the U.S., in terms of what’s in the Bible? Do you think we’re at the End of Days?”

Carson deflects that question to talk about nuclear weapons, not the religious freedom of Adventists in the United States:

Carson: You could guess that we are getting closer to that. You do have people who have a belief system that sees this apocalyptic phenomena occurring, and that they’re a part of it, and who would not hesitate to use nuclear weapons if they gain possession of them.

Then the two start talking past each other. Carson didn’t say anything about what he thinks is prophesied, but Atkisson asks, “Is there a chance to change the course, if it is something that’s prophesied?” He replies:

I think we have a chance to certainly do everything that we can to ameliorate the situation, to provide — I would always be shooting for peace. I wouldn’t just take a fatalistic view of things.

That’s a pretty good answer, especially by Ben Carson standards. Here’s a candidate whose answers on so many issues involve a crackpot conspiracy theory, and when he’s asked about the end-times, he says he wouldn’t be fatalistic and would shoot for peace. So why are so many people freaking out? Because they’re conditioned to. But Ben Carson defies your end-times freak-out.

  • Jim Reed

    What about the Devil teaching evolution? Does he think the Devil should be removed from our classrooms?

  • Robert Conner

    Apocalypticism is baked into Christianity. It is, in fact, its bedrock theology. Which makes for quite a spectacle seeing that each and every prediction of The End made in the past 2000 years has been wrong. Spectacularly wrong. The Roman critic Porphyry knew over 17 centuries ago that there would never be a “Rapture,” or any other Christian-imagined apocalypse.

    https://www.scribd.com/doc/269575794/Christianity-s-Critics-The-Romans-Meet-Jesus-by-Robert-Conner

  • Alencon

    Christians that predict the “end” should read their own Bible.

    Matthew 24:35 Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.
    36 But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.

  • Well_Read

    CARSON:

    believes evolution and the big bang are encouraged by the devil, they are fairy tales.
    believes in the 6000 yr creation of the earth, talking snake story.
    being gay is a choice
    believes there is a way on a woman’s reproductive organs, but not the woman.
    planned parenthood is a plot to kill black babies.
    his religion, 7th day, requires him to bring america under god’s rule, a theocracy.
    he believes god created the earth 6k yrs ago, but made it appear to be 4.5 billion
    Carson advocated “a civil religion that re-defines the God of the Bible as the patron deity of the United States of America,” a theocracy.

    Does he sound presidential yet?

  • Kangaroo52

    I enjoyed Eugene Robinson’s takedown of Carson yesterday. Even as African-Americans feel a solidarity with a Brother, as they (or anyhow some of them) did for Clarence Thomas during his tempestuous confirmation hearings they are only willing to go so far. Embracing crazy is a bridge too far.

  • apotropoxy

    Jesus is quoted by all three synoptic gospel writers has having told his listeners that some in the crowd would be alive to witness the “End of Days”. He and his gospel writers were dead wrong.
    Get over it, Ben.

  • Pi Polytroop

    Thanks Sarah for adding this nuance to a very polarised debate. There will be plenty of reasons to disagree with Carson, but there is no reason to pigeonhole him into beliefs he simply does NOT hold.

  • Jim Reed

    He is a Republican, and we know Republicans in general have lots of dangerous beliefs. We need to know what beliefs he has on all those issues. What about guns, and tearing up the Iran deal? What about repealing our health care system, and what about the gap between the top fraction of a percent and the rest of the population that has grown 10 times bigger? What about the Benghazi committee? What about global warning? What does he believe about these important issues that are tearing apart our nation? And also in an unrelated issue, what does he believe about the Devil? What beliefs does he hold?

  • Judith Maxfield

    Your 5th line makes no sense. Can you explain. In the bigger picture, what is your source in claiming to know what Carson believes? I’d like us all to be more careful in making these statements.
    (fyi, fact, I’m not a carson supporter.)

  • Judith Maxfield

    Seems to me we are on the subject of Eschatology, some with both religious and contemporary secular views, emphasis on “contemporary”. It is not about an abrupt end of the physical world. (We’re pretty well doing that ourselves.) Fear based beliefs may claim “the end times” in mistaken and, I’m sorry to say, ignorant teachings no matter from where it is taught. Here, it sounds like both the interviewer and Carson had their wires crossed. Many of us in the Christian faith see a God who is loving and adds value to our questions about life, humanity, and the finality of real death, not a pie-in-the-sky childish fix. For whats it worth, I belive eschatology is happening in the here and now on this planet and is visible when measured against the entire length of human history.

  • nightgaunt

    Plenty of his interviews to gain this data for yourself.