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.