The Man Behind Ben Carson’s “Secular Progressive” Fixation

Carson has sounded the alarm of secular progressivism throughout his campaign

“Let me tell you,” Carson continued, “our nation’s survival as the pinnacle nation in the world…is rooted in our values system, the values and principles that made us into a great nation. And the real question is: Are we willing to stand up for those values and principles? Or will we allow ourselves to be intimidated by the secular progressives?”

 

A few days ago, Ben Carson sat down for an interview with Christianity Today. Speaking with the nation’s most influential evangelical magazine has become a regular rite of passage for presidential aspirants, particularly of the Republican variety, and a critical means for establishing one’s evangelical convictions. (Carly Fiorina and Jeb Bush both have already spoken with the publication.) Carson wasted no time appealing to his conservative Christian audience, drawing attention to the challenges he’s faced advocating his “strong Christian values in a secular progressive society.”

Carson has sounded the alarm of secular progressivism throughout his campaign, often more dramatically than he did with Christianity Today. Just last month, in an address at Liberty University, Carson inveighed against the secular progressives “who are trying to push God out of our lives.”

“Let me tell you,” Carson continued, “our nation’s survival as the pinnacle nation in the world…is rooted in our values system, the values and principles that made us into a great nation. And the real question is: Are we willing to stand up for those values and principles? Or will we allow ourselves to be intimidated by the secular progressives?”

While many struggled to understand his late summer spike in popularity, Carson’s standing with conservative Republicans, especially evangelicals, owes in large part to his frequent warnings about the threat of secular progressives to the American nation. In targeting secular progressives, Carson establishes his conservative Christian bona fides by speaking in the religio-political language that has helped mobilize evangelicals since the 1970s—a language grounded in a Biblical worldview and a logic that construes all policy debates in terms no less than good versus evil.

Carson’s language (and political vision) draws from the writings of Francis Schaeffer, the most influential intellectual figure in the history of the Religious Right. In developing his ideas on secular humanism, Schaeffer, a fundamentalist Presbyterian minister and author, gave Christian conservatives a theological framework for the political world and cast American evangelicals as the nation’s sole defenders in a cosmic struggle for righteousness. Carson now leads that fight.

Even before Schaeffer popularized the idea of “secular humanism,” various religious leaders argued that the Supreme Court’s decisions outlawing school prayer and Bible reading in the 1960s promoted secular humanism over the nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage. But Schaeffer took that inchoate and somewhat shapeless fear and gave it coherence and force in the 1970s.

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