Dr. Benjamin Carson, a famed neurosurgeon from The Johns Hopkins Hospital, has long been outspoken about his faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. In February, Carson was the featured speaker at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., which was attended by President and Mrs. Obama, Vice-President Biden and many other leaders. Carson’s strong and pointed remarks caught the attention of many. Below is an edited version of his address.
I have an opportunity to speak in a lot of venues, and I’ve been asking people, “What are you most concerned about in terms of spirituality and the direction of our nation and our world?”
I’ve talked to very prominent Democrats and very prominent Republicans. I was surprised by the uniformity of their answers, and those have informed my comments this morning. Now, it’s not my intention to offend anyone. I have discovered, however, in recent years that it’s very difficult to speak to a large group of people these days and not offend someone.
People walk around with their feelings on their shoulders waiting for you to say something [they disagree with], and they can’t hear anything else you say. The PC [political correctness] police are out in force. People are afraid to actually talk about what they want to say because somebody might be offended. It keeps people from saying what they really believe.
What we need to do in this PC world is forget about unanimity of speech and unanimity of thought, and we need to concentrate on being respectful to those people with whom we disagree. That’s when we begin to make real progress.
PC is dangerous. One of this country’s founding principles was freedom of thought and freedom of expression. PC puts a muzzle on them, and it keeps people from discussing important issues while the fabric of their society is being changed. We need to start talking about things that are important, things that were important in the development of our nation.
One of those things was education. I’m very passionate about education because it has made such a big difference in my life. Here we are in the information age, the age of technology, and yet 30 percent of people who enter high school in this country do not graduate. Forty-four percent of people who start a four-year college program do not finish it in four years. What is that about?
Two hundred years ago, when slavery was going on, it was illegal to educate a slave, particularly to teach them to read. Why do you think that was? Because when you educate a man, you liberate a man.
And there I was as a youngster, placing myself in the same situation that a horrible institution did, because I wasn’t taking advantage of the education. I was a horrible student. Most of my classmates thought I was the stupidest person in the world.
But I had something very important: I had a mother who believed in me, a mother who would never allow herself to be a victim, no matter what happened. Never made excuses, and she never accepted an excuse from us.
I hated poverty; I couldn’t stand it. But my mother couldn’t stand the fact that we were doing poorly in school. God gave her wisdom. It was to turn off the TV, let us watch only two or three programs during the week, and with all that spare time, read two books apiece from the Detroit Public Library and submit to her written book reports—which she couldn’t read, but we didn’t know that!
After a while, I actually began to enjoy reading those books. We were very poor, but between the covers of those books I could go anywhere, I could be anybody, I could do anything. And at that point I didn’t hate poverty anymore, because I knew it was only temporary. I knew I could change that. It was incredibly liberating for me. It made all the difference.
Take a look at the chapter on education in my latest book, “America the Beautiful,” which I wrote with my wife. In that chapter, you will see questions extracted from a sixth-grade exit exam from the 1800s—a test you had to pass to get your sixth-grade certificate.
I doubt most college graduates today could pass that test. We have dumbed things down to that level, and the reason that is so dangerous is that the people who founded this nation said our system of government was designed for a well-informed and educated populace. When they become less informed, they become vulnerable. That is why education is vitally important.
We don’t want to go down the same pathway as many pinnacle nations that have preceded us. I think particularly about ancient Rome. Nobody could challenge them militarily, but what happened to them? They destroyed themselves from within. Moral decay, fiscal irresponsibility. They destroyed themselves. If you don’t think that can happen to America, get out your books and start reading.
But we can fix it. We have some of the most intellectually gifted people leading our nation. All we need to do is remember what our real responsibilities are so we can solve the problems. My role model is Jesus. He used parables to help people understand things. Our deficit is a big problem. Think about it. Our national debt is $16.5 trillion dollars. You think that’s not a lot of money? Count one number per second (which you can’t even do because once you get to a thousand it will take you longer than a second). You know how long it would take you to count to 16 trillion? 507,000 years—more than a half a million years. We have to deal with this.
Here’s the parable: A family falls on hard times. Dad loses his job or is demoted to part-time work. He has five children. He comes to the children and says, “We’re going to have to reduce your allowance—except for John and Susan. They’re special. They get to keep their allowance. In fact, we’ll give them more.” How do you think that’s going to go down? Not too well.
Two hundred years ago, this nation was involved in a war—the War of 1812. The British, who are now our good friends, were winning that war and marching up the Eastern Seaboard, destroying city after city, destroying Washington, D.C. They burned down the White House.
Next stop: Baltimore. As they came into the Chesapeake Bay, it was looking grim. Fort McHenry was standing right there. General Armistead, who was in charge of Fort McHenry, had a large American flag commissioned to fly in front of the fort. The Admiral in charge of the British fleet said, “Take that flag down. You have until dusk to take that flag down. If you don’t take it down, we will reduce you to ashes.”
There was a young amateur poet on board by the name of Francis Scott Key. As dusk approached, he mourned for his fledgling nation. As the sun fell, the bombardment started. Bombs bursting in air. Missiles, so much debris. He strained, trying to see—was the flag still there? All night long it continued. At the crack of dawn, he ran out to the bannister. He looked, straining his eyes.
He beheld the most beautiful sight he had ever seen—the torn and tattered Stars and Stripes, still waving. Many historians say that was the turning point in the war. We went on to win that war and to retain our freedom.
If you had gone onto the grounds of Fort McHenry that day, you would have seen at the base of that flag the bodies of soldiers who took turns propping up the flag. They would not let it go down, because they believed in what that flag symbolized. And what did it symbolize? One nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.