What Ben Carson and the West Point Story Tells Us

What Ben Carson and the West Point Story Tells Us November 6, 2015

photo-1436450412740-6b988f486c6bNobody gets every detail right, especially if they speak or write for a living. A good person does the best they can knowing they will make inadvertent mistakes. To give one example: I once said I wrote a book that I edited, leading to a proper correction from a friend. I didn’t mean to get it wrong, but writing an entire book is much different (I know!) from editing one. In fact, editing a good book was harder, but it is a different task. Where words are multiplied, in any job that uses words, mistakes multiply.

So let’s cut any politician, preacher, or speaker some slack.

Ben Carson said he met General Westmoreland on Memorial Day. He could not have met General Westmoreland on Memorial Day. However, he could have met him some other time. I don’t know if he did, but I am willing to believe he did. That is charity and charity is the judgment I wish to be judged by.

Politico ran a headline that is inexcusable. HRC, the latest Clinton to lie to our nation, is a bigger liar. When Obama’s biography turned out to be sketchy on the facts, we were told that this was “cultural.” Leftist attacks on Dr. Carson are (often) hypocritical. They are straining on a gnat while swallowing biographical Clintonian camels.

None of this helps Dr. Carson. We know Dr. Carson was wrong about details of his own life story that were printed in a book written by a ghostwriter and fact checked by an editor. He could not have met General Westmorland when he said he did. He did not get accepted to West Point.

We now can tell a different story, a story that nobody can check, that makes this barely acceptable puffery. Maybe he met the General earlier. Maybe he was told by ROTC workers that he “was accepted.” We have a dear friend who was told such nonsense. I can assure you: some recruiters will say anything to get you to apply, but if it is not in writing, it means nothing. If I had gotten everything “big shots” promised me over the course of my life, I would have done a great deal more than I have!

The bottom line: the story Ben Carson told is not true. There is a way of telling the story that makes the error not so hard to swallow . . . and that is the story that Carson is telling now. Sadly, we can only believe that story based on our belief in Carson. He could have met Westmoreland on a different date than he said he did. He could have been informally told he would be “in” if he applied. He said none of this originally. He told a simpler story that made him look better. Now we are left with only his word that his errors were incidental.

I am sorry to write this about Dr. Carson. He is a man of real accomplishment. He is smart. He has been allowed to fluff and puff his (otherwise sterling) resume, by an industry less interested in truth than a good story. This is not uncommon. I have been involved in Christian apologetics for decades and there has been and is too much shoddy scholarship, lies, plagiarism, degree inflation, and other chicanery. At one conference, I heard of a man peddling a piece “Noah’s ark” he had made in a microwave and he  justified this evil lie because people got saved.

Ben Carson is not my first choice for President of the United States. If he was the nominee of my party, I would vote for him. However, I have been disturbed by his refusal accurately portray his relations to the Mannatech company. We know Dr. Carson has a problem accurately describing his relationship with this company. I don’t blame Dr. Carson, I blame years of being associated with the graft of those who would peddle the Gospel for a healthy bottom line. In that world, it is acceptable to speak to dodgy multilevel marketing companies if your contract gives you plausible deniability. This is a sick and twisted world where the moneychangers Jesus chased out of the Temple went to a complex of for profit and not for profit companies.

I blame the Christian Celebrity Complex: the industry that markets “product” to believers for profit for the inevitable fall of a basically decent man.

You should know three things. First, many Christian celebrities cannot write. They have ghostwriters that produce all their ideas and prose. Second, the “product” is often more important than the message. What sells or is simple to understand, matters more than the truth. Finally, the tendency is to “smooth out” the rough complications of the truth to make the story more compelling.  Whatever is true about Dr. Carson, these things are true about the Christian Celebrity Complex.

The Christian Celebrity Complex printed a story about Dr. Carson that was wrong in fact and implied more “accomplishment’ than he received. That is not acceptable. I once taught a class at Keble College, part of Oxford University. If I put that in my resume without explanation, I would deceiving you because the group for which I spoke was renting the space. Oxford University has never had me as a speaker. I have not spoken to Keble College, I have only been a speaker at another excellent conference.

Puffery like this must stop. Dr. Carson is brilliant. He was not accepted to West Point. He did not turn them down. He made a choice, based partly on finance not to apply, and went to Yale. The puffery was not needed, but it is the way the Christian Celebrity Complex operates. There one celebrity puffs another, everyone is brilliant, and the next C.S. Lewis is always writing.

Someone is going to say that secular celebrity culture is worse. Maybe. That does not make the situation better for followers of the Lord Jesus. We have taken a great man, with a great story, and puffed him up to something he is not. We have turned to a man who made a good speech rightly rebuking the President and pretended he should be President. We turned a book tour into a Presidential campaign. Money is made by those running the tour, printing the books, and arranging the speeches, but a good man is debased.

There are money changers in the Temple and the Lord Jesus would drive them out.


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