Editor’s note: A longer version of this article first appeared at American Spectator.
In a recent interview, Senator Marco Rubio, effectively the Republican front-runner for 2016, was asked, “How old do you think the Earth is?”
It’s a question of utter irrelevance to the country’s status and whether Marco Rubio would be a good president. Rubio’s answer was excellent: “I’m not a scientist, man. I can tell you what recorded history says, I can tell you what the Bible says, but I think that’s a dispute amongst theologians and I think it has nothing to do with the gross domestic product or economic growth of the United States. I think the age of the universe has zero to do with how our economy is going to grow. I’m not a scientist. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer a question like that.”
To any sensible person, this was a perfect response. Who could object?
Well, an editor for the New York Times—that flagship of faith and reason—judged Rubio’s response “ludicrous.” A writer at the liberal Slate, who no doubt Googled first, claimed authoritatively: “Our planet was formed 4.54 billion years ago. If Rubio suggested otherwise, it’s because he’s uninformed or stupid.”
Ah, yes. I’m sure everyone at Slate knows the Earth is 4.54 billion years old.
As for myself, if someone asked me that question out of the blue, I couldn’t answer. I’ve been a scientist, an agnostic/borderline atheist, and ultimately a Christian. I’ve taught Sunday School, lectured at colleges, collected data at top research labs, and everything in between. I’ve published in scientific and political journals. I know, as Marco Rubio does, that theologians dispute this.
In fact, anyone with a serious, sincere interest in this question knows this. But, of course, the question wasn’t asked to Rubio out of serious, sincere interest; it never is when posed to a Republican.
Marco Rubio needs to understand two things at play here: 1) these types of questions will only get worse as he continues to campaign for president; and 2) these are not earnest questions. No, these are political booby-traps set by political partisans who work as journalists. They are used to try to caricature conservatives as extremists.
I recall a painful example when George W. Bush first became Texas governor. Bush was known as a committed Christian who had a late-in-life conversion. For the secular liberal media, this meant that Bush was a “fundamentalist.” For liberal journalists, it also meant an opportunity.
And so, one journalist asked the governor if Jews get into heaven. Taken by complete surprise, Bush fumbled his answer. Afterward, he thought long and hard about it, and consulted Billy Graham. The next time Bush got the question he was ready. It was December 1999, when he was running for president, and when his opponent, Al Gore, wasn’t (of course) getting asked any such questions by the liberal media. Bush’s answer was a good one:
[I] understand that people communicate with God and reach God in different ways…. Obviously there’s the big issue between the Christian and the Jew, the Jewish person. And I am mindful of the rich traditions and history of the Jewish faith. And I am mindful of what Billy Graham one time told me: for me not to try to figure out—try to pick and choose who gets to go to heaven…. Billy Graham said, “Don’t play God.” I don’t get to determine who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. That’s not me. Governors don’t do that.
That’s a really good response: “Governors don’t do that.” They “don’t play God.” They don’t decide who goes to heaven.
Marco Rubio wasn’t asked that same question, at least not yet, but his answer might be the same: “Sorry, man, I’m not playing God.”
In fact, here’s a further response Rubio might consider more generally: “Look, let’s be honest: We both know what you’re trying to do. You’re trying to trip me up. I’m not a theologian. I’m not a minister. I don’t want to be one, and the American public doesn’t want me to be one. Let’s stick to issues that concern people. And one more thing: Are you asking these same questions to any Democrats? Are you?”
Rubio should say it calmly, gently, and with a smile—but emphatically. He is running for president, and not running for reverend. He wants to be President Rubio, not Reverend Rubio.
Unfortunately, for Rubio, like all conservative Republicans who seek the presidency, it will be open season on his beliefs. Republicans are badgered on their faith in ways that liberal Democrats plainly are not. For the media, it’s the same old double standard. I hope Marco Rubio refuses to tolerate it.
Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College, executive director of The Center for Vision & Values, and author of the book, “The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor.” His other books include "The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism" and "Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century."