Fresh from Tuesday night's Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee, Ben Carson addressed a fired-up crowd at Liberty University's weekly convocation ceremony Wednesday morning.
Carson, who currently ranks a close second behind GOP front-runner Donald Trump, urged the audience to seek unity in the face of cultural trends he warned could tear the nation apart.
After a week in which his personal history has come under intense scrutiny from the establishment media, the acclaimed brain surgeon got a rousing reception from his fellow believers at the Lynchburg, Virginia school.
Carson is the third presidential candidate to speak at the convocation, a spectacular weekly event at the college founded by the late Jerry Falwell.
Republican Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas launched his presidential campaign at Liberty in March. Independent Sen.
Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is seeking the Democratic nomination, addressed the Liberty
Convocation in September.
Liberty is in the running to host a GOP presidential debate in January.
Stressing his biography and his faith, and pointedly stating he is "not a politician," Carson called America "the land of dreams." He took aim at skeptics of American exceptionalism.
"There's no French dream," the former head of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins quipped. "There's no Canadian dream."
His own dream, Carson said, was to be a doctor. But he said he was a
"horrible student" and his friends nicknamed him
He credited his mother with encouraging his love of learning, and instilling in him a desire to excel.
At the center of that experience was his faith, which Carson said has become an issue on the campaign trail. A series of photos from Carson's home, highlighting his religious memorabilia, went viral last week, and several media outlets have called into question his stories of youthful misbehavior.
A Seventh Day Adventist, Carson said he "gets a lot of grief from people saying, 'How can you be a scientist and believe that God created the Earth?'"
"I don't criticize them" for challenging his beliefs, he told the audience, saying "what they believe requires more faith than what I believe."
Carson segued into pubic policy, quoting Thomas Jefferson on the "immorality" of government saddling future generations with debt.
"(Jefferson) would stroke out" if he saw the debt we were leaving behind, Carson said.
Taking a cue from Donald Trump, Carson warned that China is seeking to supplant the dollar and make the yuan the world's reserve currency.
Saying "fiscal responsibility is our duty," Carson blamed government for "doing silly things, like a kazillion regulations."
Carson, who had been a renowned physician and author, came to political prominence in 2013 when he sharply criticized the Affordable Care Act during a National Prayer Breakfast appearance with President Obama. In his presidential run he has continued to hit Obamacare's employer insurance mandate and other economically significant regulations.
The candidate took issue with the mainstream media as well, warning against
"unscrupulous politicians and news media," who lie to the public to
serve their own ends. "Off the people go, in completely the wrong direction."
A recent article in Politico challenged Carson's recollection of a meeting with the late General William Westmoreland and Carson's claim that the former commander of U.S. forces during the Vietnam War urged him to apply to West Point.
Carson fought back against the article, key details of which were later amended on Politico's website. He also turned the hostile press into a fundraising
opportunity and made it a feature of his speech.
Carson circled back to faith, linking it with his political appeal.
"This nation is an incredibly special place, because when you look at the Declaration of Independence, it talks about inalienable rights given to us by our creator," Carson said.
"We have so many people trying to
push God out of our lives, who take the word of God and try to negate it. If
you believe anything that's there, you're some kind of idiot."
Carson said the "nation's survival is rooted in our value system." The real question is,"Are we willing to stand up for those values and principles or will we be intimidated by the secular progressives?"
Asked what advice he had for Liberty students, Carson replied: "Proverbs 3: 5 and 6. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding."
"I have clung to that through all kinds of adversity," Carson said, "I cling to it now, when so many in the media want to bring me down because I represent something they can't stand."
Carson closed with an appeal for unity, and asked students to "Pray for the eyes of the nation to be opened."
Carson said there were forces at work in the culture intent on stirring up "a perception of a war on women," as well as wars based on race, income, religion and age. Carson believes these forces want to "keep people at each others throats.
"What's truly important is our unity," he said. "There is more that unites us than divides us."