Monday, August 30, 2010

Beck to God

"Something beyond imagination is happening, something that is beyond man is happening. America today is beginning to turn back to God." - Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck said some admirable, reasonable things on Saturday; things like "There is growing hatred in the country. We must be better than what we’ve allowed ourselves to become. We must get the poison of hatred out of us, no matter what smears or lies are thrown our way… we must look to God and look to love. We must defend those we disagree with." I can't find fault in that message, and I wouldn't try.

What I can find fault with, and do find fault with, is the essential emptiness behind those words. It is one thing to pray in public, to make a show of piety; it is another thing altogether to live by your words and demand of yourself real commitment to those words. Beck says that we "must look to love," and perhaps that is an admonishment directed as much at himself as anyone else. But I can't help hearing those words and then recalling these words:

“When I see a 9/11 victim family on television, or whatever, I’m just like, ‘Oh shut up’ I’m so sick of them because they’re always complaining.”

“The only [Katrina victims] we’re seeing on television are the scumbags.”

"The most used phrase in my administration if I were to be President would be ‘What the hell you mean we're out of missiles?’"

"I have been nervous about this interview with you because what I feel like saying is, 'Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies. ... And I know you're not. I'm not accusing you of being an enemy, but that's the way I feel, and I think a lot of Americans will feel that way." –interviewing Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim U.S. congressman

That's just the tip of the iceberg. Beck routinely, gleefully, grows the very hatred he decried on Saturday. He spreads the lies and the smears he preaches against. And he spends precious little time "defending those who disagree" with him. But given Beck's seeming recommitment to "turning toward God" and my own desire to live by the words I spout here, I thought this quote might be of interest to him and to those in his audience who confuse self-righteousness with righteousness:

"But when the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered themselves together. One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, 'Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?' And He said to him: ‘YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND. This is the first and greatest commandment, and the second is like it: ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. On these two commandments depend all of the Law and the Prophets.'” - Matthew 22:34-40

America cannot "turn back to God" until its citizenry embraces the spirit of this teaching. Jesus does not say "You shall love your CHRISTIAN neighbor as yourself." He does not say "You shall love your AFFLUENT neighbor as yourself." He does not say "You shall love your AMERICAN neighbor as yourself." He certainly does not say that "You shall love your CONSERVATIVE neighbor as yourself." And yet, for all of Beck's fine, carefully-scripted words to the contrary, that's the gospel he truly preaches. Beck preaches a gospel of intolerance, of fear and divisiveness and greed and devotion to country/politics/gold over God.

I would never be so bold or so blasphemous as to assume I know anything of God's "mind," but I do feel comfortable saying that people like Beck abuse the faith that people have in God for ends that are decidedly adverse to Christ's teaching.

"Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves." - Matthew 7:15


  1. Thanks for this Morse. You've hit the nail on the head. I only watched the last 15 minutes or so of the rally (and caught some short clips later). But I was really just struck by how much it seemed to be like a generic version of the kind of church revival service I grew up with.

    It seems like some are just assessing this event on its own wholesome merits, separated from all else he has done. But I think you're right to contrast Beck's lofty words on Saturday with so many of the opposing things he's said on radio and TV over the last few years. Also recall, didn't he, not too long ago, actually suggest that people should actually leave their churches if those churches preach "social justice?"

    None of it seems to quite jive or cohere into anything with meaning, unless you assume, as I have, that most everyone in attendance Saturday were like-minded social, political, and economic conservatives who all similarly heard what they wanted to hear from the vague message. But it's probably much easier to sound inclusive and talk about love and unity when surrounded by like-minded folks in a group rally self-identifying as "true Americans," than actually reach across aisles of difference in recognition of the larger "inescapable network of mutuality," of which MLK, Jr. himself wrote.

  2. I can't decide which I find more distressing, if Beck believes everything he says, day to day, even, as the Simpsons put it "the stuff that contradicts the other stuff," or whether he is a pure mercenary, out to line his own wallet and build his own power base of fame. Both are distressing in different ways, I guess. And maybe he is a little bit (or a lot) of both.

    The most upsetting thing of all is just how easily Beck in particular and Fox News in general are able to play upon emotions and so twist fact and opinion to support whatever concept they happen to be peddling.

    As usual, Morse, I know I can come here for quality TV analysis and just plain good sense in other matters. It's also so refreshing to be able to converse with a person whose spiritual beliefs (I suspect) differ a great deal from my own, but from whom I would never feel a hostility regarding that fact. You hit the nail on the head of one of the problems I have, not with the concept of faith, but with the attempt to organize it into RELIGION and to sustain such an organization. Too often I look around at some of these people and marvel at the fact that they claim to worship a pacifist who coined the phrase "turn the other cheek."

    Thanks for writing.

  3. Thanks for reading, Greg.

    I can't say that I'm "religious"; I don't attend Church regularly, I don't have a bone-deep certainty in any man's divinity, and I'm too suspicious of earthly institutions to put my full faith into any of them completely. I was raised as a Christian, and so that's what I'm familiar with and most easily identify with. I try, with varying degrees of success, to live my life by what I see as the universal teachings common to every religion. I fail regularly.

    That said, I believe in faith, and in the transformative power of faith. I admire, and am envious of, the sort of bedrock faith that drove people like King to fight for social justice (oooh - there's that word). I am fascinated by religion and I see a lot of powerfully positive aspects to its practice.

    It angers me to see people like Beck use it in what seems to me to be a craven and self-interested way.

    And thanks, Joshua. You're right - Beck did urge his viewers to leave their churches if those churches practiced "social justice." The below quote is speaking specifically to issues of wealth and "wealth redistribution," not social justice generally, but it's pretty apt:

    "Indeed, the supposed Christian revival of today has given something very like unlimited moral authority to money, though Jesus did say (and I think a literal interpretation is appropriate here if anywhere), "Woe unto you who are rich!" (Luke 6:24). If this seems radical, dangerous, unfair, un-American, then those who make such criticisms should at least have the candor to acknowledge that their quarrel is with Jesus."

  4. I have faith in science. The worst thing America could do is turn back to ancient dogma that has no place in the modern world. Religion is a bill of goods sold to the frightened masses by old men who crave power.

  5. I'm firmly pro-science, pro-using-your-intellect, and pro-progress, which is why sentiments like "Religion is a bill of goods sold to the frightened masses by old men who crave power" make me just as uneasy as statements like "Secular humanists are destroying America."

    Neither statement is true in the factual, logical, scientific sense. I respect your passion, anonymous, but it's a form of zealotry as monolithic as any Evangelicals. For every instance of control through religious manipulation I can and will offer you an instance of control through secular manipulation (see: Mao, Stalin), or of liberation from/resistence to injustice through the religious impulse (see: Gandhi, King, Bonhoeffer to name some of the obvious ones).

  6. thanks for this post -- well put. greg, i completely agree on the scariness factor -- i wouldn't touch beck with a 38 and a half foot pole.