Glenn Beck, Jim Wallis, Sally Quinn’s On Faith and social justice: a collective failure of imagination

By March 12, 2010

Look, in lots of ways, Glenn Beck is a loon. A loon poorly informed by history, at that. But plowing through the veritable scads of secondary material on my dissertation topic (Protestant fundamentalism) has driven one particular truth pretty well home to me: there’s nothing so destructive to a piece of academic writing as a slightly concealed sneer on an author’s face. Concluding that any particular individual or group is so hopelessly drenched in wingnuttery or disappointing political positions or slavish and bewildering adherence to the blindingly goofy that they are no longer worthy of intelligent analysis is to abdicate the responsibility to understand ourselves that the humanities as a discipline lays upon us. Heck, even for activists (as opposed to scholars), to malign and snarl and taunt the representatives of a cause one finds objectionable is to make the classic mistake of treating the symptom as the disease. Which is why I was not terribly impressed with Jim Wallis’s response to Glenn Beck’s by now blaringly well covered advice to Christians: that they should investigate their faith for the dread and dire words “social justice,” (aka, “Progressivism” (Beck’s definition); aka collectiivsm; aka fascism; aka hurting puppies) and if that mark of the beast should be located, flee for the hills.

Fair enough. It’s been amply demonstrated by now that Beck is largely ignorant of the deep, deep roots that the phrase “social justice” has in the soil of Christian theology. To cite merely one example: In 1891 the landmark papal encyclical Rerum Novarum argued the phrase demanded “some opportune remedy . . . for the misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class.” [1] But the Catholics did more than merely say it would be nice to relieve the squalor of the poor – they rooted the call to do so in a theology of natural rights; an anthropology which insisted that humanity’s true worth lay not in possessions and earthly success, but in moral virtue gained through the metaphysical encounter with Christ in his Atonement; and the conviction that humanity bound together by the mystical bonds of the Church was a single body rather than a collection of individuals. These ways of defining “social justice” are not historical or legal or economic but theological. They imagine human society as first the kingdom of God, and only secondarily a community based on democracy or capitalism or whatnot. And theology is not Glenn Beck’s native tongue.

To cite another: Martin Luther King, Jr, an underrated theologian, argues in his book Stride Toward Freedom that “no historian or sociologist could understand” the meetings that led to the Montgomery bus boycott. This was because, King argued, “history is guided by spirit, not matter.” The imperatives which guided the civil rights movement were to him not simply political; rather, the political manifestations of the Movement were the outworking of God’s grace in human history. The transformation of America from a segregated to a desegregated society was not a political activity but a religious one, and it happened not because of the political but the religious imagination of the African American community.[2]

Beck’s great failure, then, is his insistence on reading religion through the lens of his politics, or perhaps his confidence that the two are so perfectly blended that the seams are invisible and the language of one blends effortlessly into that of the other. This is the mark of a man too at ease in the world. His demand that Christians whose churches subscribe to “social justice” should abandon their denominations indicates that Glenn Beck’s cosmos seems entirely framed by his conspiratorial politics, and that he may, perhaps, have trouble thinking outside the box.

But this is the sort of gotcha that’s quite easy to play. One could, without much trouble, find Beck’s scarlet letters emblazoned on the dress of virtually every Christian denomination in America (including his own). And of course in a larger sense it’s generally easy to catch Beck dabbling in inconsistency, hyperbole, and all sorts of related fallacies. This is, though, where we come to the second failure of imagination.

Jim Wallis’s response to Beck consists, more or less, of ‘nuh-uh.’ And that’s a fatal slip. He insists that “social, economic, and racial justice are at the heart of the gospel,” which is nice, and may even be true. But that’s a thesis statement, not a conclusion, an argument, not evidence. This is, unfortunately, typical of Wallis, who frequently uses religious words like “Biblical” and “grace” while talking about contemporary politics. He argues quite frequently that Jesus commanded us to care for the poor, so if we are to be Christians, we must therefore pursue the planks of what appears to be a fairly typical Democratic political platform. Wallis favors penalizing big banks, promoting grassroots poverty relief programs, immigration reform to benefit poor immigrants, campaign finance laws and so on. This is fine, as far as it goes. But it does not actually go very far.

Wallis, and other advocates for something called the “religious left” seem to be trapped in much the same paradigm that Beck is – that is, they tend to use religious language within an already existing economic and political paradigm. Their religious imagination is structured by contemporary American politics; religion matters to them to the extent that it translates into political positions. This guy is not only a pretty good example of one who wields religious language as a weapon in ongoing partisan warfare; he cites a lone, paltry, out of context verse in Isaiah to justify his pro-choice policies – showing mad prooftexting skills that any fundamentalist would be proud of. The frequently vacuous Sally Quinn, and more, the entire Washington Post/Newsweek “On Faith” website which Quinn helps to edit, stand as a shining monument to this failure of imagination. “Religion” for whoever it is that maintains the front page of On Faith, is primarily “Whatever religious people are doing vis-a-vis the controversial political issue of the day.” “Religion” for Sally Quinn means “Whatever religious activity or language I can muster to lend gravitas and impressive-sounding Biblical language to my left-wing politics and vague and sentimental sense of cultural inclusivity.” Witness, for instance, her poorly-thought-out recommendation that the Obamas become Episcopalian in order to better promote Sally Quinn’s cultural politics.

This is catastrophically depressing. The savagely brilliant religious imaginations that Martin Luther King, or Walter Rauschenbusch, or Dorothy Day mobilized behind social reform worked because of their comprehensiveness. They began with a vision of the world in part inspired by but not bound to the contexts they found themselves in. And the social reforms they advocated for were not merely an end in themselves, or to satisfy our basic human impulse toward charity, or to pursue greater egalitarianism as a self-contained good. Rather, their calls for social reform were bound inexorably into the most basic and primal aims of Christianity – to, through the atoning acts of Christ, attain for humanity salvation. Their theologies of social transformation were based upon their imagination of the Kingdom of God. They were radical, then, in the best sense, not merely political. They knew that the world that Christ calls us to is not the world we live in; that the things Christ asks of us cannot be fully embodied in the tools of politics. One does not get that same sense of the incarnation of Christ in the politics of Jim Wallis. And that, because, like those of Beck, they are simply politics.

So, I feel an incessant, nagging suspicion that perhaps Beck’s salvo is a justified one. This is not to endorse his somewhat staggering ignorance, bluster, and paranoia; indeed, Beck suffers acutely from the same problem he diagnoses; he believes God is on his side rather than engaging in that constant struggle that should afflict every Christian – worrying that he is on God’s. It is, though, to point out that as in every age, idolatry may be the most pervasive sin of our own.

______________________
[1] Rerum Novarum, section 3.
[2] Martin Luther King, Stride toward Freedom: the Montgomery story (New York: Harper, 1958) 64, 92.

Article filed under Comparative Mormon Studies Current Events Intellectual History Popular Culture


Comments

  1. While I agree with your critque of Glen Beck. I am somewhat more positive towards Jim Wallis than you are.

    If you read Sojourner’s (the magazine founded by Wallis) ,or some of his books such as God’s Politics ,I think you will find that he is very much aware of the danger of the religous left making the same mistake as the religous right.

    The great error of the religous right (Glen Beck) is to babtize a economic and political philosophy of extreme free market capitalism as the only way Christians can approach social , economic and political issues.

    Wallis realizes it would be a mistake to do the same thing for the 2008 democratic party platform. He does see things like providing health care for the unisured as a moral issue. I do too and see it as a more important moral issue than supporting proposition 8. But that is a whole other argument.

    Wallis has said many times that God is neither a Republican or Democrat.

    In any case if Mosiah 4:16-19 isn’t a prophetic cry for social justice ,as much as anything Martin Luther King ever said I don’t know what is.

    Comment by john willis — March 12, 2010 @ 6:15 pm

  2. “Wallis has said many times that God is neither a Republican or Democrat.”

    Of course he’s not. He’s a tea-partyer. 🙂

    Comment by Jordan F. — March 12, 2010 @ 6:22 pm

  3. […] Matt B. on Glenn Beck’s comments on social justice and the responses. Well worth reading. […]

    Pingback by Beck and Social Justice : Mormon Metaphysics — March 12, 2010 @ 7:12 pm

  4. If Heavenly Father is a tea- partyer what is Heavenly Mother?

    Comment by john willis — March 12, 2010 @ 7:13 pm

  5. “…advocates for something called the ‘religious left’ seem to be trapped in much the same paradigm that Beck is – that is, they tend to use religious language within an already existing economic and political paradigm.”

    Great quote and very true. I think the religious issues are much more subtle (for Catholics, Protestants, and Mormons alike)

    Comment by Clark — March 12, 2010 @ 7:14 pm

  6. “If Heavenly Father is a tea- partyer what is Heavenly Mother?”

    The gender divide operates in heaven too–she is a very liberal democrat, and has voted for Nader a couple of times.

    Comment by DavidH — March 12, 2010 @ 7:24 pm

  7. Thank you for this very thought- and heart-provoking post.

    Comment by Ann — March 12, 2010 @ 7:48 pm

  8. Really interesting take, Matt. Thanks.

    Comment by WVS — March 12, 2010 @ 10:06 pm

  9. I feel your post is incomplete. How do you see Beck’s salvo as justified?

    Comment by Dan — March 12, 2010 @ 10:12 pm

  10. I agree with #9 — you had me until the last paragraph, but I lost the thread when you felt your nagging suspicion that his salvo is justified. Why?

    Comment by Paul — March 12, 2010 @ 10:34 pm

  11. 9, 10 – Less his conclusions than his premises, guys. Mostly, what I’m left wanting from the religious left is the sense that they conceive of the church (in the broad sense) to be something metaphysically more than, say, the Red Cross. And to #1, I’ve read God’s Politics, and I have the same problem with it. I like how Wallis reads the Bible; I appreciate, actually, that he resists the label “religious left,” and the prophetic notion of Christianity that he discusses is a powerful one. But I find his theology to be piecemeal, dealing with particular policies case by case rather than systematic and comprehensive. And that means that it’s easy – sometimes fatally easy – to slip from a theological to a political understanding of the world.

    Comment by matt b. — March 13, 2010 @ 12:06 am

  12. Brilliant nuanced piece again, Matt. This is must-read for considering this latest controversy. However, it seems to me that the salvo is only justified coming from someone, like you say, with the religious imagination to make the statement. Because of this glaring lack of imagination in Beck (religious as well as intellectual) his statement was not connected, as you suggest, to the more comprehensive vision of the Kingdom of God in which such statements (religiously) have sense and more importantly from where they attain their real power. Instead he was just shouting his own subversive politics and exploiting religion (including his own) in order to do so. Stream of consciousness discourse might work for some pundits; for Beck, he simply manages to conistently choke on his own foot.

    Comment by Jacob B. — March 13, 2010 @ 12:11 am

  13. Ha, Jacob. I find it entirely plausible that Beck’s cogency in this particular matter was thoroughly unintentional.

    Comment by matt b. — March 13, 2010 @ 12:19 am

  14. BWIII’s take on this

    http://blog.beliefnet.com/bibleandculture/2010/03/not-at-your-beck-and-call—a-reply-to-glenn-beck.html

    Comment by J. Madson — March 13, 2010 @ 10:59 am

  15. Matt,

    Mostly, what I’m left wanting from the religious left is the sense that they conceive of the church (in the broad sense) to be something metaphysically more than, say, the Red Cross.

    What evidence do you have that they don’t conceive church/religion more than just a humanitarian organization?

    Comment by Dan — March 13, 2010 @ 1:06 pm

  16. Dan, I have discussed Wallis’s book and several essays that he and Quinn have produced already. I feel like I’d be repeating myself at this point, and, honestly, have no interest in getting involved in a debate with you. Thanks for stopping by, though.

    Comment by matt b. — March 13, 2010 @ 1:36 pm

  17. Fair enough. I don’t know who Wallis is and I don’t think Quinn represents leftist religions. Unless Glenn Beck represents conservative religions. Then Quinn certainly represents leftist religions.

    I’m just befuddled why anyone would think Glenn Beck actually has a logical point.

    Comment by Dan — March 13, 2010 @ 1:42 pm

  18. Thinking of religions as ‘leftist’ or ‘conservative’ is sort of the problem, actually. My argument is that defining religion in terms of political orientation is always already a mistake, and while Beck certainly does this, some of his interlocutors have slipped into the same trap.

    Comment by matt b. — March 14, 2010 @ 1:24 am

  19. Since Glenn Beck is a highly-paid member of the FOX “fair and balanced” team, anything he says about anything is suspect. The weirder he is, the more outrageous he is, the more it fattens his wallet. I seriously wonder if the guy is a “converted” member of the church at all or simply using all the weirdness of the Cleon Skousen wing of the church for his own monetary advantage. I personally think we will all — conservatives and others alike — will rue the day he became a member.

    Comment by Aaron — March 14, 2010 @ 10:41 am

  20. Matt B. – Very good piece on the whole. I would suggest, however, that you look more into the work that Beck is doing with progressivism before rounding off your argument.

    You correctly assert that Beck’s primary language is that of politics (particularly values-based politics), and not of theology. However, Beck’s premise is that “social justice” in our modern context is almost solely being used as a political tool, not as a theological one, in order to further an explicitly progressive political agenda – as you aptly pointed out that Wallis is doing.

    Beck’s concern is more likely for the origins of modern social justice positions. Wallis, for example, left the church as a youth and worked in socialist and left-leaning political organizations during the 1960s and 1970s. Beck argues that this political background steeped Wallis in ideas not originally of the Christian tradition, making Wallis little more than a practitioner of liberal Christian apologetics and justifying certain policy stances using religious language. THIS is what Beck is concerned about, and he identifies it as a “perversion of the gospel.” For this reason, he would also likely critique Dorothy Day as having spent too little time grounded in the Christian tradition while working for the socialist newsletter The Call and other activist groups during the late 1910s and early 1920s.

    I would also suggest that while he is concerned with “social justice” Beck is not entirely absent of the Christian tradition of reform. He has quoted and analyzed Dr. King on a number of occasions in his radio and television work. Both his and King’s stories link to concerns about oppression by expansive government. King was working to end the oppression of blacks and minorities by government, and to assure that their liberties were guaranteed. Beck, by commenting on the potential for oppression by an expanding progressive government, does not ignore King but rather views him as an ally in securing liberty.

    Comment by David — March 14, 2010 @ 7:17 pm

  21. David,

    However, Beck’s premise is that “social justice” in our modern context is almost solely being used as a political tool, not as a theological one, in order to further an explicitly progressive political agenda – as you aptly pointed out that Wallis is doing.

    Or is the progressive political agenda better apt to apply the principles of the Gospel in the lives of every day people? You start your critique of “leftists” with the same premise, that principles of the gospel cannot somehow equal “progressive political agenda.” Cannot the same critique that you place upon people like Dorothy Day be made of people like Cleon Skousen (who spent far too much time with demagogic radicals at the John Birch Society)? Does not someone like Skousen use religion for conservative political agenda? Does not someone like Beck do the same? Who is Beck to claim what is a “perversion of the Gospel?” I’d be just as right as he is to claim HE is a perversion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

    Comment by Dan — March 14, 2010 @ 8:57 pm

  22. I don’t know enough about Beck to say much, but wasn’t he raised Catholic? While it’s obviously easy to be a member of any religious group and be surprisingly ignorant of that community it does seem odd Beck is so ignorant of this common Catholic term.

    Comment by Clark — March 14, 2010 @ 10:04 pm

  23. Thanks for the thoughtful post, Matt. I like how you’ve approached this and think you make some valid critiques of all parties.

    I don’t know enough about Beck to say much, but wasn’t he raised Catholic?

    That’s correct, Clark.

    Comment by Christopher — March 14, 2010 @ 10:22 pm

  24. David – You misunderstand King in precisely the same way I point out Beck doing in my post; reading what he understood to be a religious movement as a political one. It’s hard to engage with any of his work in depth and not recognize that King understands politics to be at best a reflection of the state of the nation’s soul; he’s only incidentally – if even that – concerned with anything so petty as the size of government. When he talks about what he wants the civil rights movement to accomplish, it’s in the language of conversion and repentance and atonement. Reading him to be primarily an advocate of small government is to grossly misunderstand him.

    I would say the same about Dorothy Day. Arguing that association with ‘socialism’ automatically dequalifies her from serious grounding in the Christian tradition is to put a political litmus test on what religion really is, and that’s as shallow an argument as anything Sally Quinn has written. It overlooks that religion’s claims ultimately transcend any immediate and particular political and economic situation, and tries instead to cram it into the box of a particular ideology.

    Finally, I think there’s actually a great deal interesting and profound in liberal Christian theology, even though it sometimes fatally tends to dissolution. It’s not an automatic epithet to me, as it seems to be to you.

    Comment by matt b. — March 15, 2010 @ 1:36 am

  25. Matt B, Dan – Please note that I was trying to word my piece in terms of “Beck thinks” wherever possible – I’ve read several of Kings letters and am aware of his emphasis on the moral state of the country.

    Again, though, Beck does focus on that element of values and morality as well. His CPAC speech included serious elements of that theme, specifically on repenting and beginning the work of reviving the moral and spiritual nature of the country. (His view of what that is/was, mind you.)

    For Beck, the size of government is a moral issue. He is in no way opposed to having government enabled to do that which it is required to do, but he seriously questions whenever someone calls for government to expand to fill a new social or economic role. When he sees an individual like Wallis, who has been quoted as saying that the Bible calls for a large central government, extensive economic regulation, and aggressive banking regulations, he will respond very strongly in opposition.

    “Social justice is code language. Code language for big government… If your church is preaching social and economic justice you better do some digging and find out exactly what that means. Because if that means big government, (that) you need to support big government programs, (then) you don’t have a church… Now if your church is talking about social justice in a way that you empower yourself to go help the poor, well then that is exactly what Jesus… would like you to do.”
    – Glenn Beck, March 12 radio program.

    Comment by David — March 15, 2010 @ 9:58 am

  26. David,

    Glenn Beck is too full of contradictions for any logical retort. You state that Beck’s rant against “social justice” has something to do with “big government.” Yet from that same CPAC he says this:

    Because of Ronald Reagan, my grandfather, my father, I have hope for America. I remember when Ronald Reagan talked about morning in America.

    He sings praises to Ronald Reagan. Ronald Reagan who massively expanded the large central government, who secretly sold weapons to our enemies, who raised taxes, who passed immigration reform, and who tripled our national debt. For Beck, it is not the size of the government that is the moral issue. Glenn Beck was FOR the TARP before he was against it. No, big government is not the problem in Beck’s view. It is who runs it.

    What Glenn Beck is attempting to do is turn “social justice” into an evil phrase. He’s trying to turn the word “progressive” into an evil phrase. At that same CPAC speech, he called progressivism a cancer (someone should probably remind Glenn Beck he believes in eternal progression). He’s trying to turn anything he does not agree with “evil.” This sort of demagoguery degrades rational discussion and debate. It’s the only reason I even commented on here, because I was (and still am) curious why Matt could even think Beck’s salvo has any justification. Why do you defend Beck, David? What do you get out of defending this man? His words are designed to rip this nation apart. He is, for lack of a better word, evil.

    Comment by Dan — March 15, 2010 @ 1:02 pm

  27. Guys, let’s not turn this into a flame war about Glenn Beck, thanks. Dan, if you’re still curious why I can find anything interesting or thought-provoking, or heaven forbid something that makes a good point in Beck, read my first paragraph again; David, the problem there is that Beck presupposes that big government is in all cases negative, which is an assumption grounded in his politics.

    Comment by matt b. — March 15, 2010 @ 2:25 pm

  28. Matt,

    Right, your first paragraph was just fine. That’s why your comment in your very last paragraph threw me for a loop. I still don’t understand how Beck’s salvo is in any way justified. It’s okay though. I’ve belabored the point enough. Your overall thoughts are excellent.

    Comment by Dan — March 15, 2010 @ 2:30 pm

  29. Dan –

    Nice work, what with the flaming and all. Don’t worry, I won’t post again. Enjoy the kool-aid.

    Matt B. –

    Sorry for causing trouble. I was just trying to approach your piece from the opposite direction; I didn’t know I would strike such a nerve.

    Hopefully the quote I found suggests that Beck does understand the moral tradition of social reform, but distrusts when the government is the one empowered to do the reforming. His political leanings make him wary of particular approaches to social justice, mainly those involving government intervention or expansion, but not all forms.

    Comment by David — March 15, 2010 @ 5:08 pm

  30. David, I appreciated your comments here. Thanks.

    This was a great post. Dan’s reaction to Glenn Beck sort of reinforced the point. He sees Glenn Beck as morally “evil” (comment #27) because of his political views. Letting your own political views define your view of morality seems to be part of the issue Matt was addressing.

    The quote from Beck that David shared in #25 is key. Beck isn’t afraid of social justice as Matt and many others understand the term. He’s just observed that those who use the term most frequently are arguing that it should be achieved via more government coercion than he thinks is moral.

    Comment by Bradley Ross — March 15, 2010 @ 10:49 pm

  31. Check out the Jim Wallis entry on Keywiki.org before you decide whether or not GB is right.

    Comment by Junipergirl — March 16, 2010 @ 1:17 am

  32. Oh-and when one finally wraps one’s head around what Jim Wallis and his fellows are doing, by infiltrating and operating under the banner of Christianity-the references to ravening wolves pretending to be sheep bring a chilling truth to light.

    Comment by Junipergirl — March 16, 2010 @ 1:25 am

  33. Bradley,

    He sees Glenn Beck as morally “evil” (comment #27) because of his political views.

    You misunderstand. I don’t see him as morally evil because of his political views but rather by how he demagogues. I feel that his style, his affronts will rip this nation apart. I’m a moderate and have supported Republicans in the past (George H W Bush for example). But when someone calls beliefs that I admire a “cancer” I tend to not want to associate with that person, and see that person no different than a Bin Laden. In the case of Bin Laden, he uses violence to get his way. In the case of Beck, he uses hateful language. The point is the same. Either Beck’s way or you are communist/fascist/Maoist/Stalinist/(insert your own other bad guy here).

    Comment by Dan — March 16, 2010 @ 6:17 am

  34. I should add, Bradley, as a counter. I don’t see Beck evil because of his political views, but he certainly sees me as evil because of my political views. Once again, those on the right attack those on the left for things which they themselves do.

    Comment by Dan — March 16, 2010 @ 6:20 am

  35. Oooh. They are “infiltrating” Christianity! Maybe this can be the next Dan Brown novel. The story of the evil conspiracy to destroy Christianity with social justice. You thought Opus Dei was bad, wait until you here the sordid truth about the Sojourners.

    Sigh.

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — March 16, 2010 @ 7:03 am

  36. I shake my head in awe at such profound theories about Glenn Beck’s philosophy and theology, and the comparisons/contrasts with Martin Luther King. And all this time I thought he was just an everyday guy, motivated primarily by his paycheck. His multi-million dollar paycheck.

    Comment by jim c — March 16, 2010 @ 9:10 am

  37. Why do I read these blogs? I can’t understand how most of you can think and write the things you do. Are you just politically left of center? I don’t understand how Mormons can be liberal anyway, not in the definition of liberal we use today, the progressive liberal. Glenn Beck is appreciated by most of the LDS friends that I associate with.. he’s a daily staple for LDS and most others, as well, and that’s why FOX burns up the airwaves every hour, every day, leaving the other cable stations to only wish. I’m conservative in every way, so you can now understand how all this conversation on many of these LDS blogs just seems and sounds crazy to me. Take a few hours and watch Beck, listen to him.. he’s genuine, I know he’s the real deal.

    Comment by Marsha — March 16, 2010 @ 8:07 pm

  38. Marsha,

    I have no doubt that Beck is genuine or even the real deal (though I have no idea what it means to be the real deal). He doesn’t embarrass me, largely because his political views are what I expect of most other members of the church. I am okay with people having different political views. No, I am not left of center, I am a leftist. I hope this is okay with you.

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — March 16, 2010 @ 9:08 pm

  39. Marsha, did you even bother reading the post? If so, do you have anything to say in response to it?

    Comment by Christopher — March 16, 2010 @ 10:20 pm

  40. I have to admit that I skimmed thru the post, but then reskimmed now and get a better view of what you’re saying.. I always feel I have to defend Beck, and others who I define as “on my side”.. and assume that means they’re on the Lord’s side, because I am. The times we live in seem to dictate that we have to fight for what our founding fathers’ have given us in the beginning, so when its threatened, I get in action mode. You have to admit there’s a lot of criticism of Beck on the blogs on this site, so I wasn’t fair with you in lumping you in with all the negatives. Of course “social justice” in the true sense would fit in nicely with the Gospel, and there would be a “do unto others” motive in our system, but the phony “social justice” expressed by the far left is a way to critique conservatives as the bad guys. I really believe that every time we take away from free choice, then we become more like what Satan offered us, and continues to offer us. Satan now being the big government machine that becomes more and more controlling in every aspect of our lives. I see Beck as trying so hard to get many of us motivated to bring God and our country back together. He’s working so hard, and when I said he’s the real deal, I just meant that he is filled with righteous intentions and boundless energy. The majority of Mormons are conservative and I’m hoping Beck’s teaching any who will listen, LDS included, what the values are that we need, to move forward as a nation. I’m a convert from the East, so forgive me for my naivety regarding the LDS community in general.

    Comment by Marsha — March 17, 2010 @ 7:20 am

  41. I always feel I have to defend Beck, and others who I define as “on my side”.. and assume that means they’re on the Lord’s side, because I am.

    You may want to rethink that approach and how you define others.

    Satan now being the big government machine that becomes more and more controlling in every aspect of our lives.

    Go read the post one more time, and give this some more thought.

    The majority of Mormons are conservative

    No. The majority of Mormons in the U.S. are conservative. Latter-day Saints in Europe, Latin America, and elsewhere think the conservative bent of those American Mormons is just as wacky as you see those on the left.

    My own feelings on the matter is that one’s political leanings have little general correspondence with one’s faithfulness or righteousness as a Latter-day Saint.

    Comment by Christopher — March 17, 2010 @ 7:41 am

  42. Big government=Satan

    WTF?!?!

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — March 17, 2010 @ 8:44 am

  43. Dan (#33) said, “I don’t see him as morally evil because of his political views but rather by how he demagogues.”

    This is a fair defense. The test we should hold forth–one way to see if our political lens is unduly affecting our sense of good and evil–would be to look at similar behaviors and attitudes born by those with whom we politically agree.

    Do you think Paul Krugman, Michael Moore, Keith Olberman, etc., are evil when they demagogue?

    To put this in the language of the original post, “Beck’s great failure, then, is his insistence on reading religion [or we might say his understanding of good and evil] through the lens of his politics…”

    Comment by Bradley Ross — March 17, 2010 @ 9:58 am

  44. Bradley,

    I don’t think Paul Krugman demagogues, but definitely Michael Moore and Keith Olberman do. And it get grating.

    Comment by Dan — March 17, 2010 @ 4:19 pm

  45. Since when is “demagogue” a verb? Arrrgggghhh!!

    Maybe we can stop teaching and start pedagogue-ing instead.

    Comment by Mark B. — March 17, 2010 @ 4:40 pm

  46. Mark,

    Look it up. It is indeed a verb.

    Comment by Dan — March 17, 2010 @ 8:34 pm

  47. What Glenn Beck will not tell us, possibly because he does not know, is that it was social injustice that led to communism. When you are beaten down, oppressed, exploited and to a degree disenfranchised, you will reach for almost anything. Communism happened to be a life raft with giant holes in it, but to people who were on the verge of drowning at the time, it looked deceptively good. If we were better an ensuring social justice for all, there wouldn’t be cruel isms waiting out there to ensnare us. I learned that, btw, in my High Priest Quorum. I consider it one of our better lessons.

    Comment by John — March 18, 2010 @ 8:25 am

  48. Glenn Beck is, so far, my most favoritest practitioner of priestcraft. Out there, preachin’ for gain like there’s no tomorrow.

    Comment by Mark N. — March 19, 2010 @ 8:05 pm

  49. David – I agree with everything you’ve said

    Dan – You seem to be one who believes what he believes and is not open to the opinions or ideas of the “other side” which is a shame.

    Matt – For the most part, your post is the most fair I’ve read with Glenn Beck as a subject. I must say your first line almost had me hitting the back button on windows explorer. Beck is no more a loon to the right as Olbermann and Maddow are to the left.

    To various posters –
    Mosts blogs and comments regarding Glenn Beck paint him as a loon, wingnut, idiot etc. Many on the left say he has history all wrong. But no one specifically points out where he is wrong or to sources to back up their point of view. Would love to see someone do this.

    Although I cannot listen to Beck on the radio, I do watch him most evenings. I rarely hear him discussing religion other than in terms of the founding fathers and founding documents. While he can be over the top at times, he makes many very good points. He expects our leaders to be honest, ethical, and to stick to the words of The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and to the stucture of government set up in those documents. He believes the phrase “those who fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them”, as do I.

    He points out that our rights come from the creator (natural law). Rights aren’t something that can or should be created by man. As soon as we allow government to determine and issue a right, we also give government the power to remove such right. We are told now that health insurance is a right, it’s the moral thing to do. What happens when there is a shortage of funding for this man created, government provided right? Look at our public school system. Districts are closing schools down, cutting their school week to 4 days, and teachers are being layed off. If this happens to a “health insurance right” issued by government, how will they handle it? Will they raise taxes even more on an already recessed economy, will they begin to form waiting lists and ration care to cut expenses?

    Social Justice through the government will lead to a socialist country. There have been many socialist countries over time. People should really look at all of them, not just the handful that seem to be doing ok at the time.

    Comment by Sandra — March 24, 2010 @ 3:29 am

  50. Sandra,

    Many on the left say he has history all wrong. But no one specifically points out where he is wrong or to sources to back up their point of view. Would love to see someone do this.

    Let me give you a very recent example. He has a picture up of Pelosi and other House Democrats marching hand in hand in the same vein as the Civil Rights protesters. He chides them for daring to equate with Civil Rights protesters. Only problem is that in that picture was John Lewis, a Democratic Congressman, and a famous Civil Rights activist. Yes, he has the right to march again in the vein of the Civil Rights activists because he was one. Beck’s anger is misplaced due mostly to his ignorance of history.

    Comment by Dan — March 24, 2010 @ 11:05 pm

  51. Part of Beck’s problem is the medium he uses to disseminate. It allows for so much imprecision.

    I enjoyed your take, matt, and understood your conclusion not as an apologetic for Beck, but as a way to underscore his inadvertent accuracy and hypocrisy. But in a nice way.

    It was interesting to see comments like this:

    .. I always feel I have to defend Beck, and others who I define as “on my side”.. and assume that means they’re on the Lord’s side, because I am.

    Which tend to perfectly exhibit what matt described so vividly:

    Beck suffers acutely from the same problem he diagnoses; he believes God is on his side rather than engaging in that constant struggle that should afflict every Christian – worrying that he is on God’s.

    Comment by BHodges — March 25, 2010 @ 5:18 pm

  52. Sandra,

    Rights are directly connected to the existence of the state. While we may naturally have rights to life and liberty, such rights are meaningless and cannot be enjoyed without a legitimate government based upon a social contract.

    The Bill of Rights creates specific rights as a result of a belief in life and liberty.

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — March 25, 2010 @ 9:26 pm

  53. “Social Justice through the government will lead to a socialist country”

    Dang straight.

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — March 25, 2010 @ 9:43 pm

  54. “People should really look at all of them, not just the handful that seem to be doing ok at the time.”

    Exactly, the people on this blog are just so ignorant about history. They should really read Glenn Beck. 🙂

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — March 25, 2010 @ 9:45 pm

  55. Chris is right, of course. He knows a lot more about rights theories than I do, but I recently heard a Native American activist who has been very involved in the debates and discussions dealing with the adoption of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples put it this way: States can’t give us rights, we already have them. States can only recognize or refuse to recognize those rights.

    Comment by David G. — March 25, 2010 @ 9:55 pm

  56. True, I actually think that we have autonomy as a result of being human. Rights are in many way the political recognition of that autonomy. Both our positive and negative rights should be a recognition of our need for autonomy and our intrinsic human dignity.

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — March 25, 2010 @ 10:31 pm

  57. To have rights does us little good if we are not living a place that recognizes and protects those rights.

    I am not sure that it really matters whether we think these rights come from the political cooperation or from God. Mutual respect for each other as equal citizens is the most important thing.

    Comment by Chris Henrichsen — March 25, 2010 @ 10:35 pm

  58. Dan –

    I respectfully disagree, in no way was Beck saying John Lewis had nothing to do with, or was not a Civil Rights activist. He did not go into an in depth review of Civil Rights. What he was referring to is the fact that Pelosi, along with Lewis and several other Democrats, are trying to equate this new health reform to the fight for Civil Rights. (In my opinion, Pelosi’s health reform walk through the protesters was no more than a screw you, you don’t scare us, and we don’t care what you think.)

    Compare the two:

    Health Insurance Reform – All Americans (and illegal immigrants) have access to healthcare through emergency rooms. It is illegal for an emergency room or hospital to deny treatment to anyone because of race, religion, or ability to pay. Is this expensive? You bet it is, however the treatment is available. What this law is “supposed” to do is lower the cost of insurance so more people can afford it and mandates that all Americans have insurance. The goal is to get everyone covered so that less people are skipping out on bills and filing bankruptcy resulting in lower costs.

    Civil Rights – African-Americans were beaten and killed fighting for equal rights. They wanted the same rights as whites to sit at the same counters, eat in the same restaurants, drink out of the same water fountains, use the same restrooms etc. etc. One picture that Beck displayed was of African-Americans sitting at a counter in a diner, of which he spoke of the courage they had to have to sit there and not move. They knew they could be beaten or killed for this.

    How can a person compare these two events? When someone can show me, in the history of health insurance reform, where people were shot, lynched, beaten, killed, and had their homes and churches set on fire in the fight for more affordable insurance….I will then be able to compare the two events.

    Now you may not agree with me or Beck on this, but you have not shown historical innaccuracy on Beck’s part.

    I would like to add, it is refreshing to have an exchange of opinion without the name calling and mud-slinging found in most comments sections.

    Comment by Sandra — March 25, 2010 @ 11:55 pm

  59. Chris –

    The social contract that our government has with us is to protect our rights. There is a fine line between protecting rights and infringing on rights. The bigger a government gets the higher the chance is that it will cross that line.

    Comment by Sandra — March 26, 2010 @ 3:20 am

  60. Sandra,

    I think you just distorted a distortion. I think you are right that connoting the urgency and necessity of the Civil Rights Movement with the health care debate might be a little bit of a stretch–though people of color are by far the people that suffer the most from a lack of quality health coverage in this country. Yes, everyone has access to medical care in the emergency room, but that doesn’t do anything for the woman who might have been diagnosed with breast cancer much earlier if she had health insurance. People only go to the emergency room when health problems have become so bad they cannot cope with them anymore. That is bad health practice. Health insurance is a class equality issue of major importance.

    Beck only uses the history that benefits his own point of view. For example, he uses Thomas Paine’s clarion call to use common sense, but ignores completely the fact that he was one of the most radical men of his age–if not an outright atheist than a Deist.

    Part of the problem is that greed infringes on people’s rights more than anything the government could possibly do.

    Comment by Joel — March 26, 2010 @ 7:46 am

  61. Joel

    I don’t believe I have distorted anything. What I meant to show, and I think I did, that Beck was not displaying misplaced anger do to an ignorance of history. Dan’s above comment (#50) insinuates that Beck is wrong historically. It is historically correct that Congressman Lewis is a famous Civil Rights activist, but does that mean we can equate Civil Rights and health insurance reform on the basis that Lewis was a famous Civil Rights activist? I believe you agree with me on this point.

    I think you are right that connoting the urgency and necessity of the Civil Rights Movement with the health care debate might be a little bit of a stretch

    Comment by Sandra — March 27, 2010 @ 12:05 am

  62. Joel,

    though people of color are by far the people that suffer the most from a lack of quality health coverage in this country.

    This happens quite often. If you look at the percentage of uninsured African-Americans 19.1% compared to whites at 10.8%, it would seem as if there many more African-Americans without insurance. But, if you look at the actual numbers, African-Americans have 7.3 million uninsured compared to whites with 21.3 million uninsured. (source: census.gov) When you compare the actual numbers of people, would you still agree that “people of color are by far the people that suffer the most”?

    The problem with this is more attention and resources tend to head in the direction of the larger percentage. This happens also when you look at poverty in the inner cities compared to someplace like Appalachia. The inner city youth tend to get the majority of the attention and resources, while many haven’t even heard of Appalachia or the poverty there.

    Comment by Sandra — March 27, 2010 @ 12:22 am

  63. Beck has repeatedly said that Paine was a radica and an atheist. He does use history that fits with the theme of his show. He is trying to show where history repeats itself. He has only an hour and has to limit himself to what pertains to his discussion for that day.

    Comment by Sandra — March 27, 2010 @ 12:24 am

  64. Part of the problem is that greed infringes on people’s rights more than anything the government could possibly do.

    Government itself is filled with greed, but it also has power. Greed combined with power is very dangerous.

    Comment by Sandra — March 27, 2010 @ 12:25 am

  65. Sandra,

    Thank you for the clarifications. I think we both agree that the comparison is a little of a stretch, but I would say that Lewis is probably involved for the same reason in the health care debate as he was in the Civil Rights Era–he cares about his people. I do think that the fact that African Americans are doubly more likely not to be insured IS an EQUALITY issue, but will concede that much of the problem has to do with class as well. My point about greed is that there needs to be something to try and temper this horrible force in society and aside from true religion, I don’t think there is any other entity capable of doing it besides the government. I worry much more about greedy businessmen than I do about greedy politicians because greedy business interests are the ones that most influence the political process in a self-interested way. One thing that bothers me about conservative rhetoric in general is that it anthropomorphizes government as an almost soulless vampire. Government is made up of people that make choices. Some of them might be greedy and power hungry, but some of them are just trying to help and serve people the best that they know how. I get a distinct feeling that this is Obama’s position–agree with him or not. Government in itself isn’t bad, bad government is bad. But bad government doesn’t always necessarily equal government policies that an individual disagrees with.

    Comment by Joel — March 27, 2010 @ 4:08 am

  66. I am a Norwegian convert to the Church. I lived in Utah for 14 years; I am now retired in Norway.

    Politics is interesting. The two ideals of personal freedom and social justice may be hard to reconcile. One problem is “to ‘take’ from the rich and distribute to the poor” juxtaposed with The Ayn Rand/John Birch/Cleon Skousen/Glenn Beck ideas.

    In Norway we have a great example of social justice. When oil was discovered on the continental shelf, the Norwegian Labor Party (in power at the time) decided that the potential oil riches were for everyone. In order to “force” Big Oil to accept 78% tax, Norway founded a 67% government owned oil company; Statoil.

    The oil wealth has not been squandered, it is invested in order to support future generations. “The Government Pension Fund of Norway” is forecasted to reach 500 billion USD at the end of 2010, and 800 billion USD at the end of 2014. (We are 4.7 million Norwegians.)

    Wealth comes from natural resources or human inventiveness. Why not apply a more laissez-faire attitude towards innovations, and apply social justice (yes; even socialism) towards what nature provides?

    Couldn’t we debate that in a civil manner?

    The Scylla and Charybdis polarization benefits only “he who wants contention”, and methinks we need The Spirit.

    Comment by Marlow Einelund — March 27, 2010 @ 10:40 am

  67. Did you hear it? Elder Christofferson said “Social Justice” in his talk, in a positive light. Was this an indirect rebuke of Beck?

    Comment by Bret — April 3, 2010 @ 4:14 pm

  68. Here’s the quote at BCC. I doubt any Beck fans would take it as a dig at Beck.

    Comment by Jared T — April 3, 2010 @ 5:08 pm


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