Monday, August 30, 2010

Glenn Beck: Did the Holy Spirit speak?

If the Holy Spirit spoke through Glenn Beck, or through any part of his "Restoring Honor" event, I didn't hear the words. Or the tune. Maybe others did.

They certainly heard something about America's "divine destiny". (The Friday night preliminary event to the Saturday main event originally went by the name of "Glenn Beck's Divine Destiny". Just in time to avoid more massive reporting of "messianic megalomania" they prudently changed it to "America's Divine Destiny" on the flyers that were distributed Friday morning.)

What I heard on C-Span on Saturday was a smooth blend of praising God, praising the military, and praising the greatness of America, along with some appropriately sober recognition of the scars from the things that America has done wrong in the past, along with a determination to focus on what we've done that's good and what new good things we must do in order to Restore Honor and save our country -- and save the world, too. A modest agenda.

The seeming balance between America's good and bad points sounded good -- but it was limited, if I remember correctly, to our past racial wrongs. There was no mention of unjust wars, for instance, or of economic exploitation. Anything like MLK Jr.'s attack on the Vietnam War in 1967, with its criticism of his government's role as "the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today", or the emphasis on poverty in his speech 47 years ago at the Lincoln Memorial would have been totally out of place.

Instead, Saturday's event struck me as a remarkable expression of Civil Religion at its worst. The accepted battle cry of ordinary civil religion is "God and Country", even though the most enthusiastic of patriots might get carried away and, in effect, put Country first. Operation Restoring Honor, however, while talking much of God, unabashedly idolized an idealized, even though slightly scarred, America.

After the other speakers were finished, and right before Beck started to speak, a video played on large screens. The script deserves careful reading -- I think it's a clear statement of the themes that Beck hopes will sustain his attempt to establish himself as a religious as well as a political leader of a combined Religious Right and Tea Party movement.

I think I've transcribed this accurately from my TiVo. Read it and analyze. A piano plays a soft and ruminative piece throughout. Appropriate pictures are shown. The male speaker has a well-modulated and inspirational tone.

"Every great achievement in human history has started with one person, one crazy idea, motivated by one clear message -- [a pause while the words "Invent", "Create", "March", and "Dream" successively appear on the screen] -- people unafraid to march boldly into the unknown, the unthinkable.

"Man has always searched for a better way -- grander expression, lasting peace, unlimited prosperity. When confronted by the oppression of fear [video of young black man and white cop] and conventional wisdom [video of Rosa Parks on the bus], the bravest always chart a new course [video of Columbus] to a new world, a new world founded on faith by a people who believed not only in themselves but knew without a shadow of a doubt there was a power greater than man [video of a manuscript with the word "God"] guiding them, providing for them.

"From these brave men and women grew a generation unlike any the word had ever seen. Some stood for faith, some for liberty, others for justice, honor, and family -- the American Experiment -- many guided by their own reason, standing tall against seemingly insurmountable odds, pledging their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor [video of the signatures on the Declaration of Independence] so others, generations, would have a chance for life, liberty, and happiness.

"Throughout history, Americans have changed the world through a steadfast belief that in this great country anything can happen [video of astronauts on the moon], anything is possible, through failures and success, sacrifice and courage. We have stood on the edge [video of Washington crossing the Delaware] and dared to dream, to move forward into the unknown.

"Millions have come from all over the world to join us, risking all to become part of that uniquely American experience. They believe America is mankind's last great hope, something many of us have forgotten.

"When the world has lost its faith, when hope is gone, when it pleads for charity, America answers the call. We always have.

"Remember who we are. Remember who you are. Remember the spirit of those who came before.

"It's time to restore America, restore the World. It's time to believe again."

What strikes me through all the religiosity is that America is the object of worship, the saving force. God is merely an instrument, guiding the brave and providing for them. In this kind of rhetoric, it is America, not God or Jesus, who is mankind's last great hope. Not what one expects, or should expect, from a Christian.

That phrase "last great hope" comes from Lincoln. He said to the Congress in 1862 that "We shall nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope of earth". But it wasn't American Exceptionalism he was talking about -- it was freedom and the institutional form, the Union, which establishes and preserves freedom.

There's much more to say about the themes of this video and how they play out during Beck's speech and the whole rally. But for a while, just think about it: what is it that Glenn Beck is asking you to believe in again?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Waiting for the Holy Spirit with Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck is certainly aiming high. Tonight, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, he will "help heal your soul" at his "America's Divine Destiny" event. Then tomorrow, at his "Restoring Honor" event at the Lincoln Memorial, he expects the Spirit to speak.

Unfortunately, unless you're a paid subscriber to his "Insider Extreme" service, you won't be able to hear or see tonight's event as it unfolds. But you can follow "Restoring Honor" on Facebook or on C-Span at 10 a.m., EDT.

Several anti-Beck commentators are expecting a hate-fest on Saturday. Beck, however, reproves them for that, probably rightly, and says that that will not happen. He's banned all political signs and political speeches. He's said of his own speech that he's prepared only a few bullet points, as he wants to give the Holy Spirit an opportunity to speak. That would presumably involve speaking through him. He says that the Spirit often roars (or shouts - I forget his exact words) in his ears without him hearing it. So, evidently, he's seeking that still quiet place within himself to allow for words that will, as he promises, change America.

Glenn Beck also promises this: "You're going to see the Spirit of God unleashed". And adds: "unlike you have probably ever seen it before." Then, modestly qualifying his claim, he said "At least at a public function."

So be prepared.

Brother Glenn's promise calls to mind a passage from Jeremiah that I was given to read as a lector at church two Sundays ago. It's chapter 23, beginning at the 23rd verse. The most pertinent lines are verses 25-29:

"I have heard what the prophets have said who prophesy lies in my name, saying, "I have dreamed, I have dreamed!" How long? Will the hearts of the prophets ever turn back — those who prophesy lies, and who prophesy the deceit of their own heart. They plan to make my people forget my name by their dreams that they tell one another, just as their ancestors forgot my name for Baal. Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? says the Lord. Is not my word like fire, says the Lord, and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces?"

Martin Luther King, Jr., had a dream. A hope, not a prophecy. What does Glenn Beck have? A vision of the Divine Destiny of our nation-state. (It's good that he despises the concept of Manifest Destiny, but Divine Destiny strikes me as much more presumptuous.)

"Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let the one who has my word speak my word faithfully." What will we hear from Glenn? Should his promises -- or boasts -- lead us to think it will be another example of "the deceit of their own hearts"?

Stay tuned.