The Devil Is in the Details: The Confusing Void in Glenn Beck’s Crusade

Glenn Beck at Restoring Honor rallyI was finally able to watch the now-notorious Glenn Beck event, and although it helped illuminate many of the mistruths floating around the media, I have to say that it accomplished little else.

In other words, it was easy to tell what the event wasn’t trying to do (divide, aggravate, etc.), but as far as the precise goal and direction it did hope to advance, I was left confused and bewildered.

I’ve heard people use many labels to describe the rally, from patriotic to jingoistic, revolutionary to reactionary, virtuous to dangerous, but as much as I want to label Beck’s event as being one thing or another, it’s extremely difficult to do so.

Let’s start with the more aggressive misperceptions.

First off, many in the “anti-Beck” crowd have missed the point. These are the folks who claim Beck is insensitive, inflammatory, and dangerous. They like to point to “extreme” things Beck has said and will go to great lengths to prove his “evil” intentions. Most of these reactions stem from a fundamental disagreement with his general political positions. When it comes to the recent rally, these anti-Beck polemicists revealed their hysteria adequately, particularly by their widely disseminated assumption that the event was going to be a divisive hate-fest.

Dave Weigel writes about this over at Slate:

The Democrats who pre-butted Beck’s rally by predicting an overtly political hateananny were played for suckers. They didn’t pay attention to Beck’s “Founder Fridays” episodes on Fox, his high-selling speaking tour, or his schmaltzy children’s book The Christmas Sweater. It’s not his blackboard that makes him popular. It’s the total package he sells: membership in a corny, righteous, Mormonism-approved-by-John Hagee cultural family.

Indeed, I would guess that most liberals would breathe sighs of relief if they were to actually listen to Beck’s speech. It was extremely light on specifics — even as far as “orthodox” conservative thought goes. It’s true that Beck will occasionally steer his audience to deeper things (and I’m grateful for that), but for the most part, he is simply an entertaining media personality — a mirror of his consumer base.

But aside from the anti-Beck hysteria, there is a more important confusion on the other side of the aisle. Many conservative Christians have fed the liberal narrative by treating Beck’s rally as a nation-altering event. For this crowd, the event was a positive, transformational step in “taking back America for God.”

After all, Beck started his speech by saying this:

This day is a day that we can start the heart of America again, and it has nothing to do with politics. It has everything to do with God. Everything — turning our face back to the values and principles that made us great.

It’s true that we need to look beyond politics and look to God, but there are two points of confusion in this introduction: (1) Does that necessarily mean we must return to the “values and principles that made us great”? and (2) Which (G)od are we talking about?

Regarding the first question, there are several reasonable answers. Regarding the second, there is only one. Beck, however, failed to clarify either. Instead, the rest of the speech moves along like your typical Obama-esque fluff.

Let’s be clear. Beck is a Mormon, and he did not preach the Gospel, nor did he make any clear mention of the importance of Christ’s resurrection. Instead, his speech was filled with pluralistic platitudes (“From the church to the mosque!”), complete with incoherent, inconsistent ramblings about faith, hope, and charity — altogether meaningless terms without the proper perspective.

If Christians are serious about returning American culture to the Christian God, appealing to undefined values in the name of universalism isn’t going to accomplish much.

But that’s the question, isn’t it?

Are Christians really serious about returning American culture to God?

For those who are proclaiming Beck’s event as a definitive cultural leap forward, I would suggest that they are perhaps not serious enough.

Some might argue that Beck was not advocating pluralism, or even that he was not advocating civil religion, but that’s part of the problem. Beck’s speech was extremely vague, and debating its actual meaning is in the end useless.

The point is that for all of the details Beck left unspoken, Christians should be extremely hesitant to jump on board — particularly when conservatives have such a poor record of keeping their cultural ambitions out of politics. For those who think such ambitions do belong in politics, we’ve already had that discussion.

In short, this type of lapse in clarity is a dangerous thing.

As Russell Moore so aptly put it in his critique of the event:

Where there is no gospel, something else will fill the void: therapy, consumerism, racial or class resentment, utopian politics, crazy conspiracy theories of the left, crazy conspiracy theories of the right; anything will do. The prophet Isaiah warned us of such conspiracies replacing the Word of God centuries ago (Is. 8:12–20). As long as the Serpent’s voice is heard, “You shall not surely die,” the powers are comfortable.

Or, as Elizabeth Scalia reminds us in her commentary:

The rally attendees want to halt what is rightly perceived to be a devolution of the nation’s founding principles, and that is a worthy goal, but it is important to remember that genies do not go back into bottles; reclaiming some of the foundation will not restore lost innocence. That, as we know from our beautiful Easter proclamation, is wholly the purview of the resurrected Christ.

Indeed, it is tempting for us to promote a civil religion — one that will carry our culture from material deprivation all the way to heaven. This blog certainly believes in promoting what could be called “our founding principles,” but such principles alone will not bring about the change we need.

As I’ve said time and time again, our socio-economic systems can be powerful tools for empowering and enabling our individual callings, but we must be careful that we don’t confuse the source of such callings with the systems that assist them.

There is something in the heart of every individual that must come into obedience to God. This can only happen through fundamental transformation through Jesus. If we ignore this, or try to indirectly imply it for populist reasons, we will replace a pseudo-solution for the only Solution.

(Note: The image above is provided by 27326713@N02 / / CC BY-SA 2.0)

To hear the speech, go here.

To read some other commentaries on the event see the following:

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  • Remnant Culture

    Read my thoughts on Glenn Beck's rally. I'm interested in yours. Comment on the blog. #tcot #tlot #Christian

  • Akagaga

    Are Christians really serious about returning American culture to God? Of course they are. They want to return to the days when sin was hidden behind closed doors and didn't slap them in the face every day. Most of the Beck crowd would be happy if people would just act like Christians.

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  • Remnant Culture

    Dear Glenn Beck: Appealing to undefined values in the name of universalism will not save the nation. #tcot #tlot

  • SL Clarke

    RT @RemnantCulture: Dear Glenn Beck: Appealing to undefined values in the name of universalism will not save the nation. #tcot #tlot

  • Joseph Sunde

    I appreciate Glenn Beck's sincerity, but he is missing a big piece of the puzzle. My thoughts are here: #tcot #tlot

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  • Joseph Sunde

    @EricTeetsel Beck's Mormonism is often more like a Huntsman-esque universalism. Allah-&-Yahweh are =. More thoughts:

  • Eric

    @EricTeetsel Beck's Mormonism is often more like a Huntsman-esque universalism. Allah-&-Yahweh are =. More thoughts: