Taking Glenn Beck Seriously

I have to admit–every part of me wants to just completely ignore the fact that Glenn Beck exists. I want to accept him as a cheerfully wrongheaded caricature of some ghastly mutation of conservatism, and nothing more. My attempts to block him out of my mind were thwarted this weekend, however, when everything on the Internet pointed my attention to his Washington D.C. “Restoring Honor” rally. Suddenly, it was all very real. Were there really that many people packing the national mall cheering on Beck’s calls to reclaim America for “God” (is it his Mormon God? A Christian God? A blue deity from Avatar)? How was this joker the focal point of one of the largest political gatherings in recent history?

The significance of this man’s apparent following–I mean, just look at the ratings of his various TV and radio shows–demands that we take him seriously. Unfortunately, almost every commentary, tweet, or passing remark I’ve read about Beck since the rally has been either completely sarcastic, pointlessly angry, or simply dismissive. The discourse surrounding Beck by his many critics is as infantile and unhelpful as the man himself.  Beck is not going anywhere and his followers will not diminish by us simply pointing at the whole thing and calling it preposterous.

That huge crowd was there in D.C. for a reason. They believed in something enough to be there. Was it Beck and his charisma that drew them? Was it his (shudder) civil religious fervor that maintains Christianity is about individualism and anti-social justice? I’m not sure. But I know these are important questions. The “masses” here may be mostly white, middle-class, pro-military tea-partiers, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have brains. It doesn’t mean we can just joke about the whole thing and expect that their children will be more nuanced and all will be well.

Beck and his pop-polemics are just a natural outgrowth of a culture that has embraced division as some sort of high Hegelian virtue. No one really takes the other side seriously any more, out of intellectual laziness and an alarmingly delinquent aptitude for things like nuance, moderation, charity, and friendly dialogue.

Until both sides are willing to take the other seriously, even the Glenn Becks in the lot, there will only be more stalemate, more pointless sarcastic rants and hateful Facebook posts complaining about the unfathomable ignorance of this or that person. There will only be more extreme polarity, exacerbated by a media system that thrives on soundbite bickering and black-and-white divisions.

I’m not sure what the solution is to get us out of this quagmire, but I think it probably starts with someone who is willing to stop talking and start listening to the other. It starts with the abandonment of the notion that progress is about winning a tug of war match over America’s soul. It starts with someone–anyone–writing a serious analysis of Glenn Beck that doesn’t cynically dismiss him at the outset as a lab rat run amok. Has anyone read such a thing? Please, send me a link.

30 responses to “Taking Glenn Beck Seriously

  1. I wish that my fellow conservatives listening to & watching Beck were listening to Dennis Prager instead. I’m not sure if he has ever talked about Beck, but I do know he is thoughtful, respectful, well spoken & clear-minded – especially when discussing those who he disagrees with.

    • Prager talked about Beck’s rally during two of the three hours of his show yesterday. He praised Beck’s courage to hold such a rally that honored the troops and criticized those in the media who falsely misrepresented the rally.

  2. While I’m no fan of polarization, that’s not the root of the problem. Journalists learn to be on guard against the biases of the left and right and are left defenseless against the bias of the center–perhaps the most dangerous because it often masquerades as virtuous moderation.

    To wit, there’s a difference between taking Beck seriously–which many have done–and assuming good faith, that is, assuming that Beck actually believes what he’s saying, something no thinking person should assume.

    So taking Glenn Beck seriously means having a real confessional moment, where we look more deeply at the long alignment of fundamentalism and power. That’s rough because it means confessing our history of epistemological chauvinism.

    Jeff Sharlet’s writing about Beck, as with all his work on the evangelical right, is precise, thoughtful, and imbued with equal parts horror and compassion.



  3. Are you avoiding the inevitable?

    (Your own serious analysis of Beck)

  4. Wow….great post. Actually, one of the best I read about Beck’s D.C. trip. :)

  5. Pingback: Perspectives on Glenn Beck

  6. Your prayer was answered this morning. This op/ed by Russell Moore, Dean of the School of Theology the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is all over the web.

  7. “How was this joker the focal point of one of the largest political gatherings in recent history?”
    “…is as infantile and unhelpful as the man himself”
    Enough with the subtle name calling. You lose your arguments immediately with this; disagree with him if you want, but present facts.

    Many folks don’t like the direction the country is going. Since January 20, 2009 we have suffered. And it’s not getting better. People want to “right the ship”; I don’t think much more needs to be read into the rally and/or Glenn Beck.

  8. To Vince — we did not start suffering on January 2009, every indicator in the economy and the society is better than it was on January 2009 — take whatever measure you want and you will see that is the truth. So why is there anger at Obama? Because the supporters of Bush were able to take the issues that are not yet fixed and pin them on Obama. They even started in before he had made any policy decisions, remember the speech to school children that got demonized before it was delivered and before Obama had made any policy attempts. What we are seeing in Glenn Beck and the Fox news channel are people who do not want to repent of the massive failure of Bush — 2 wars with one started on false premises (lies?). The crash of the economy, deregulation — as a policy — that has led to oil giants running rampant. So they have pinned it all on the guy coming in. What is maddening is that some people are believing it. That is massive brainwashing of a scale not seen in the US before and it is very very troubling and Glenn Beck is one of those at the heart of this. Why does it work, because while most people in the US want not to be scared of black people they are. So Glenn Beck used that fear to do the reversal thing on the gullible — first tell them that Obama hates white people — an old brainwashing technique — take the fear in someone and project it outward. Then keep associating his name with something very fearful — in this case Nazism and socialism. As people began to critique his technique he knew he needed a cover. He chose ML King. People have a very positive image of ML King and liking him makes them feel non racists, so Glenn Beck portrayed himself as in the tradition of King — never mind that Becks ideas oppose Kings at almost every point. ( I AM a King scholar). What we have is not Glenn Beck as a joke, but Glenn Beck as a skilled propagandist.

  9. Dear Brett,

    You asked for a serious analysis of Glenn Beck. Here is a recent on at VYC America’s Crosstalk:

    (scroll down to August 30)

    Also, I would like to respond to your article in the WSJ. I have written two books on Rick Warren and two articles for two conservative theological journals.


    At the heart of this issue is two things:

    1. Is the church for believers or unbelievers. Certainly unbelievers will be in attendance and probably more will be there at Christmas and Easter. But there is not a single biblical proof that the primary purpose of the church is accommodate the lost rather than to build up the Body of Christ and declare His Glory!

    2. It assumes that the premise of Purpose-Driven and Emerging teachings are true or the work of God, when in fact they are saturated with false teachers and mysticism. It marks and expels true Christians by calling them Sanballats and Tobiahs “Leaders from Hell” and “Enemies of the 21st Century” (Dan Southerand and Rick Warren), so that the premise is fatally flawed by slandering true blood-bought Christians. Slanderers will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Proof that Rick Warren is a false teacher and destroyer of the brethren, see:



    The latter website features Loren Davis, Evangelist in Africa, who, like the above article was a front page story in the Wall Street Journal, as was Suzanne Sataline’s expose on Rick Warren, WSJ reporter.

    Kindest regards in Christ,

    James Sundquist
    Rock Salt Publishing

  10. Yeah I don’t understand tea partiers and anti-Obama people who are acting all crazy like America is in worst shape then it has ever been. During Bush, we were in a dead end war, the economy tanked, we had no health care, the public school system was a mess. Where these people then? And not that Obama has fixed all this, but I don’t get why it’s all his fault.

  11. I am LDS and Glenn Beck does not speak for my faith or my Church. Despite what many people say, print and think LDS(Mormons) are Christians, we believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, Redeemer of the World. The Jehovah of the Old Testament and Messiah of the New.
    That aside, I disagree with Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin. Many LDS do, many people do in genearl. Political differences aside, my biggest disappointment regarding Glenn Beck is that he encourages fear and distrust and favors aggressive rhetoric and hyperbole to open respectful debate. Which has caused the political and social atmosphere in our country to become completely un-Christian.
    I live over-seas and thankfully the tumult of this atmosphere, I am free of, however even this rally was heard of over here in southern China and I had to answer some embarrassing questions from other expatriates, Chinese and Hong Kong citizens regarding said rally and why people listen to Glenn Beck, and why Sarah Palin didn’t fall of the face of the planet after 2008.
    I didn’t have especially good answers, but having to explain hate-mongering and propaganda and the current political atmosphere to Chinese citizens isn’t exactly a great selling point for democracy.

    • I’m sorry, but Mormons are not Christians. You can not deny many of the most central doctrines of a faith and claim to be part of that faith. The Bible teaches that there is one God and that He is eternal. Mormonism teaches that there are many gods and who Christians think is God was created by another god. The Bible teaches that Jesus died for the forgiveness of our sins and that by receiving this gift by faith we are reconciled to God. Mormonism does not teach justification by faith, but through obedience to the laws of the Mormon church.

      • yes indeed. if you ask an orthodox christian to define grace, and then ask the same to an LDS member, there is going to be a world of difference between the definitions. they are, at best, an aberrant splinter of christianity.

  12. Brett, this ad was on your blog page: http://www.safeguardourconstitution.com/

    I’m curious if you have control or endorse this conspiracy theorist.

  13. To Rye: We have always had healthcare, I’ve worked in hospitals my enitre adult life; healthcare is new? Public schools are still a mess (not a new issue). The economy was strong until late 2008, tanked primarily due to bad mortgages/Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae.

    To Bob: It had been policy of the USA to remove Saddam Hussein since the Clinton years. Every western gov’t believed he was hoarding an arsenal, not lies. Enough with “oil comapnies” and deregulation, see above about the housing market; also, the deficit, spending, stimulus, etc have not worked. Unemployment, true unemployment, is closer to 20%; his policies, very much socialist, have weakened this country. As has his bowing, kowtowing, and apologizing for America. He has been a disaster. And I’m no Bush fan.

  14. The American public is addicted to political ideology. That is all, both conservatism and liberalism sell us the same nonrealistic nonsense. Both sides operate the fundamentalism of their ideologies are perfect. Yet, people on both sides to claim god, god, god is on their side. Really? Not really, both parties/ideologies are connected to downslope of this country. They sold the American people different sides of the same of idea, and both seek the same, power and money. They use moralistic religious tone to sell themselves to the American masses. The values of their moralistic tones, are just tones, nothing more. If you are a G. Beck or a Obama backer and militant about it, take step back and view they don’t really represent any different from each other. Until then, it is going to be same long running act with different actors and words with the same goal.

  15. @Vince.
    C’mon dude. the Majority of Americans lack some sort of health care. It’s an issue. Yes I know that the public school system is a mess and when the economy tanked.

    My point was that NONE of these issues are new but Glenn Beck and and company act like these things are all Obama’s fault. Like these issues all started under his administration.

  16. In case you hadn’t seen it already, you may want to check out the blog Hipster Runoff, more specifically, this post: http://altreport.hipsterrunoff.com/2010/09/some-a-hole-writes-book-abt-how-teens-are-inauthentic-christians-calls-them-hipster-x-tians.html

  17. @Rye. You’re flat out wrong. All Americans have access to healthcare. Stop it, this is not disputed. Do we have problems with “health insurance”, yes. I work in the industry; health inusrance issues are the problem, not helathcare. Didnt; intend to “threadjack”, but it is misinformation to say Americans don’t have access to health CARE.

  18. @Vince.
    Okay sorry. You don’t need to bite my head off.

    • You may be right, Vince. We do have access to healthcare, if we want to be broke and destitute for the rest of our lives. Obama is not trying to give access to healthcare. He is trying to give access to health insurance. As you said–insurance is the issue.
      My husband was diagnosed with testicular cancer while unemployed in 2005. He had been seeking employment for some time (in other words, he was not just lazy as some people like to assume). We had too many “assets” to qualify for medi-cal, but we couldn’t afford the COBRA insurance we were paying about $2000/month for. Thank God for my husband’s parents, who ended up paying for our insurance. If it hadn’t been for them, I may very well have become a single widowed mother, paying a fortune in medical bills. I am not trying to give you a sob story. I am just saying this is the way it is for thousands, if not millions of Americans.

      As it is now, my husband has no access to *affordable* insurance (were he to be laid off again) because he has a pre-existing condition. I am, therefore, all for government regulation of health insurance, as well as spending a few hundred/thousand more in taxes a year. God provided us a way out though family. I would love to be able to be a part of doing that for other people who are stuck in the same place we were in.

      Call it socialism if you want–giving it a name doesn’t change the fact that it just might help some people who need it.

  19. I am sorry but America is NOT in a better place these days. Making America go so more in debt is not the answer. Turning America from a Republic/Democracy into some Socialist country is not the answer. Lets turn back to the principles that this country was founded on. Let’s actually take the US C0nstitution seriously and not try to change into something it was never meant to be. Our country was founded on good principles. Lets go back to them before America destroys itself. Turning back to God and choosing to follow Him and loving our neighbor seems like a good place to start.

  20. Generally great music selections.
    I am interested to read the book in its entirety. These interviews and the first free chapter online are at the very least intriguing.

    shameless plug.
    check out our “hipster Christianity” view of the establishment.

  21. Not to much of a mystery for his popularity. He is the modern proponent of the old “God, Family, and County,” By tying the three, he, like the reactionary theologians responding to the American and French revolutions. The problem is that the Gospel of Jesus has to ignored. You cannot serve two masters let alone three.

  22. Interesting thoughts. I posted mine last week here: http://remnantculture.com/?p=1729

    Here’s the gist:

    “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.”

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