Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Glenn Beck: An Ego in Search of a Message

Glenn Beck has annoyed me for the eight years I've known of him. I couldn't fully articulate why until this weekend. I always thought his over-the-top antics would fizzle out on radio as more people yearned for serious analysis and less sarcasm. When he went to CNN, I figured he would be the next in the long line of radio personalities who wouldn't translate to television. But Fox intervened and his celebrity has taken off. Now he's writing novels and becoming a religious crusader. Don't think Mr. Beck hasn't noticed that his level of influence is at an all-time high.

Just as it is obvious that Mr. Beck is in over his head, it is just as obvious he has no clear understanding of his limitations. While I am glad he is informing large swaths of the public about subjects I have come to know and despise (liberation theology, for example), he is quickly turning into a clownish figure who would probably endorse a third party if he could figure out how to benefit. Couching behind his newly-found religious voice which gives him the pretense of humility, Mr. Beck appears to be every bit the narcissist our president is. Not only does he presume to be a political expert, he is now some sort of preacher of an ambiguous gospel. And why has he adopted this new religious tone?

Even the most crass among us would have to admit that the world of politics has final limitations. There is only so much influence one can exert as a politician. Even presidents rarely get all of their agenda passed. People of genuine faith are not cowered by politicians, which is why most dictators want to kill off as many priests as possible. Religion, specifically Christianity, and its transcendent truths stubbornly resist the promises and threats of politicians. So if you want to rise above politics, there is only one place to go. I think that explains Mr. Beck's sudden and extremely shallow religious diatribes: his ratings and influence have peaked, and his ego needs a larger outlet. But instead of actually learning about theology or humbling himself, he is now simply using the Lord's name in vein to promote his own brand. He is weakly and inarticulately talking about some kind of god to give credence to his self-proclaimed role of Tea Party leader.

But to what God is Mr. Beck referring? As a Mormon, does Mr. Beck share the same God as me, a Christian? Is he speaking about Father, Son, Holy Spirit (Christianity), or some god that was once a man and had sex with many goddesses, including the virgin Mary to beget Jesus (Mormonism)? Unless he is stealthily trying to convert the Tea Party to Mormonism (which would make him more intelligent than I think he is), I am not convinced he knows or cares what god he is invoking from the heavens. He just likes that three-letter word and all the assumptions of holiness and innocence that come with it. Anyone who talks about God can attract an audience for a while, because God is generally of interest to us all.

But if you ask any preacher about the crucible of the pulpit, you will quickly learn that preaching is a dangerous and perilous venture. You are proclaiming the Word of God, no small task. It requires the best of your heart, soul and mind. And above all, it demands humility. If a pastor is not humble, he should be after trying to figure out how to create a relevant, interesting and faithful message on scriptural texts. I sense no humility in Glenn Beck. Just lazy, shoddy theology from a careless Mormon who desperately needs to be seen as necessary to the conservative renaissance in America.

Worse, I wonder if he is trying to write himself into the history books. He rightly observes that these years are a possible turning point in American history and he wants to be remembered as important when the history is written. He knows that if he stays in the political arena, his influence will be moderate. But if he can combine politics and religion, perhaps he has a powerful combination. But he won't go down as a great leader. His lack of substance will catch up to him. He borrows from the best American minds and now from God Almighty to prop himself up. But, Lord willing, he won't be standing much longer.

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