Sunday, March 7, 2010

What's Wrong With Glenn Beck?

If you disagree with him politically I’m sure you would say that everything is wrong with Glenn Beck. I haven’t watched his program consistently. It’s been rather sporadic. But I’ve found that when I do watch him I agree with most of what he says. In fact, in a number of cases I don’t think he’s gone far enough in his analysis of the historic antecedents to our current crises. He is a gifted and passionate speaker capable of trenchant analysis. And clearly, his opponents view him as a dangerous force. He has become a kind of national teacher. I’m sure that Mr. Beck would agree that teachers should be held to a higher account, especially teachers with classes that number in the millions.

One of the things that he stands against is what might be called a Culture of Tolerance. Everyone is so afraid of being viewed as “Intolerant” that we refuse to speak any kind of truth at all because obviously our “truth” may be different from someone else’s “truth” and we don’t want to offend. More than anything, we are terrified of being considered “bigots.” The dictionary defines bigot as “a prejudiced person who is intolerant of any opinions differing from his own.” The heart of bigotry focuses on religion and bigots come in a wide variety of persuasions, both theistic and atheistic.

In my opinion, freedom of religion is the foundation of all other freedoms. I’m proud to be a direct descendent of Roger Williams the founder of Rhode Island and, more importantly, the father of freedom of religion in America. He founded his colony based on freedom of worship, this after he was driven away by the Puritans because of his differing theological beliefs. (He was a Baptist.) One of his friends was a woman named Mary Barrett Dyer. Mary was a Quaker who had the temerity to believe that women should be able to teach the Bible. She insisted on teaching the Bible in Puritan territory. In a paroxysm of “holy intolerance” the good Puritans of Boston hung her. I’m proud to say that Mary is one of my grandmothers. Religious toleration runs in my blood. However, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t confront each other with mutual respect about our differing belief systems. We shouldn’t fear strong disagreement. It is in that spirit that this post is written.

Am I the only theologically conservative Christian who finds Mr. Beck strangely disturbing? Here is my problem. We live in a day of gross inconsistencies in the lives of so many of our leaders. People say one thing and live out another. Whether it is the Treasury Secretary who cheats on his taxes or a “family values” governor who cheats on his wife, inconsistency is the hallmark of our age. With that in mind, Mr. Beck seriously puzzles me. Here is a man who is dedicated to understanding and presenting historic truth about what has happened in our country. He does it fearlessly because he knows how important historic truth really is. What you believe really does matter. So here is a man of intellectual lucidity who has chosen to be a Mormon.

There, I said it. I turned over the rock that no one wants to touch for fear of being called intolerant or bigoted. How dare I do such a thing? Should the fact that Mr. Beck is a Mormon really matter? From what he has said, he is not a Mormon by birth. He was raised a Roman Catholic. When he talks about it at all, he underplays his religion, stating that he and his family just liked the friendliness and family orientation of the Latter Day Saints. They feel at home there. All well and good! I believe in religious freedom. But Mr. Beck is a national teacher who freely quotes the Bible as an authority source. I think we need to hold him to the same standard that he uses on others.

Let me ask you a question. Imagine that Mr. Beck was saying exactly what he is saying now on his various programs, but instead of being a Mormon he was a Scientologist or a Muslim. How would you feel about him then? Wouldn’t your trust of him drop like a stone? Wouldn’t you carefully evaluate every word he said? Though you would agree with him, you would find him constantly disturbing and every time you listened to him you would be asking yourself, “What’s this guy’s real agenda?” So why isn’t that happening with Mr. Beck?

There are several reasons. First, over the past fifty or so years, the Church of Jesus Christ and the Latter Day Saints has spent a great deal of time and treasure to convince American Christians that they are just another Christian denomination. And they’ve been very successful at it. I think today that many evangelical Christians view Mormons in just that way. Second, Mormons are such genuinely nice family oriented people. As opposed to Muslims or Scientologists who often don’t appear to be very nice at all. When we think of Mormons we think of Donny and Marie Osmond. We think of the wonderful Mormon Tabernacle Choir that sings so many great old hymns. And then there’s Glenn Beck himself. Couldn’t you imagine spending an afternoon with him and his family sitting around the pool sharing hamburgers and potato salad? Of course you could. And how about Mitt Romney that square-jawed, good-looking guy? Clearly, he is a straight-talking true family man who could be on track to become the next President. Doesn’t he look Presidential and doesn’t he say all the right things in the most charming manner?

When you think of Scientologists what do you think of? People who are nutty as fruitcakes, who spend untold thousands of dollars to get “clear” with weird lie detectors strapped to their bodies. You think of arrogant little Tom Cruise arguing from his vast Scientology education and jumping on couches. You think of the worst of Hollywood. And when Muslims come to mind…well, we don’t even want to go there.

A long time ago I took a graduate level course in what is called Christian Apologetics. That doesn’t mean learning how to apologize because you’re a Christian. It means knowing how to make a reasoned defense of the faith against those who attack it. Essential to that is understanding what other religions believe. My teacher was a man named Dr. Walter Martin. He is dead now, but while he was alive he was considered one of the greatest cult experts in the world. In our class we spent a lot of time studying Mormonism. Dr. Martin was well known to the Mormons and they disliked him intensely because he was a powerful debater who did not suffer foolishness lightly.

This is not the place to go into all the very strange things that Mormons believe. Just a few points will suffice such as their belief that Jesus and Satan are brothers, or that God the Father (who is a glorified man) came down and physically copulated with the Virgin Mary so that Jesus could be born into a physical body, or that the spirits who followed “brother” Satan were cursed into being born with black skin. (In recent years, because of great political pressure, this belief has been jettisoned, but for many decades from the foundation of their religion, it was an article of faith.) We won’t go into all the fantasies that their scriptures teach about Native American history. Not one archaeological discovery has proven their beliefs to be true. Why bring up the embarrassing issue of a “family” religion that, during its seminal years, was utterly destructive to families because of its belief in polygamy and forced marriage? (Another foundational article of faith that they were forced to disavow, but which is still held sacred by many Mormons.) Why mention the horrendous view Mormon theology teaches about women? In one of their holy books, The Pearl of Great Price, woman is called the shoe on man’s foot as he ascends into Heaven. And all of this is only the beginning.

Where did the Mormon religion come from? A young man named Joseph Smith who was a Freemason and a believer in ceremonial magic was using his magic to try and find buried treasure. In the course of his search he claims to have had a supernatural experience. An angel named Moroni came to him and led him to a set of golden plates. The translation of the writing on those plates led to the Mormon scriptures. Sadly, the plates were lost so they are unavailable for examination.

The truth is that the foundation of Mormonism has much in common with the foundation of Islam. In both it is purported that an angel came to a solitary man and gave him a revelation that the religions of his day were wrong and inadequate and he was to be the founder of a new religion based on “Truth.” Each man was informed that he was God’s uniquely chosen prophet. Both religions rely on strict “works of obedience” in order to achieve eternal salvation. Both paste together their theologies from bits and pieces of the theologies that were dominant at the time of their founding. Both account for the historical Jesus, but utterly demolish His Person and work as presented in the New Testament. On the face of it, Mormonism is no more a Christian denomination than is Islam. The truth is that, based on the reports of eye witnesses, the ceremonies that take place in the Mormon temple have much more in common with Freemasonry and ceremonial magic than in anything found in historic Christianity. In that sense they relate to Scientology. Before he founded his “church,” L. Ron Hubbard was an occultist and ceremonial magician as well. And isn’t it strange that both Scientology and Mormonism are so deeply concerned about activities on other planets?

Now there are those who would say, “All religions are the same. They’re all based on so-called “revelations” that are impossible to prove, so why make an issue of Mormonism? It’s no different than what you call historic Christianity.” There I would disagree. All of orthodox Christianity hinges on one event, the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. If that event did not occur in physical reality the whole edifice crumbles to dust. The point of the biblical record is that there were many eye-witnesses to Jesus’ death. And after His resurrection there were hundreds of eye-witnesses who saw Him alive. The experience of His death and resurrection was not limited to a solitary individual. It came to many people and those people were so certain of what they had seen that they were willing to die violent deaths themselves in defense of what they knew to be true. Now, you may call all of that fantasy, but at the very least you must admit that it is vastly different than Joseph Smith or Mohamed talking to an angel.

So Mr. Glenn Beck puzzles me. How can a man of his perspicacity who is so concerned about discovering and understanding the truth of political history, who wants our children to be taught the truth, be willing for his own children to be indoctrinated into the wild fantasies of a cult? And, God help him, I think his children are girls. I can’t believe that if he applied the same passion and scholarship to Mormonism that he wouldn’t run screaming from it. So why hasn’t this happened? Why is there such gross inconsistency and why doesn’t it bother anybody? Shouldn’t the fact that he is a Mormon make me view him with the same caution that I would exercise if he were a Scientologist or a Muslim? If he uses the Bible as though he were a Christian shouldn’t he be held to account? Why does he never use his own “scriptures?”

And I have a larger concern. I’m concerned about the mainstreaming of this cult into the deepest levels of American culture, even into the Christian church itself. Now I don’t think Glenn Beck, Mitt Romney, Donny and Marie and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir are locked in some kind of vicious conspiracy. I think that in their political desperation Christians have become blind. What dominates now is that old philosophy, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. But in the very desperation of that embrace, just exactly what is it that we are accepting and how will it affect our future?

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