Sometimes the media amazes me with its ability to ignore the way religion influences people’s lives. Often the result is that religion is hinted at, suggested in an off-hand manner, or noted in an unintentionally ironic manner.
This New York Times article on conservative populist Glenn Beck is a case in point. At this point, before you read any further, please provide a guess, informed or otherwise, of the faith to which Beck publicly subscribes.
Now consider for another moment whether that faith would be relevant in examining Beck’s view of the world based upon the perception of his television show (“preaches against politicians, hosts regular segments titled ‘Constitution Under Attack’ and ‘Economic Apocalypse,’ and occasionally breaks into tears”) and his impact on society (“he talked to experts about the possibility of global financial panic and widespread outbreaks of violence” and “the TV host may have been promoting an armed revolt”).
Apparently, Beck’s Mormon faith isn’t relevant to any of that, but there are hints of his religious faith in the profile:
He says that America is “on the road to socialism” and that “God and religion are under attack in the U.S.” He recently wondered aloud whether FEMA was setting up concentration camps, calling it a rumor that he was unable to debunk.
At the same time, though, he says he is an entertainer. “I’m a rodeo clown,” he said in an interview, adding with a coy smile, “It takes great skill.”
And like a rodeo clown, Mr. Beck incites critics to attack by dancing in front of them.
“There are absolutely historical precedents for what is happening with Beck,” said Tom Rosenstiel, the director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. “There was a lot of radio evangelism during the Depression. People were frustrated and frightened. There are a lot of scary parallels now.”
See where the subject of Beck’s faith could be explored further? A couple of spots later in the article, there are other opportunities to discuss Beck’s faith, but apparently it did not come up, or there just was not enough room:
“Let me be clear,” Mr. Beck said. “If someone tries to harm another person in the name of the Constitution or the ‘truth’ behind 9/11 or anything else, they are just as dangerous and crazy as those we don’t seem to recognize anymore, who kill in the name of Allah.” …
When it was suggested in an interview that he sometimes sounds like a preacher, he responded,
No. You’ve never met a more flawed guy than me.”
He added later: “I say on the air all time, ‘if you take what I say as gospel, you’re an idiot.’”
Those last quotes concluded the article, but there are obvious theological implications to Beck’s declaration that he is a flawed individual. As you can see in the YouTube interview that leads off this post, Beck has quite a conversion story. Ignoring it leaves a substantial portion of Beck’s life out of the conversation.
That said, I will concede that the article was less about Beck’s personal life and more about using him as an example of the populist fever that has become an issue of late. But that doesn’t mean that the (TV) leader of the populist revolt shouldn’t at least have some of his life story mentioned.
For more background on Beck’s life, see this article in GQ, which contains this interesting observation:
While he is broadly School of Limbaugh, Beck differs in striking ways. Where Limbaugh speaks of his “talent on loan from God,” Beck regularly calls himself an “alcoholic rodeo clown.” Where Limbaugh was a sanctimonious fall from grace waiting to happen, Beck wears his dysfunction on his sleeve, reveling in his past addictions and his clinically diagnosed ADD. Where Limbaugh is a lockstep Republican, Beck is a former social liberal turned libertarian conservative, a registered independent, and a devout, tithing Mormon. He has done 180s on contentious issues — from pro-choice to not, from being in favor of pulling the plug on Terry Schiavo to siding with her parents against it, from supporting George W. Bush’s handling of Iraq to seeing it as another Vietnam — and is almost as quick to fault politics itself as to go after Democrats.
Unfortunately, this article does not get that deep into his faith. But it is a start in terms of tying his conversion story into his worldview which in turn ties into the populist revolt he is perceived to be leading.