Beck’s Selective Use of Christian Theology Misconstrues Christianity

Beck’s Selective Use of Christian Theology Misconstrues Christianity August 29, 2010

Glenn Beck routinely equivocates when dealing with theological issues, and in doing so, misleads many of his adherents. He is a dangerous demagogue because of his misrepresentation of Christian theology and the way people who should know better end up following him and his ideology.

One of his criticisms of President Obama is that Obama holds to “liberation theology,” and tell us that Pope Benedict calls liberation theology “demonic.”  Of course, that over-simplification itself is erroneous (as can be seen in the writings of the CDF on liberation theology which indicate their concerns are in some elements of some theologians who engage liberation theology) and ignores many of the positive elements of liberation theology which the CDF Pope Benedict recognized, such as its criticism of capitalism and it consistent focus on the preferential option for the poor.  Indeed, the CDF made sure their criticism should not be used for the kind of rhetoric we find coming out of Beck:

This warning should in no way be interpreted as a disavowal of all those who want to respond generously and with an authentic evangelical spirit to the “preferential option for the poor.” It should not at all serve as an excuse for those who maintain the attitude of neutrality and indifference in the face of the tragic and pressing problems of human misery and injustice. It is, on the contrary, dictated by the certitude that the serious ideological deviations which it points out tends inevitably to betray the cause of the poor. (Instruction on Certain Aspects of the “Theology of Liberation”).

Yet, Beck does not end here. He makes clear his real objection is that Liberation Theology is about “collective salvation” (hinting at socialism, while confusing the unity of community with collectivism) while telling his audience that “collective salvation” is antithetical to traditional Christian theology. He does not define what “collective salvation” is in any concrete way; his objection is that it means one’s salvation is somehow connected to the salvation of others.  In contrast to this, Henri de Lubac’s monumental work, Catholicism, was written specifically to remind Catholics (and Christians) of the communal aspect of the faith. This is a part of what the then Cardinal Ratzinger pointed out in a foreword to the work:

He makes visible to us in a new way the fundamental intuition of the Christian Faith so that from this inner core all the particular elements appear in a new light. He shows how the idea of community and universality, rooted in the trinitarian concept of God, permeates and shapes all the individual elements of Faith’s content. The idea of the Catholic, all-embracing, the inner unity of I and Thou and We does not constitute one chapter of theology among others. It is the key that opens the door to the proper understanding of the whole. [1]

In Europe, de Lubac’s was readily accepted; so much so that Cardinal Ratzinger was afraid that sociology took over in theological circles so that the spiritual, theological content of de Lubac’s message was lost. This can perhaps be seen as the foundation for his own criticism and misunderstanding of much that is found in Latin America and its theologies. He quickly thought his context applied in Latin America, and so everything was becoming sociological there, sociology without spirituality. While it is true some Liberation Theologians followed such a dangerous route, this is not true of the whole of Liberation Theology and one should not judge the whole based upon this over-extension of the social dimension of the Christian faith. Just as we would not condemn scholasticism because of the heretics it produced, heretics who took one or another scholastic doctrine too far, so we should not confuse the mistakes of some in Liberation Theology with the discipline itself. Thankfully, there has been no universal condemnation of Liberation Theology, and there cannot be any without turning the Christian faith into Gnosticism. Any attempt to change the world based upon spiritual principles will end up being a form of Liberation Theology; the question should be whether or not the principles are both correct and complete, not whether or not we should try to transform the world from a fallen state to a better state. This is why many who criticize Liberation Theology end up producing their own without realizing what they are doing — because once one tries to uproot sin from society, what is produced is a Theology of Liberation.

Traditional dogmatics is clear that salvation, by being personal, is communal. No person is an individual cut off from the community. Christ came to save the world, and to bring them together as one body — his body. Glen Beck, in trying to criticize President Obama, does not only Obama a disservice, but Christian doctrine as well. If he wants to engage Christian theology, he should at least take the time to read and research the issues he brings up. The individualism he wants to encourage is what is antithetical to Christian doctrine, not the belief in communal salvation. Christ is after all the vine; let us make sure we are not cut off from him by denying the works which he told us to do.

[1] Henri de Lubac, Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man. trans. Lancelot Sheppard and Sister Elizabeth Englund, OCD (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988),11.

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