excellent article on glenn beck’s call to a generic american civil religion

American Civil Religion

American Civil Religion

Robert Parham, Executive Director of  EthicsDaily.com and of the Baptist Center for Ethics, has written an excellent analysis of Glenn Beck’s recent MLK Day substitute, “Restoring Honor,” in the “On Faith” blog of the Washington Post entitled “Glenn Beck’s Generic God.” It is well worth the read.

Beck’s rally was little more than an attempt to cast himself as the new leader of an American civil religion (similar to how Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan used the 1995 400,000 Million Man March to cast himself as the new leader of the U.S. civil rights movement). Blending nationalistic themes with a piecemeal selection of biblical passages and “American Scripture” (i.e., passages from famous U.S. founding documents and speeches given by U.S. politicians), Beck attempted to craft together an American civil religion that equates belief in God with belief in country – specifically, belief in political conservatism.

The problem with American civil religion is that it reduces faith to a particular brand of nationalism, which is precisely the opposite of the message preached by Jesus and the prophets of the Hebrew Bible. By ignoring passages about social justice and community and highlighting appeals to individual liberties, Deuteronomistic theology, the Exodus, and conquest narratives, Beck attempted to weave together a generic, nationalistic religion that he hopes will appeal to the lowest common denominator of both faith and politics – personal ‘salvation’ via individual liberties – and overlook the more pervasive themes of social justice, equality, and community – which all people of faith are called to do! We are called to live together in community together as one body, not as rugged individuals.

I have no problem with the regular “God bless America” at the end of political speeches, but I suffer a well-concealed apoplexy every time I witness a church worship service that integrates state-related functionaries and activities. I’m all for having religious individuals in the U.S. government, but preying on religion to push a political agenda, or worse yet, blending nationalism and religion to create a diluted religio-political amalgam that equates proper faith with American patriotism betrays both faith and the founding principles of the nation.

It is highly ironic that Glenn Beck, a conservative who regularly appeals to the U.S. Constitution and the writings of the Founding Fathers to make his appeals, had to blend church and state together to make his point. Beck’s political goal is simple: to cast anyone who dares oppose his conservative viewpoint not only as unpatriotic, but as unfaithful.

Parham’s conclusion hits the nail on the head:

No amount of Bible reading, sermons masquerading as prayers and Christian hymns can cover up Beck’s civil religion that slides back and forth between the Bible and nationalism, between authentic faith and patriotic religion.

He treats the “American scripture” – such as the Gettysburg Address – as if it bears the same revelatory weight as Christian Scripture.

What is important to Beck is belief in God – God generically – not a specific understanding of God revealed in the biblical witness, but God who appears in nature and from which one draws universal truths.

Not surprisingly, Beck only uses the Bible to point toward the idea of a God-generic. He does not listen to the God of the Bible who calls for the practice of social justice, the pursuit of peacemaking, the protection of the poor in the formation of community. Beck has little room for God’s warning about national idolatry and rejection of fabricated religion.

For Beck, God-generic is a unifying theme and religion is a unifying force for what appears to be his revivalist agenda for Americanism – blended nationalism and individualism.

first, the olympics; next, healthcare? thoughts on rejection

Barack Obama reacts to Chicagos elimination from contention as host of the 2016 Olympics

Barack Obama reacts to Chicago's elimination from contention as host of the 2016 Olympics.

the city of chicago was eliminated in the first round of voting from hosting the 2016 olympics. president barack obama, first lady michelle obama, and tv mega-personality oprah winfrey invested much time and effort in the campaign to bring the olympics to chicago, but to no avail.

my choice, rio de janeiro, seems to be inching closer to being named as the host city. symbolically, it would be a significant choice because:

Rio de Janeiro would be the first South American country to host an Olympics, and only the second country in the Southern Hemisphere to host (Australia, which has hosted two, is the other).

given rio’s reputation as a entertainment and vacation paradise, brazil’s love of sport, and the fact that the olympics would bring instant prestige and economic value to this burgeoning city, rio is the best choice. besides, a south american host for the western-dominated olympics is long overdue.

the president invested much political capital in the bid for the olympics, and diverted at least some of his attention away from the present healthcare debate. with the rejection of chicago in the first round of voting, some are interpreting chicago’s rejection as a rejection of obama’s use of his waning personal celebrity status to influence debates and votes, both nationally and worldwide.

the fear, of course, was that by asserting himself as ‘lobbyist-in-chief’ for the chicago olympics, president obama was placing himself in the precarious position of potentially (and unnecessarily) being rejected personally. some felt that any rejection on the international stage harms the president’s credibility in domestic battles in congress.

i am curious to see whether this translates into further falling poll numbers for president obama in the healthcare debate.

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