I'm very sleepy today. It's afternoon; I'm still not entirely dressed. I woke up just before noon. I have my reasons though, and though it wasn't an exciting match of England vs. the United States that kept me up until all hours, nor watching a movie with friends, I'm rather glad I stayed up.
Last night, I was up watching a stream of Glenn Beck's "Restoring Honor" Rally on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Now, frequent readers of this blog space will know that I do not like Glenn Beck. Or rather, I don't like his philosophy and influence: his rejection of social justice in the church as a front for communism and Marxism is a ridiculous stance I have discussed at length (above).
That said, I also believe in giving those I disagree with a voice, as long as it contributes to productive discussion. So with that in mind, I settled into bed last night, computer on my lap, snarky twitter on full blast, ready to listen and think. (For the record, I tend to respond better to people I disagree with, at least on a political level, if I get all the snark out of the way while I'm listening to them - that way it doesn't color my eventual analysis. This sounds weird, I know, but it seems to work for Glenn Beck and O'Reilly - I'm a Jon Stewart kind of gal).
And what Beck had to say scared me. Beck's "Restoring Honor" Rally is an entity that no one is really sure what it was about, other than possibly Beck himself. It's supposedly a non-partisan, non-political, rally to raise money for a charity benefiting ... I think war veterans? But Beck's discussion of it leading up to it confuses things - there is much talk of "reclaiming" the civil rights movement, whatever that means, and "restoring honor" to America, again an unclear term. Many of its attendees clearly thought it was a tea party rally, and the blogosphere often referred to it as such. I'm still not entirely sure what it accomplished, other than giving Beck an enormous platform from which to lay out his entire political philosophy.
However, if there was any doubt of Beck's stance on the line between church and state, no one can wonder anymore after his sermon yesterday. That sermon - one of the longest and vaguest arguments for an American theocracy I've ever heard - should have scared every single one of Glenn Beck's viewers who identifies with the Judeo-Christian tradition, and with Jesus Christ as the Son of God. In short, the man is a heretic.
Beck began the lead up to the rally 40 days ago when he asked his audience to get on their knees and pray - to pray for America, to pray for our government, to pray that we get back on "the right track." Before he took the stage, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's niece, Alveda King (who is not, as she calls herself, a doctor - she has an honorary doctorate, but has not earned the title she uses), spoke about accepting prayer back into the public square and back into schools. There was no doubt that what was meant by prayer is prayer in the Judeo-Christian tradition, not any other sort. This is one of the first signs we have of the "America turn back to God" thesis of the rally.
Then Beck stepped up to the plate. No transcript has been posted yet, so I am having to go based on quotes I have culled from other online (reliable) sources, and my own notes. But what he had to say should cause every Christian viewer of his to rethink their lockstep march to his drum.
In the first section of the speech, Beck told us the story of Moses and his fight for the people of Israel against Pharaoh. He repeated several times that we Americans need to "pick up our stick," ostensibly to show the honor of God/America, as Moses did. We need to stand up and listen to what the founding fathers/the burning bush told us to do - it was unclear what exactly was meant as he jumped from burning bush to founding fathers so rapidly I didn't quite catch the connection.
Beck also believes that America is the world's savior. There is no doubt about this, as he said so in his speech. He also commented at several separate points to the extent that "America has set man free," saying so directly at one point. Within the first few minutes, he referred to the Constitution and the founding documents as "American Scripture." He told us in the rally yesterday that we all need to go to "God Boot Camp," so that we can be the Americans who "rush in at the last second to save the world."
It's all beautiful rhetoric - take back the country for God, God wants us to be this and that, America is specially blessed.
But it's all wrong.
Beck would like to imagine us (Americans) as the Hebrews and himself as Moses, pick up the staff that God had touched and rallying his people, shouting at the scary big government, "LET MY PEOPLE GO." Beck's exegesis here, however, is severely lacking. Moses was not reclaiming the people of Israel so that they could get out from under the thumb of big government. He was reclaiming his people so that they could know who they are as God's chosen. It's a subtle difference, but a difference nonetheless.
Moses's gathering of the people resulted in them being nomads, wandering government-less in the desert for a whole generation. Even after that, the Jewish people have rarely had a time when they had a free country to themselves to rule. Jesus was born into the regime of Herod, after the Jewish people - God's chosen, and the only people who have EVER been identified as God's chosen - were scattered in the Diaspora. Granted, my Jewish history is a little fuzzy (it has been 4 years since my last class on the subject), but I do know that the Jews never really got their promised land - they're STILL waiting, still waiting for that promise of God's chosen to be fulfilled completely.
And let's not forget: we have to keep in mind that when the Jews did have a government, it was a big one - one that dictated taking care of the poor, that used money taken in the form of taxes to help the less fortunate, that, every fifty years, made all private property revert back to the original owners, and celebrated the idea that private ownership is a figment of the imagination - if everything is God's, then I cannot possibly own it.
What Beck has done, then, is ignore all that Jewish history, look at the Moses story, and supplant "Americans" for every mention of "Hebrews." It's some quick sleight of hand, but it's important to note for the rest of his heresy.
With Americans taking the place of the Hebrews, and the Exodus now turned around into the story of getting out from under the thumb of government rather than being reclaimed as God's people under God's law, a dangerous idea begins to take hold. If Americans - true Americans being those who follow an undefined, but probably Judeo-Christian God - then we must reclaim the country for God. America is clearly blessed by God, and our lives show his enriching. Government becomes the evil in the story, rather than the hardness of one man's heart. Government becomes the whipping boy for all that is bad, conveniently forgetting that the Jews then set up a vastly complicated and invasive theocracy in which they were the ruling class. Government is evil, and therefore we must take back the government for God.
America, then, is painted as this divine being that has been shoved off track by those who want to expand the government, by those who want to use the tax money for helping the people on whom this government depends. America becomes both victim and savior.
That's a scary thought.
What Beck has created and espoused here is no less than a civic religion, a nation worship, in which America playing the part of God. The idea that we could possibly have God on our side specially blessing our country, and guiding us to be the savior of all is a megalomaniacal, ethnocentric complex of extensive proportions.
America is just over 200 years old, a baby in western civilization's terms, even if you take the extremely conservative estimate that the Earth itself is only 6,000 years old. Who was saving the world before now?
Oh right. Jesus.
And here is where everyone should have bristled: By painting America as the savior of the world, Beck causes us to forget that kingdoms of this world are transient things, wiped away as so much dust. Massive empires have come before and fallen before, and many will come and fall after us. None of those - many of which were declared to be eternal and live eternally - are still standing. The Babylonians? Gone. The Romans? Gone. The Turks? Gone. The Brits? Failed. The Mongols? Gone. Napolean? Dead and rotting. Alexander the Great? Long turned to dust. Constantine? Dead, ages ago, right along with his government.
Every single Emperor and Empire that has existed before us, and who will come after us, has thought they had God on their side. In Ancient Rome, Caesar is a God.
Each and every single one of those empires is now gone, barely remembered by the high school students who are taught about them, relegated to the study of PhD's as academic interest.
America will be no different. Now, whether we fall in a 100 years or a 1000, there is the one thing that is certain: We will fall. We will become a relic of the empire we once had.
We are not God's kingdom.
We never were. The founding fathers knew that when they were writing - they were smart men - and that is why they attempted to give us plenty of freedoms and to give citizens a voice. They did not seek to install a theocracy, as that was what they just left. And they were just men - they were not the divine hand of God giving us a means to save the rest of the world. Beck's own faith (Mormonism) came after the separation of church and state, a faith that was only allowed to develop because of the separation Beck's beloved founding fathers so carefully set up. Having America be pictured as "the savior of the universe," then, supplants the founding fathers careful declarations with a theocracy of Beck's own choosing.
Jesus tells us quite clearly in John 18:36: "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (ESV).
If we were fighting for an earthly kingdom, as Christians, we could willingly take up arms, install an oppressive theocracy, and invent our own definition of justice, which involves private ownership, prayer in schools, and no abortion.
But that is precisely what Christ cautions against: He does not want us fighting for that which will pass away, as every earthly kingdom does. He does not want us viewing government as anything more than a means to an end, and He certainly doesn't want us to view anything but Him as savior of the universe. He did not come to install a civic religion. Instead, He came to teach us how to love one another, to be peaceable people, and to live for eternity, not for a quickly passing empire.
Glenn Beck: you are not my Jesus, and America is not my God. I will not stand for this civic religion that supplants my all loving, all sacrificing, communal, Trinitarian, personal, timeless, all knowing, and all powerful Lord of the Universe with a piddly government that was created by men and is run by men. My God is so much bigger than your America, and his justice is not yours.
As was oft-quoted by people in your rally yesterday, Mr. Beck, I repeat the words of the big government supporting, freedom shouting, everyone loving, possibly socialist man who would have ended up on your blackboard if he was alive today: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." Freedom from government means nothing if you're starving in the street. And in helping that person, whether it be through transforming oppressive institutions that harm their rights, even if it means rejecting private ownership, I will do it. Gladly.
That, Mr. Beck, is where my honor lies. Where is yours?