Home > Uncategorized > Glenn Beck, The Elmer Gantry of the Right

Glenn Beck, The Elmer Gantry of the Right

I caught an episode of the Glenn Beck show on Fox News today. It was the end of something he had called his 40 days and 40 nights challenge. Not being privy to this challenge since I don’t watch the show, I had to go to his website (subtitled, “The fusion of entertainment and enlightenment”) to find out what that was about. It turns out that this challenge is a religious exhortation to act in certain ways and do certain things to prove that you love God and He loves you. And on today’s show, he had people coming on stage, confessing their sins, crying, begging forgiveness from the people they hurt, etc.

And then it struck me. Glenn Beck isn’t a newsman or journalist. He’s not an entertainer or commentator. He is a modern day Elmer Gantry. He is a Billy Graham or Oral Roberts knockoff, a contemporary Aimee Semple McPherson. He is a televangelist whose mission is to preach the good news. And it doesn’t matter what the news is, in particular, as long as he can draw an audience.

Doubt it? Watch a televangelist. Not the slick salesman types like Joel Osteen, but the “true believer” types. Watch as the televangelist quotes from various books and writes on a whiteboard, making all sorts of hidden connections. Then watch Glenn Beck. He draws all sorts of connections on a blackboard and quotes from a variety of sources, all pointing to a vast socialist conspiracy. Where Billy Graham rails about the devil, Beck rails against George Soros.

Where Oral Roberts gets people coming up the aisle, crying and waving their hands, seeking redemption or healing, Beck had the same thing on his show today. Both Roberts and Beck weep with their congregation; they hold hands, promising to be better, and grateful for the chance at salvation, whether religious or political.

And even the problems of Beck are similar to the problems of Roberts and Graham. Both Beck and his religious counterparts substitute feeling for thought. Whether it’s at a tent revival or on a tv stage, people shriek and shout, cry and wave, sing and dance. The problem is, there’s no thought. Everybody who attends these things becomes suffused with good feelings. But ask them a question about theology or economics, and the people are stymied, whether they’re Beck’s or Graham’s.

The other problem is that guys like Beck distract from serious political thought in the same way the Graham and Roberts distract from serious theological thought. Their adherents are content to have the feel-good, but are loathe to do the mental heavy lifting involved in difficult thought. And lest you think I am carrying a torch for the left, they have their own simplistic evangelicals like Ed Schultz doing the exact same things.

But people forget what becomes of a Graham or a Roberts. They wind up having presidents consulting them, and candidates courting their approval. Who can forget the pictures of Nixon and Graham praying together in the white house, less then fifteen years after America forced Kennedy to abandon his Catholicism? Or McCain and that guy in Virginia, whose endorsement McCain later had to reject?

I suggested a few years back that anyone who was an Obama supporter should read Warren Penn’s “All The King’s Men,” because I believe that Obama is Willie Stark. In the same vein, I believe that Beck supporters should watch the movie “A Face In The Crowd.” Glenn Beck is fast on his way to becoming a Lonesome Rhodes.

The problem is that both sides are fronting populist demagogues, who rely on manipulating people into using feelings instead of rationality.

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