glenn beck

Obama and Satan

It seems that every time a ray of hope dares to break the distant horizon, storm clouds sweep along and darken the landscape. Case in point: Just as every thoughtful person began to believe that not one more wasteful word of nonsense would escape the lips and empty mind of Glenn Beck, along comes the History Channel.

The History Channel? That bulwark of cable networks that proffers programs ranging from ancient civilizations to modern scientific advances? The network that investigates mysteries from Stonehenge to the Great Pyramid? That treks along the Great Wall of China and ascends the mountains of Machu Pichu? The very same. The History Channel.

A casual reader might think that I have abandoned myself to hyperbole. But no. The History Channel has broadcast a program entitled “The Bible”. Sounds innocuous enough. Except that Glenn Beck, among other ignoramuses, claims that the Moroccan actor who plays the role of the devil, Mohamen Mehdi Ouazzani, looks like President Barack Obama.

Where to begin? Let’s start with the fact that both the History Channel, as well as the program’s producer, calls the claim absurd. There is no resemblance, intended or otherwise. Still, there is a problem. And it does begin with the History Channel.

A program entitled “The Bible” can be elegantly produced, well cast and exceptionally directed. But it has no place on the History Channel. Even if only by implication, one is led to believe that the Bible is history. At the risk of alienating ill-informed and uneducated believers, the Bible is not history. It is a book of faith, filled with truth and many inspiring stories. But it is not history.

A second problem occurs with the program’s script. As good as it may be, in terms of filmmaking, it neglects the reality that the devil—even within the Bible itself—is mere mythology. This may be difficult to grasp. Evil is very real and its effects are experienced daily by millions of people. Take violence, for example. We are a world of, and at, war. But the concept of a Satan is merely an oratorical tool to explain the existence of evil.

Thirdly, it is unfortunate that a dark-skinned actor, particularly one from North Africa, would agree to play the role of the mythical Satan. That decision perpetuates the stereotypes of good and evil as white and black. Further, it fuels a regrettably ignorant prejudice against Muslims, and Africans in general.

Having said all this, I realize that intelligent people will give no weight to Glenn Beck’s ramblings. I even have to admit an embarrassment at giving him more attention than he deserves. Beck refuses even to acknowledge President Obama by name, choosing instead “that guy”. And certainly, there is no way that my reflections can seep inside his ever-shrinking brain. He has already made a commitment to serve up stupidity on a regular basis. He cannot be taken seriously.

My concern is with those people who simply do not know better, and whose ignorance may not be their own fault. To them I say, read the Bible, watch the movie. Just remember. It is not history.

What is a Christian? Someone should tell Glenn Beck

From the time of the Reformation to today, the Christian faith has been fractured and has had to contend with competing theologies. To be sure, there were divisions before the Reformation, most notably the splintering of Christianity between the Eastern Church (Orthodox) and the Western Church (Roman), but this separation was more about power within the Church, and less about theology. The Reformation changed all that. There were many issues that the reformists identified as corrupting within the Church of Rome. And in the counter-Reformation, with the Council of Trent, many of these issues were corrected, albeit too late to prevent lasting division.

Even in the long shadow cast by the Reformation, declaring oneself to be a Christian is not a matter of personal definition, i.e. one cannot be a Christian simply because he or she claims to be. There are some objective standards that are non-negotiable. For example, anyone who does not believe that Jesus is divine, that he is the Son of God, or anyone who does not believe in the Trinity, cannot be a Christian no matter how strenuously they make the claim.

At least since last Spring Glenn Beck has been telling Christians to leave those Churches that preach and promote social justice. Well, by now it is fairly well established that the Gospel of Jesus Christ IS about social justice. It is too lengthy to deal with in a blog, so let me cite one example.

In Matthew's Gospel, Jesus takes a clear stand against divorce. What many people do not realize, however, is that his position is intended to advance social justice, specifically, to support the rights of women. In Jesus' time, women could not own land, they were themselves property; owned first by their fathers and then sold to their husbands at the time of marriage. Women were not permitted to divorce their husbands, though husbands could divorce their wives. In that case, unable to return to her father's house, her only means of support would be to turn to prostitution. Jesus' prohibition against divorce was a direct challenge to this social injustice.

The whole idea of being a follower of Jesus should be about bringing Gospel values to bear on society, establishing the kind of equality that Jesus lived and that our Constitution enshrines.

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. It was an appropriate venue for envisioning a future America that might embrace the equality that consumed Abraham Lincoln and led him to deliver the "Emancipation Proclamation", bringing about an end to slavery. It would, of course, be a long time before the Civil Rights Movement would further advance the cause of equality and justice for all Americans.

As a Christian minister, Martin Luther King, Jr. looked to the Gospel to ground his commitment to civil rights; the same Gospel that Glenn Beck has been seeking to distort and hijack for lo, these many months. Glenn Beck has a right to his opinion, and even to his speech. He does not, however, have a right to the name "Christian". Whatever he is, he is not a follower of Jesus Christ. As I said in the beginning, that is not a title that people can own simply by claiming it.

Glenn Beck's bigotry is a corruption of the Gospel and insulting to Christians. To spew it from the Lincoln Memorial on the 47th anniversary of the "I Have a Dream" speech, is also a betrayal of Martin Luther King and the civil rights he gave his life to achieve.

Hopefully, the majority of Americans will tune out to the hatred and division that have come to define Beck. Although, given the 24 hour news cycle of modern America, it may be difficult to avoid it altogether. As I said, Glenn Beck has a right to his opinion and speech, but does he really need a microphone?