Posted tagged ‘The Destruction of the American Idea’

In Which I Talk Bible To Glenn Beck

March 9, 2010

You know, you’d think a simple (and quite minor) member of the blogosphere could take a few days out, hit the hot spots of digital payment think tank prognostication in London (had a nice chat with the innovation/new tech group at Visa Europe at lunch today, talking seventeenth century digital money and the what-was-old-is-new-again reality of globalization whilst looking down at the Paddington Station train yard (no bears, alas)) and just chill.

It’s not really that much to expect, is it?

But then, courtesy of Steve Benen (h/t Mr. GOS himself), I learn that noted theologian Glenn Beck is advising his viewers that the idea of social justice is antithetical to true religion.  As Mr. Beck avers:

…your right to religion and freedom to exercise religion and read all of the passages of the Bible as you want to read them and as your church wants to preach them … are going to come under the ropes in the next year. If it lasts that long it will be the next year. I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words.

I’ve tended to avoid the religion-science kerfluffle, though I have Views, as one may say.  But whatever you may make of the crumbs I’ve dropped about my various allegiances and intellectual commitments, I have enough memory of a pretty serious Hebrew School education to crush this softball.

For example: consider this passage in Isiah, , a Jewish text beloved of many Christians (and Muslims too, of course, Abrahamic as that community of belief is as well) that Jews read each year at the center of the most significant observation of the liturgical calendar, the morning service of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement:

(Chapter 58)

…3 “Why, when we fasted, did You not see?
When we starved our bodies, did You pay no heed?”
Because on your fast day
You see to your business
And oppress all your laborers!
4 Because you fast in strife and contention,
And you strike with a wicked fist!
your fasting today is not such
As to make your voice heard on high.
5 Is such the fast I desire,
A day for men to starve their bodies?
Is it bowing the head like a bulrush
And lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Do you call that a fast,
A day when the Lord is favorable?
6 No, this is the fast I desire:
To unlock the fetters of wickedness,
And untie the cords of the yoke
To let the oppressed go free;
To break off every yoke.
7 It is to share your bread with the hungry,
And to take the wretched poor into your home;
When you see the naked, to clothe him,
And not to ignore your own kin.

8 Then shall your light burst through like the dawn
And your healing spring up quickly;
Your Vindicator shall march before you,
The Presence of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
9 Then, when you call, the Lord will answer;
When you cry, He will say: Here I am.
If you banish the yoke from your midst,
The menacing hand and evil speech,
10 And you offer your compassion to the hungry
And satisfy the famished creature —
The shall your light shine in darkness,
And your gloom shall be like noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
He will slake your thirst in parched places
And give strength to your bones.
You shall be like a watered garden,
Like a spring whose waters do not fail.
12 Men from your midst shall rebuild ancient ruins,
you shall restore foundations laid long ago.
And you shall be called
“Repairer of fallen walls,
Restorer of lanes for habitation.”

Let me not confine this commentary to my own heritage.  To look for another example living in the Boston area I call home, how about that construct of belief that animates our local prince of the Catholic Church, Cardinal and Boston Archbishop Sèan O’Malley.  He is a Capuchin* Friar, a member of that order which, from its founding in the early sixteenth century, sought to take its place within a long series of efforts to restore the identification with poverty, the poor, and unquestionably, justice for the lesser, confronted by the greater that derive in Catholic and early Christian history from identification with Francis and ultimately with Jesus.  The Capuchins declare this commitment today:

Let us show respect for all people and [manifest] a spirit ready for dialogue with them.
Although we prefer the evangelization of the poor according to the example of Christ and SaintFrancis, we should not hesitate to proclaim the message of the conversion to justice and the responsibility of preserving peace to those in positions of power and those ruling others.

There is an encylopedia of disagreements I could find with the constellation of beliefs and requirements Cardinal O’Malley upholds; most are irrelevant, given that I, not a Catholic, do not defer to claims of dogma put forward within the Catholic confession.  Those that are relevant are the ones that the American Catholic Church has advanced as precepts to be enshrined as law of the nation we share…but all that’s an argument for a different venue.

The point here is that outside the Beck alternate reality, there is no way to construct the Jewish tradition and its Christian heirs as indifferent to social and economic justice…unless you are willing to sacrifice the essential core of the revelations to which both Jews and Christians lay claim.  There is no way to imitate God (or the God-Man embodied in the person of the Christian conception of Jesus) unless you do justice to the beings created in the image of divinity.  Do injustice to the least of us, and as is expressed again and again in the Elijah tradition of Jewish story telling, you do damage to the whole of any God-made world.  Alternatively, save a life, and save that world.

That is:  if you take the words of the Bible seriously from any starting point, there is only one conclusion possible here.  Beck is no believer.  He is a deceiver — and if you come from a background that capitalizes such words, then within that tradition, you’ll get no argument from me.**

*Maybe it’s just me, but I find it delightful that the name “Capuchin,” derived from the distinctive hood that Capuchin friars wear, has through a kind of visual rhyming, been  adopted to provide the name for that saving drink of many mornings, my daily cappuchino, and, for Capuchin monkeys as well.

**Please note — I’ve confined this to the specifically religious context of Beck’s demand.  A different post would point out how thoroughly unAmerican Beck’s statement is, if you take the ideas of the founders seriously.  For just one example, here’s John Adams, in his argument in the Amistad case:

In the Declaration of Independence the Laws of Nature are announced and appealed to as identical with the laws of nature’s God, and as the foundation of all obligatory human laws…

…I said, when I began this plea, that my final reliance for success in this case was on this Court as a court of JUSTICE; and in the confidence this fact inspired that, in the administration of justice, in a case of no less importance than the liberty and the life of a large number of persons, this Court would not decide but on a due consideration of all the rights, both natural and social, of every one of these individuals. I have endeavored to show that they are entitled to their liberty from this Court….

….In taking, then, my final leave of this Bar, and of this Honorable Court, I can only ejaculate a fervent petition to Heaven, that every member of it may go to his final account with as little of earthly frailty to answer for as those illustrious dead, and that you may, every one, after the close of a long and virtuous career in this world, be received at the portals of the next with the approving sentence—” Well done, good and faithful servant; enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.”

Image:  Giotto, “Legend of St. Francis — The Renunciation of Wordly Goods.”  before 1332.