Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Glenn Beck and the Influence of Mormonism

It is quite natural for human beings to bring the totality of what they are and the influences on their lives to bear on their views, whether public or private. This includes their religious views and how they shape their opinions.

Religion dispatches includes an article by Joanna Brooks titled "How Mormonism Built Glenn Beck." The reader can see how the comments following the article reveal disagreements as to how well the author understands Mormonism and its culture, but I point out this article in order to make readers aware of the significance of religious beliefs in the public square in general, and the continuing rise of individuals with a connection to the Mormon faith who are involved in American political discourse in particular.

One significant facet that is missing in Brooks' analysis is Beck's "end times" views which represent an amalgamation of Mormon teaching and pretribulational dispensationalism found in popular books by evangelical "prophecy experts." Such thinking is reflected in Beck's largely pessimistic view of America's economic and political systems.

Readers might also note another facet of Brooks' piece in this comment:

..Beck’s spectacular rise suggests that evangelical conservatives (especially those under 40 who may not remember the anti-Mormon cult crusades of the 1980s) are increasingly willing to set aside their reservations about Mormons when it suits their pragmatic and political interests.
This is a reminder of the fluid nature of both politics and the religious landscape, including evangelicalism. It would seem that the portrait of Mormonism presented in previous decades by certain segments of evangelicalism is waning, as is the priority younger evangelicals give to such conceptualizations.


Jon Trott said...

John, as you probably would guess, my take on Glenn Beck is that he perpetrates conspiracy mongering, hatred of the other, and presents of pastiche of unrelated facts in a manner leading this soul to conclude he's either schizophrenic or a cynical opportunist. As far as Mormonism's links to Beck, I leave that to others to explore. An Evangelical Christian liberal, I find my own lessons in Beck being embraced by the Christian Right. Namely, that my own subculture is more interested in the irrationality and hate Beck peddles than in his Mormon faith. Frankly, I wouldn't blame Beck on Mormonism.

John W. Morehead said...

Jon, somehow I thought you'd share your thoughts on this topic. As the post indicated, my aim was to address the religious angle as it impacts politics in the public square, rather than the division of Right vs. Left that Beck also highlights. Thanks for sharing your thoughts from the Left. I'm quite sure conservatives and those on the Right would see things very differently, just as disagreements would surface over the understanding of a figure on the Left such as Michael Moore.

Perhaps there's no need to "blame" any public personality on any religious tradition, but there is indeed a need to understand the influence of religion in the public square, a point addressed by Stephen Prothero in his fine book "Religious Literacy."

Jon Trott said...

John, I had to re-read the link you posted, and after doing so feel less charitable toward the Mormons re Beck. Glenn Beck being promoted by the Mormon Church (or more properly, them using him to promote themselves) does indeed show how religion impacts politics in the public square. It will be interesting to see what happens over the long term to Mormonism if, as I strongly suspect, white conservatism overall erodes in this twenty-first century.

John W. Morehead said...

Jon, thanks for your further thoughts. By way of response, I must remind my readers that my intent in pointing to the article was not to cast blame on the LDS Church for those views and actions of Beck's with which those on the Left, and perhaps even the Right, might disagree. The intention was to point out a source of influence on Beck, and to remind us of the significane of religion in the public square.

Beyond this, just as it would be a mistake for those on the Right to take issue with Roman Catholicism because of the views of Michael Moore, so too I believe it is a mistake to take issue with the LDS Church and Mormonism for Beck's views that may be influenced by these sources. The LDS Church is no doubt pleased to have a popular Mormon on the airwaves, but I would hesitate to view this in terms of manipulation.

The LDS Church will likely continue to meet certain challenges in late modernity in the West, as will other forms of "organized religion" in our time and culture which has a preference for subjective and non-dogmatic spiritualities. Even so, the LDS Church has a niche and will likely continue to do well in its growth.

Finally, while I don't usually comment on politics on this blog, I wouldn't be too quick to forecast a decline in conservatism, white or otherwise. It may be that the increasingly apparent Left leaning Obama Administration that is attempting to put sweeping political and social changes into place at a fast pace may in fact contribute to a conservative resurgence just as we saw in previous decades in response to the Carter Administration and its handling of similar political and cultural elements.

Jon Trott said...

Hey, we're disagreeing. Hahaha.

But seriously, John, the reason I do think the Mormon Church and Beck need to be watched closely here is that unlike the Catholic Church with Michael Moore, the Mormons are using Beck to sell themselves.

I would suggest that -- religious beliefs aside -- the Mormon Church is quite tightly run compared to many other religious bodies, including the Catholic Church. Beck's strange fuzziness when it comes to logic or reality may actually help gain some followers for the Mormons... but will certainly repel others. Are the Mormons aware of that fact? I think they must be.

And John, I do wonder... am I on the verge of outing you as a member of the Christian Right? If so, we really do need to talk. I think that position politically arguably undermines your take on missiology. But that's a long discussion and one I'd have to think more about myself before diving in head first.

SteveA said...

John, I like what you are trying to do. It is hard not to take sides while attempting to investigate and understand all the things that are going on. Religion and politics are more entangled now that they have ever been in my lifetime and the more we can rationally explicate the better. Or maybe that is my problem, the rationalist faith of my heritage prevents me from seeing and perceiving what others doing.

John W. Morehead said...

No surprises that we disagree, Jon, but I enjoy the discussion.

The Roman Catholic and LDS Church are two different entitities with different means of engaging culture. As to whether Beck's logic is "fuzzy" I'll leave that to others to discern, just as I will to those who might find the same in Moore or the Left. Recall the idea of the sociology of knowledge and that one's community logic always seems most reasonable and undeniable in one's own sociological context, and quite qustionable to those outside it. Such perspectives can provide us with a bit of humility before casting the stones of logic, politics, or religion.

And no, I am not a part of the Christian Right. I am conservative in theology and politics, however. There, outed myself. Such a stance does not undermine my work in cultural studies and missiology as the fruit of my work demonstrates, even though it might be difficult for a liberal Christian friend to fathom.

Jon Trott said...

John, there are many things difficult for me to fathom, including why everyone in the world doesn't think exactly like I do! Hehehehe...

Re conservative politics (esp. in its current incarnation) over against missiological paradigms, I'll have to put some thoughts together for ya. As soon as I find some, that is (wink).

I do agree re one's own community logic nearly always seeming sensible and "right" vs. other communities' logic with whom one has major disagreements. That said, hopefully we can agree that perhaps there really is logic that is, shall we say, more logical? The Beckster... he's enough to make this moderate post-modern feel pretty modernist in reaction!

Jon "Why do you put up with me" Trott