Radio and TV talk show host Glenn Beck’s new book, An Inconvenient Book: Real Solutions to the World’s Biggest Problems (Simon & Schuster) has soared to the number one spot on the New York Times hardcover nonfiction bestseller list—despite the fact that it has been totally ignored by the mainstream press. Beck, now rated as the number three most-listened-to radio talk show host among listeners under 54 years of age, and the host of an increasingly popular daily television program on CNN’s Headline News that I have watched ever so infrequently (I watch very little television), seems to have come out of nowhere to be a fresh voice for reasoned opinion among conservatives. Even some non-conservatives have had to acknowledge that Beck is bright and fresh. His new book is already ranked number one among all books on amazon.com.
According to one source, that has reviewed the book, Beck dissects the surrealism and flawed thinking so rampant in today’s culture. His astute analysis puts the lie to comic Jon Stewart’s description of Beck as “a guy who says what people who don’t think, are thinking.” Beck writes: “I believe that political correctness is the biggest threat this nation faces today.” He sees political correctness as a “coordinated effort to change Western culture as we know it” by restricting the language of public debate on many topics.
What is Glenn Beck’s solution? We must “take back the First Amendment” by again allowing “every opinion to be spoken, no matter how ugly or unpopular it may be. That’s the essence of free speech.” I strongly agree with Beck on this point. We are so fearful of being and sounding correct that we are surrendering one of hardest won freedoms to “correct opinion.” This is true in the culture and it is also true in the Church.
On the left we want to make sure that no one is bothered by strong expressions of moral and theological courage while on the right we are so opinionated about what is true and not true, often without careful and reasoned thought and serious debate, that we defame anyone who dares to raise important questions that actually reflect the serious kind of conservatism that predates the Religious Right’s struggle for power. To question some religious leaders is almost tantamount to treason within some circles.
Witness the present political debate within the media. Whoever the front runner is the media will make sure they get hammered. Right now Hillary Clinton is being hammered and Obama is clearly making headway. Some of this is to be expected since the campaign is now heating up before the Iowa caucus. On the right Rudy Giuliani is being hammered ruthlessly by various kinds of lies that do little real justice to his actual views on several important issues. The religious right hates Clinton, fears Obama and refuses to consider Giuliani since he doesn’t meet their short list of social issues. Romney is undermined by some on the right because he is a Mormon. (Apparently Glenn Beck is a Mormon.) And John McCain, a patriot if there ever was one, is so despised by leaders like James Dobson that their antipathy is a faintly disguised expression of loathing at times.
So who will the religious right support in January and beyond? Not Fred Thompson, since Dobson has already assured us that he is not a Christian. I think the answer might be Mike Huckabee, clearly a decent man but at the moment still not a serious contender. What will these Religious Right "new style" Republicans do after a nominee is chosen, assuming it is one of the big three of Romney, McCain or Giuliani? Some, like Dobson, all but suggest they will stay home in November of 2008. I am of the persuasion that these media leaders are far more narrowly defined by their partisanship and, sometimes at least, their sheer meanness and power mongering, than we may realize. (This is a point I made by citing Frank Schaeffer’s telling of his late father’s views in a post I wrote last week.) I hope I am wrong about all this but I find this whole game rather disturbing. If ever Christians ought to realize that choosing a president will not significantly alter our culture it should be now.
I admit to being a political junkie of some sort. I like this stuff. I always have. But as a Christian my confidence is ultimately “not in the men or women” who govern us but in the Lord God. I wish that Christians in both parties, and those who are in no party, would recognize this again as they did before the 1970s. In my judgment, when all this changed, sometime after 1976, the political and social landscape was altered in ways that have not favored the spiritual well-being of the Church. We do need Christians involved in public debate and politics. The Civil Rights Movement demonstrated how the Church can make a huge difference for justice, to cite one 20th century example. I just think that we need much better role models than those we have in the Religious Right for how we actually do this more effectively. And the rise of a Christian Left among some evangelicals isn’t doing much better either, at least from what I read and see in the last few years. One can hope a new discussion might arise in the wake of the 2008 elections. It seems likely that a Religious Right darling will not be a serious option as in recent elections.