August 13, 2010
Glenn Beck & the Faith Factor
Joe Carter at First Things recently challenged Beck's view that issues like abortion and same-sex marriage shouldn't guide our public discussion as much as they do. Yet, Beck regularly insists we need to be moral in our day to day dealings: don't lie, cheat or steal. Have a strong work ethic, dont be lazy. Oh, and get back to your church, temple, synagogue or mosque. "Find God" so society can return to it's previous version of normal.
But why should we care about the moral nature of our words and actions, and why does he appeal to our various religious experiences to ground our motivations? He certainly does not believe that each religion is true, because competing worldviews can not all be true. Beck knows that. Maybe he thinks they each have enough truth to provide common moral knowledge for all reasonable people looking for it. If he is holding to some form of natural law, he could probably even include atheists in his appeal to basic morality as well. But he doesn't.
Whatever it is that Beck is trying to say about the role of religion in the health of our nation, he has it wrong in what appears to be an embrace of religious pluralism, at least for pragmatic purposes. I get it that he is avoiding telling his audience that it's the Mormon way or the highway. But behind his argument for societal calm is the lie that no matter what you believe, as long as you believe it sincerely and you aren't blowing up other people, America can get it's act together like the way it use to be. This sappy sentimentalism does not acknowledge what separates religious people, the transcendent claim to the source of moral truth and the reality of significant disagreement on a plethora of moral issues. Not to mention the nature and character of God.
The reality is that though we live in a pluralistic society, our appeal to God and moral facts need to not be grounded in this pluralism. There is no objective, neutral place from which we can each derive our ethics, they are firmly rooted in how we understand ultimate reality. Glenn Beck is moving with dangerous imprecision in the realm of religion and ethics as he argues for an untenable cultural ideal, one which is more damaging to society in the long run. It is one thing to recognize that it is a pluralistic society that we live in, but we should not accept that as the way things ought to be. Whether it is because he is a Mormon or because he is on a nationally televised show, Beck's appeal to God is so general that it is essentially pointless. Perhaps it's time for his program to remain focused entirely on the Constitution and the idiocy coming from Washington DC and to exit stage right the realm of religious ethics.