Thursday, September 2, 2010

More Beck: Gene Lyons on Beck's Revivalism as Same-Old, Same-Old

I noted a day or so ago that the United States goes through periodic cycles of religious self-flagellation akin to the one we witnessed with Mr. Beck's big revival rally in D.C. on the weekend.  These cycles tend to return when those who have historically controlled the culture imagine they are losing control: those in the controlling seat having typically been white, heterosexual, Protestant males.  

And so there's nothing new in the spectacle of a largely white, ostensibly heterosexual, heavily Protestant religious rally announcing to the nation that "we" have all lost our way and must be put back onto the right course--by those who have historically defined that course for everyone else.  What is new and distinctive about the movement represented by the likes of Glenn Beck, I have noted in several postings, is that, despite its anti-Catholic historical roots, it is so warmly embraced by a number of leading American Catholic prelates who have been intent on undermining the Obama administration from the time the president entered office.  And who are working behind the scenes with the oily Newt Gingrich and their ideological eminence grise Robert P. George to bring Catholics into the revivalist fold.

Gene Lyons places Beck's revivalism in a similar historical framework in an essay in Salon yesterday.  As Lyons notes, Beck's rally was nothing new, despite Beck's self-aggrandizing apocalyptic predictions re: the rally--which the mainstream media fueled by their intense (and bought and paid for) focus on the rally and the depth of populist discontent it purportedly represents.

And here's Lyons's incisive conclusion:

Fox News' average audience is 65. Because he's on in the afternoon, Beck's demographic probably trends older. Fifteen years ago, the old-timers attending his politicized prayer meeting were all agog about the Rev. Jerry Falwell's lurid video "The Clinton Chronicles," portraying a Democratic president and his wife as drug smugglers and murderers.

(In a filmed interview, I once asked Falwell if the commandment against false witness was less important than the one forbidding adultery. Rather to his credit, he said they were the same. Of course, what else could he say?)

More recently, the same cohort made Tim LaHaye's awful "End Times" novels a huge bestseller. There's always been a big audience in the United States for conspiracy theories and religious melodrama. The apocalyptic theology of the hard-shell denominations where hucksters like Beck and his costar Sarah Palin have their biggest following basically demands it. It's Satan worship one year, secular humanism the next. The latest bogeyman is Islamic fundamentalist Shariah law, an almost purely theoretical threat in the USA.

Which actually constitutes progress. Back in Mencken's day the enemies were Catholics and Jews.

I wonder if anyone has notified Archbishop Charles J. Chaput and other big-name Catholic signatories of the Manhattan Declaration that the folks they're playing footsie with in the religious right don't have much time for Catholics or Catholic values historically.

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