Wednesday, September 1, 2010

More Beck vs. King: Andrew Murphy on the Difference

More fine analysis of the absurdity of Mr. Beck's claim to be a new Martin Luther King.  This piece by Andrew Murphy is at Religion Dispatches today.

Murphy writes:

The American past and present, in King’s view, was defined largely by the unwillingness of the nation to honor the check written at the founding. And so the inheritance from the past was a dual one: a founding promise of liberty and equality in theory, and a legacy of slavery and segregation in practice. The change sought by King and the civil rights movement was motivated by a desire to overcome, or to redeem, the latter by finally realizing the potential of the former. This pointed contrast of present with past — of founding covenant with degenerate practice — is central to the power of King’s prophetic political critique.

Contrast all of this with the tenor of the contemporary conservative movement. Central to the traditionalist conservatism espoused by Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, the two featured speakers at Saturday’s “Restoring Honor” rally — is the idea that the values and practices that dominated the nation’s life during previous eras — traditional families, (Christian) religion in the public sphere, celebration of the military, the equation of white America with “real” America — must be those that lead it into the future. This is the “honor” that needs to be restored, and despite the minor brouhaha caused by Beck’s admission earlier this month that he didn’t think gay marriage was a particular threat to the nation (or Palin’s constant attempt to claim the mantle of feminism), the insistently backward-looking nature of the 2010 rally betrayed a rather different valorization of the past than King’s lament over the squandering of founding promise.

As Murphy notes, where Dr. King called the nation forward to realize its yet-to-be-realized democratic principles of liberty and justice for all, Beck and his cronies look backward--to some imagined golden age in which Christian values (and Christian men--white ones) ruled the roost and "honor" flourished in the land.  One vision of America is a tonic reminder designed to make us uncomfortable as we look at the distance between who we claim to be and who we really are.  The other is a panacea designed to make us complacent about who we imagine ourselves to be.  And to deter us from recognizing who is using religion to drug us into complacency while our pockets are being picked.

It's clear which of these two gentlemen the famous German-American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr would have found an authentic preacher of an authentic gospel, a gospel whose function, Niebuhr famously insisted, is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.  (Hint: the authentic prophet with an authentic message is not Mr. Beck.)

The illustration for this posting is a visual telling of the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man from Luke's gospel (16:19-31), in the 11th-century illustrated gospel manuscript the Codex Aureus of Echternach.

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