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Friday, September 3, 2010

The word according to Glen Beck? Who dat?

(The Great Depression had Father Coughlin.  We've got Glen Beck.)

People such as Glen Beck are doing to Christianity what radical Islam did to Muslim.

They are taking the story of an emissary who came to earth to promise good will and peace and are turning it into an occasion to create contempt and foment hatred.  As Bill Press and Christopher Hitchens have pointed out, when a Mormon presumes to lecture on the theology of Christianity and is able to muster a national audience, we are in a fine state.  At least he got those people whose vacuous faces are usually peering from behind tea bags to leave their stupid signs at home.  But it is not as if the various Christian denominations do not have theologians who can set parishioners straight on what their doctrine is.  If they really give a dam, tinker's or otherwise, what Christian doctrine is. 

But the day after his desecration of the memorial day of Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" speech, Beck resumed his racist baiting by saying that Obama is a follower of liberation theology.   Christianity is a liberation theology, but that is not what Beck means to convey.  He means Obama is following a racial doctrine,  not a spiritual one. His statement that President Obama has a "deep-seated hatred for white people and the white culture" informs his intent.  However, once he plants his idea, he weasels away by saying he used a bad choice of words, but he leaves the idea intact.

Just as Muslim has its battles with factions perverting its doctrine to promote hatred and the infliction of murder and mayhem, so does Christianity.  It is a struggle.  People would rather hunt witches and press them to death than seek ways to respect others and live in peace.  We are going through one of those witch-hunting periods which challenge the premises of freedom, equality, and justice that are the foundations of our democratic system.  While folks may play around with language and indulge themselves in angry denials, plain  old primal race hatred is the energy that is driving much of politics in the form it has taken.

Beck's attack on Obama's beliefs is a devious attempt to plant the idea that Obama is controlled by his race, not his mind.  Beck has no notion of what Obama's beliefs are, but  when he says that Obama follows liberation theology, the press reports it, but doesn't ask how he knows that.  The Orwellian ability to use communication media to make the masses believe in utter falsehoods--Obama's birth country, his commitment to Muslim, his hatred of the military, on and on--is what makes it possible for a vilifying nitwit like Beck to get credible attention.  The main symptom of the general failure of the American mind is the practice of imposing falsehoods on Obama that have no  basis in fact.  Rather than criticize Obama for what he has actually said or done, he is criticized for things people make up to justify  the intensity of the hatred they feel.  And what is the real cause of that hatred?  Race.  There is no other explanation for the elaborate plethora of slandering straw men created to vilify him.

Beck deliberately misconstrues liberation theology and Christian theology in general to strike the racial premise on which he bases his defamation of Obama.  A key to understanding Beck's deceptions, whether they arise from his ignorance or his nefariousness, is in his statement that Obama is all about victims and oppressors.  That is, in fact, what Christianity is all about.  Like it or not, Jesus Christ was a "radical" in his time.   His work and his message appealed to the poor and oppressed.  For the most part, he enraged the privileged and the powerful because he threatened their hold over the people.  When the chief  priests ordered the arrest by stealth and the murder of Christ, they cautioned, "Not during the festival (Passover), or there may be a riot among the people" (Matthew 26:3).  Christ brought a message of hope and liberation to the people and said time and again that that they earned a special status in the house he prepared for them because they fed the hungry, welcomed the indigent, cared for the sick, clothed and sheltered the naked, and visited the imprisoned.  His message was that in the final valuation of things, anyone who showed his respect and concern for others were of equal human value.  The message of Christ spread throughout the world and appealed to ordinary people because it denied the feudal system that ranked people's human worth according to wealth, power, and title.  To those who held the wealth and the power, Jesus was dangerous.   He gave the people a reason to seek liberation from the forces that held them down.

Liberation theology, as the term is used to designate a particular movement, came out of Latin America and gained influence in the 1950s and 1960s. It was a movement among Roman Catholic priests who found that the feudal state in which the native people and poor in Latin America were held imposed intolerable lives on them.  The priests found that the Christian church had little appeal to the people if it did not offer some way out of the slave-like lives in which they were held.  A few rich and powerful people  owned most of the land, controlled the economy, and exercised a control over society that perpetuated master and slave relationships.  Liberation theology sought a way to free the people from their de facto bondage and it found an ally in Marxism,  which is partly what Beck and the advocates of a return to feudalism find so repellent.  But the driving force of liberation theology was its focus on the poor, which was and is the state of the huge majority in Latin America.  The priests were finding ways to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and clothe and shelter the poor, and they confronted the fact that the only way to do that was to change the political system that kept so many people in poverty. The Vatican had problems with liberation theology because it was based upon building the church from the people's perspective, not from the authoritarian rule from Rome, and the Vatican feared a Latin American Reformation that would split the church as the Protestant Reformation did.

The Vatican has denounced radical Marxism and unfettered capitalism as the twin scourges of Latin America,  but the alliance of elements of the church with Marxist revolution was tenuous from the beginning.  The violent tactics of Marxist guerillas in Latin America was at odds with the basic tenets of liberation theology and the priests and the Marxists could agree on little.

However, liberation theology had a flash of  popularity in the U.S. but the black Christian church in the U.S. has been a force for liberation reaching far back into slavery for its development.  It is no accident that the leader of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr., was a Baptist minister.  Most Americans are unaware of the fact that the songs we call spirituals (African Americans call them sorrow songs) are songs of liberation that sometimes give specific information about how to escape from and endure slavery.  While they may have lulled the ear of the white man, they spoke to the hopes and plans of the black.  American popular music, which is largely developed out of the blues, is a music that developed out of the quest for liberation, which is one of the reasons it is such a world force.  But theology in the U.S. addressed the task of making the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution apply to the American minorities as well as to white capitalists.

The words and the life of Christ have been the sources of hopes and strategies for liberation from the early times of slavery.  Christian theology is liberation theology, and people like Beck who are calling for submission to authoritarian race-based rule do not understand why the New Testament is called The New Law.  And they do  not understand why even atheists can be called Christian in terms of social and political orientation. They do not understand why the church can be seen as a force for individual liberation, not as an instrument of oppression and discrimination that so many "conservatives" envision and long for.

Obama's Christianity embraces the tradition of the black church in America and is reflected in his agenda to feed the poor, heal the sick, clothe and shelter the poor.  The conservatives call it Marxism.  It's Christianity in its purest form.  Liberation from human hatred and oppression.

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Aberdeen, South Dakota, United States