Edit: For more than what is below, see my essay at The Other Journal: “Everyone in This Room is Now Dumber for Having Listened to [Him]” : Setting Straight the Insanity of Glenn Beck on James Cone and Black Liberation Theology.
I have found that Glenn Beck is often best left ignored. What helpful things he says are derivative and rare. However, he has again stepped well beyond his competency and this time directly into an interest of mine: liberation theology, specifically James Cone. I find it fitting that Terry Eagleton’s assessment of Richard Dawkins describes Beck as well: “Imagine someone holding forth on biology whose only knowledge of the subject is the Book of British Birds, and you have a rough idea of what it feels like to read Richard Dawkins on theology.”
Beck asserts in the video below that he is trying to give a reasoned, measured, and intelligent narrative and analysis on liberation theology. However, this is patently false. He does not give an accurate narrative and analysis of Black Liberation theology. It seems that intelligence is a luxury that Beck has yet to buy. What he does do is make numerous, broken connections that simply do not follow — one would not be wrong to question his synaptic connections as well.
Lets get a few things straight: Beck here is constructing a narrative that seeks to be a revealed secret — a secret given to his listeners, who are also the oppressed faithful that keep true to the geist of the state. The progressives are the enemy, therefore, in Beck’s mind, it is his duty to inform his following about the secret machinations of the forces that seek destruction of his way of life. It does not seem far that Beck may see himself as a prophet dispensing revelation. In reality, he functions far more like a gnostic with their theology of secrets.
Beck’s narrative has a central ideology: his first concern is the continuation of the “republic.” His hermeneutical lens begins with the state. This he established in the first few minutes of at the beginning of the show and maintained it to the end — and the key point here is that if anyone is guilty of politicizing religion for explicitly American political ends (for the Republicans-Right Libertarians), it is Glenn Beck: his starting point is first the concern for the nation. He has instrumentalized theology for politics against Obama. While he says his point is all about God, and that people shouldn’t make it about race, the point of his entire rant is to make a political jab. He has done the exact opposite of what is good political theology. It is because of the sort of thing that Glenn Beck is doing that political theology has a bad name to so many.
Lets also get some other things straight: Beck is making sophomoric mistakes left and right. Mistakes that no knowledgeable person would make. Or to put it another way, his mistakes are so fundamental, it is like looking down the barrel of a gun to see if it is loaded. Cone is not the founder of liberation theology, and nor is he the founder of black liberation theology — Cone is simply one of the early, major voices. Also, black liberation theology is not something that could be tied to the Catholicism’s economic liberation theology in Latin and South America until very recently. For quite a few years, black liberation theology and Latin and South American liberation theology were at odds because they perceived different problems, thought the other group couldn’t deal with the ‘real’ issue, and as a result, it took awhile to reconcile the two. Hell, Cone and Gutierrez did not converse about their projects while both were at Union Theological Seminary decades ago. For Beck to make the connection that they informed each other early on, and conflate the two at times, is profoundly ignorant — as it is profoundly ignorant to relate the rantings of an angry man outside of the voting booth, the weather underground, and Dr. Khallid Abdul Muhammad to Cone’s work. Beck cannot be taken seriously much like a two-year old sitting in the cockpit would not be mistaken for piloting the plane.
As for the moment of victory on the cross — which Beck harps on — for Cone the cross is of course victory in a way, but victory in weakness, which Beck clearly doesn’t get. It isn’t about victimhood. Cone actually spends much time on the cross; indeed, Cone is very suspicious of rushing too quickly to the resurrection, because the weakness is key. Beck clearly hasn’t read Cone well — or he simply is not being honest here. Cone is not represented faithfully by Beck in the same way that Amway’s commercials cover up the corporation’s pyramid architecture. The notion of blackness for Cone is quite specific — he doesn’t mean simply black skin because we’re also talking about ontology — never mind that Beck is drawing from a decontextualized text to warp beyond recognition the point that Cone is making. And then there is the whole issue that the relationship between the oppressor and oppressed isn’t the binary that Beck makes it out to be. Indeed the binary exists, but it exists because it is a reality and liberation theology seeks to save both oppressed and oppressor from the violation of their humanity: in doing violence, the oppressor are harming themselves as much as they are harming the oppressed. Liberation theology seeks to heal the dysfunctional relationship, not re-establish it. This Beck clearly did not get — the notion that salvation extends to relationships seems beyond him. Also, to complicate the binary further, no one is simply always an oppressor or always oppressed. For a guy who rants about context, Beck certainly didn’t read Cone in context.
The rest of the show is characterized by the same pitiful misreading: that Cone has no concept of grace; salvation should only, ever understood as highly individualistic; Cone is a marxist; the Bible has no concept of making just the social reality; Beck has no concept of structural evil; liberation is obsessed with the victim so as to grab power; liberation theology and philosophy are synonymous; etc. All wrong. All painfully false. One should certainly wonder if Beck is familiar with the prophets denouncing the economic system (called Mammon), the years of jubilee, Jesus and the early church on sharing, etc. Beck isn’t worth the time to keep analyzing — I’ve got better things to do. My point here is to show how impoverished Beck is in simply the first segment of his show. He doesn’t have a leg to stand on — his narrative and analysis are just as true as The Da Vinci Code.
In conclusion, Glenn Beck has not been honest. He has tried to smear Cone like he has tried to smear other people. Beck traffics in attempting to create guilt by association. This should not surprise anyone. This was far from well reasoned, measured, and intelligent. If he submitted this in a class where I am the instructor, he would get a failing grade for not engaging well with the source material (too limited in scope), not displaying an accurate understanding of Cone’s over all project, and cheap and incorrect criticism. He has not demonstrated a grasp of Cone’s thought and not engaged it well. This is simply a hit job. It is propaganda. For a guy who sees Hitler everywhere but himself, he oddly follows the same tactics. In light of this, Beck should be likened to a puppet, and the question then is, who is up to their shoulder inside him?
If you really want to know what Cone’s project is about, watch his interview with Bill Moyers.