insanity, James Cone, liberation, obama

A Cautionary Tale: No Beck, You Aren’t Intelligently Addressing James Cone

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.

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28 thoughts on “A Cautionary Tale: No Beck, You Aren’t Intelligently Addressing James Cone

  1. myles says:

    Oh, it’s definitely that he hasn’t read Cone. I have a friend who was on his show a while back who confirmed as much about most of the stuff that he talks about. He relies on “researchers” and talking points, but not actually reading the stuff.

  2. Jeremy says:

    This reminds me of the time Hannity covered liberation theology on Fox News and claimed that the entire theological system was based on one verse (Luke 4:18). If nothing else, Cone should take this as a sign that he has stayed true to the gospel. If someone so obviously wrong on so many issues is vehemently against him, then surely he has done something right. I can’t even watch the video. It’s too painful.

  3. Beck quotes Black Theology and Black Power by Cone over and over again, but it is only the prooftexts that make Cone look racist. Cone defines what blackness is, as anyone who has a heart for the dispossessed. It just makes me wonder who Beck is really working for in the big scheme of things. I also have to wonder why Anthony Bradley did not call into question Beck’s misunderstandings of the cross, particularly as it relates to both the God-human and human-to-human relationships (reconciliation).

    • I agree with you, Rod, especially re: Anthony Bradley. I remember seeing Bradley at a conference quite a few years ago and being impressed, but was really disheartened when I saw him on Beck’s CNN show a year or two ago. (I’m not sure if Bradley is a part of this misguided rant, as I haven’t had the chance to watch it yet).

      • Yeah, Anthony Bradley makes an appearance. All he does is say five times, “you are basically right, Glenn, and let me add……” Bradley has read Cone but Beck has not, yet Bradley does not want to stop Beck on his rant for some reason. It was very odd.

        • Can someone just ever be “whelmed”?

          I have yet to read his book, but from his latest blog posts and tweets, I have a feeling he has a work on race and reformed theology coming soon. Should be interesting.

        • It will be interesting to see what his constructive work says. I’ve pretty much lost any respect that I had for Bradley, at least in terms of an authority on liberation theology. Even if we are to try to be charitable and grant that someone may try to do a kind of liberation or black theology and be fundamentally at odds with a James Cone, there are much better ways to go about that than to prop up Glenn Beck’s conspiracy mission.

          Just a note, Bradley’s speaking topic at the conference I attended was not on anything related to liberation theology.

          I want to wait to give whatever constructive work he has coming a fair shake, but I’m also tempted to be a little bit polemical in saying that aligning with Glenn Beck puts one at odds with anything I’d want to recognize as good theology. That’s going too far, and just from glancing at Bradley’s site, it seems that he wants to advocate for social justice, etc. My experience with him is limited to one conference talk four or five years ago and his time as a talking head with Glenn Beck.

  4. Oh, and I must add this: Beck’s distinction between traditional Christianity as a “Christ who is Conqueror” at the Resurrection sound quite triumphalist. A triumphalism where white US American history prevails over the rest of the world (Beck’s restorationist view of history) that has been a marker of neoconservative imperialism for the past decade.

  5. Jeremy says:

    Also, how can he be so bold to claim that Jesus was not a victim of a Roman execution? I mean it’s obvious he has no idea of the actual historical reality of Jesus’s crucifixion. “He chose to give his life. If he was a victim and this theology was true then Jesus would have come back from the dead and made the Jews pay for what they did. That’s an abomination.”

    Does he know that Jesus was killed under Pontias Pilate? Does he know that crucifixions were executions under Roman rule. And what the hell does he mean when he claims that Jesus would made the Jews pay? I’m baffled.

    I can’t really waste any more time on this, but I wanted to give a big fuck you to Glenn Beck for trying to throw America’s best theologian under the bus.

    • Jerms says:

      “what the hell does he mean when he claims that Jesus would made the Jews pay? I’m baffled.”

      Not sure if you’re being sarcastic or not, but it still presents an opportunity to point something out.

      Beck must mean that his only understanding of justice is tit-for-tat, eye-for-an-eye, etc. If they did something wrong to Jesus, then he would have sought revenge. It’s very revealing. Beck uses one of the very targets of the cross’s message (that retributive notion of ‘justice’) to discount the message the cross sends. Seems clear to me that he doesn’t get the revelation.

  6. What really cracked me up was when Beck said he checked with some leader of the Southern Baptist Convention to see if he was getting “mainstream Christianity” right. As if pointing out that Cone is not a representative of “mainstream Christianity” is some big revelation. He doesn’t get it.

    Seemed as though Bradley had clear instructions to just sit there and nod whenever Beck needed him to. “In return, we’ll wave your book around a lot.” Truly embarrassing.

    • The point of Cone’s theology is that he and his followers are outside the mainline/mainstream. On the margins, since that is where God is. I am wondering how closely Bradley read Cone, and Beck’s proof-texting of Cone, just ridiculous. Talk about being taken out of context.

      As for the SBC, it is evangelical, which sees itself opposed to the “liberal” mainline churches. So no, the SBC is not mainline.

  7. Great post…. I have read a few of Cone’s books, and Beck clearly did not summarize them with any integrity. Just more ramblings and random correlations to smear others names and rally his base.

  8. Thanks for taking the time to post this. What baffles me is how many Christians, some even holding PhDs, defend and listen to Beck, who is himself a Mormon, no? This suggests that, as you point out, its really more about a right, ultra-conservative narrative of who nation and country ought to be–some kind of back to the good old 50’s fantasy. Cone might point out, and rightly so, “wake up from your (white privilege fantasy); good white Christians were, after all lynching our people in the 50’s.”

  9. Pingback: Beck V. Cone: A Case for Reading Theologians Fairly and In Context | Political Jesus: Journeys in Non-Resistant Love

  10. Leo Boller says:

    Wow. Other than everybody agreeing that Beck is wrong, why has no one bothered to explain to me what “Liberation Theology” and “Black Liberation Theology” are? A huge problem is that when I look up those terms in the Internet, it seems to me that his big failure was to confuse “Liberation Theology” and “Black Liberation Theology”. I am not excited about either. I checked politicaljesus.com hoping to learn of some redeeming qualities of LT, but have found nothing of the sort. How about telling me what is so great about these theologies instead of telling me how stupid Beck is?

    • I’ve got something in the mix coming out soon that does address some of what you are asking. However, it is still in the editing process. I’ll be sure to post a link when it is available.

      • Leo Boller says:

        No. When I hit your link, Virus detection found a trojan horse. No thanks. In addition to that, if I am in a hurry, I tend not to continue reading articles about something that start out by telling me how bad a person is who had described it. If LT can’t be described without using the name “Glenn Beck”, it must be far worse than HE is!

        • Ever heard of a literary device called a foil? And don’t worry, liberation theology has been around far longer than Beck has been mouthing off. But juxtaposition is helpful for distinguishing between the two. Beck plays a foil to show what Cone is really doing. Between your inability to recognize that liberation theology is not defined in relation to Beck, and your stupefying virus detection software (or just get a mac), I’m not impressed. Go have fun with your off hand dismissals elsewhere.

  11. Pingback: Linkworthy – 7/23/20 | MattCleaver.com

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