Oh, Glenn Beck.
Earlier this month at a Mormon symposium in Salt Lake City, I spoke on a panel about how Mormons should respond to Glenn Beck. My take: don’t underestimate him, but try not to get so worked up about him. Beck wins every time we send more chatter, more attention, or more internet “hits” his way. He’s not making any converts, he’s running out of material (witness his July foray against 1960s black theology—1960s??!!), and the spin cycle on his pronouncements and provocations keeps getting shorter and shorter. Plus, I’ve heard from Beck fans who are plain wrung out by the level of outrage they must continually absorb, process, and reproduce as members of his following. Built-in obsolescence? Ideological drama fatigue? Crisis fatigue? I sure hope so.
The only way to really deal with Beck, I told the Mormon symposium folks, is to do as the words of the old Mormon pioneer hymn and “put our shoulders to the wheel” working and supporting progressive causes.
So I’m trying not to get too worked up by Beck’s latest antics this week, using religious rhetoric to stir up the masses in support of another promotional event for the Glenn Beck media empire.
Beck: I think this is an opportunity to gather God’s people together and wake people up. And I just have this feeling that this is the beginning of something gigantic in this country, that it is spiritual awakening. What’s going to happen there will raise the hair on your arms. What’s going to happen there you will never, ever forget and I promise you, then next day when you read about it—if the press covers it—you will say “oh my gosh, I wish I would have been there.” This will go into the history book. This is Divine Providence. This is the Lord’s hand at work. This is a miracle.
Barton: And it really is. It’s an intervention of God. And a lot of times when he shows up, it’s not the way you thought he was going to show up, but man the results are always his and it’s really good the way it works out.
Beck: And that’s kind of the point of 8/28: you just have to stand where the Lord wants you to stand. He’ll explain it to you when the time comes. You can feel the presence of the Lord. I mean, the Spirit is so strong. When you two hundred, three hundred, five hundred thousand people on the Mall in that space right there between Washington and Lincoln with the Reflecting Pool—a spiritual space in our nation—the Spirit of the Lord is going to be unleashed like I think you’ve never felt it before.
In the world of Mormonism, we call this rhetorical move “bearing one’s testimony.” When one bears testimony, one attests to the truth of a spiritual principle. The phrase “the Spirit is so strong” is a conventional Mormon phrase to describe one’s perception of Holy Spirit manifestation lending credence to one’s attestation.
In my lifetime as a Mormon, I have seen church members bear testimony to doctrinal principles like the goodness of God and the power of forgiveness and bear testimony of powerful personal experiences of the divine.
I have also heard Mormons bear testimony to the truthfulness of multilevel marketing schemes, get-rich-quick programs, nutritional products, wacky end-times scenarios, and various strands of extreme political thought and intolerance. Mormons being humans, I’ve even heard folks bear testimony of the powerful experiences they’ve had on high-speed amusement park rides. No kidding.
When one bears testimony or manipulates Mormon rhetoric to promote a for-profit scheme, we call this affinity fraud.
Affinity fraud is a big problem in tight-knit Mormon communities where insider status often trumps reason.
What is Glenn Beck bearing his testimony to sell? Not pragmatic solutions to the very real resource problems facing this country. He’s bearing his testimony to sell a media event full of crisis rhetoric and empty ideological sloganeering.
I’m not worked up about it. I’m just saying.