John Feehery: Speaking Engagements


Beware of False Prophets

Posted on August 30, 2010

Glenn Beck // Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

The good news coming in over the weekend is that Glenn Beck announced that he wasn’t running for President.  The bad news is that he seems to think of himself as some sort of a religious prophet, and a lot of people seem to agree with him.

Beck proved that he wasn’t completely delusional when he admitted that he would be unelectable should he decide that he was running for the nation’s highest office.  On that, I assume he is correct, but then again, you never know.

Beck’s rally, from all the news reports, was a political curiosity, in that it wasn’t supposed to be overtly political.  He gave an award to Albert Pujols, the St. Louis Cardinal’s slugger, and somehow suckered Tony LaRussa, the Cardinals’ long-time manager to be there to actually present the award to his star.  He also gave an award to a relative of Martin Luther King, which was appropriate, (I guess) since it was 47 years to the day that King gave his famous “I Have A Dream” speech in that very same location.

Beck spends an inordinate amount of his time trying to prove that he isn’t a racist and trying to prove that other people are (Obama, for example). I don’t know if he is, and frankly, I don’t care, but I do know that that the term “racist” is over-used and over-done.  Maybe that is part of Beck’s strategy.

That Beck would take a turn from politics into religion says a couple of things about Beck and about the state of our country.  First, Beck is an opportunist.  He senses that the country is in dire need of spiritual and political leadership, and he is rushing in to fill the void.  Barack Obama, who was elected not only as President but also as a political Messiah, has failed utterly to give the same kind of inspiration to the country as President that he gave as a candidate for President.  Beck offers inspiration, of a sort, and a message, if you call it that, that is made for television, which has its own internal consistency, and provides great entertainment value.  Obama does nothing of the kind.

Beck’s religious message is very interesting because right now, he has no rival in the field.  There is no Catholic prelate who can command the stage who isn’t fighting off some allegation of covering up child molestation.  There is no commanding Cardinal like New York’s O’Connor (McCarrick having unfortunately retired).  Nor is there a towering Protestant clergyman that commands respect on the par of Billy Graham.  Pat Robertson’s influence is in decline, and while James Dobson still packs a punch, he is too narrow a figure to be able to inspire a wider audience.

In the 1950’s, Bishop Fulton Sheen revolutionized the way the Catholic clergy took its message to the people by going on television and explaining Catholic theology.  If you look at old clips of the Bishop, he would use chalkboards and make very complex issues very easy to understand.   It wouldn’t surprise me if Beck watched those sermons, because he uses many of the same devices that Sheen used to make his rhetorical points.

Sheen, of course, was explaining the rich traditions of Catholic theology that traces its history to the very beginning of the Christian religion.  Beck?  Well, he spends most of his time talking about the political theology of Barack Obama, and less about his own religion, which is, I guess, a form of Mormonism.

Glenn Beck is no Fulton Sheen, even though he may be trying to play him on television.  My only admonition to those of my friends who have become big fans of Glenn Beck (and I have more than few of them), is to beware of false prophets.  Beck’s ersatz blend of patriotism, religious revivalism, and politics is no substitute for the real thing.