Radio Pulpits

Do this as an experiment:
Turn on your AM radio and find one or two of your local Christian radio stations. Listen for a while to the preachers there.

Because they are on the radio, they have your loyal attention. They are great at rhetoric. Rhetoric is defined in various ways – from the positive ("using language effectively to please or persuade") to the negative ("grandiosity: high-flown style; excessive use of verbal ornamentation") (Debating which radio preachers match more closely to the latter definition than the former is a discussion for another day!). Regardless of who you're listening to, most radio preachers have a weight to their words, an underlying authority. They claim to proclaim the only truth you need. They speak in a monologue seeking to convince you of how to think, how to live, and what to believe.

Once you’ve done that for a while, hit the "seek" button on your radio until you get to one of the many politically conservative radio stations in your community. As you listen to Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, or Rush Limbaugh, reflect on this: How is their rhetorical style similar to the preachers on the Christian radio stations?

They have the loyal attention of their followers. They are great at rhetoric, using grandiose language to effectively please and persuade their audience. They claim to proclaim the only truth you need. They speak in a monologue seeking to convince you of how to think, how to live, and what to believe.

They have successfully emulated the rhetorical style of the radio pulpit.

No wonder
so many Christians are so enamored with these guys.



Byron Harvey said...

Do this as an experiment: listen to Barack Obama's charismatic speaking style for awhile. Because he's a great natural speaker, he grabs your loyal attention. He is great at rhetoric...he claims to proclaim the only truth you'll need, seeking to convince you how to think, how to live, and what to believe.

Once you've done that for awhile, check out the new "emerging church" folks. As you listen to Brian McLaren, Donald Miller, and Tony Jones, reflect on this: how is their thinking and rationale similar to Obama's? They have the loyal attention of their followers. They are great at using muddled logic, circular reasoning, and outright naivete to persuade their audience. They can parade some of the silliest of arguments in the most eloquent ways, finding in Obama a person whose administration is likely to preside over a drop in abortions (Miller and Jones), and professing that no evangelicals he knows, save one single-issue voter, isn't planning to vote for Obama (McLaren).

No wonder so many mush-minded emergent-types are so enamored with these guys.

Just doing my part to keep things "fair and balanced"... :)

Bob Robinson said...

Touche' !

You actually won't get too much of an argument from me on this one! There is certainly muddled thinking on both sides. In my post where I thought I gave a very reasoned argument about why an evangelical could vote for Obama, I also said, "The answer to the disaster of the Religious Right is not to swing the pendulum and create a new Religious Left. I fear that this is what Brian McLaren has done."

But that does not negate my observation about the Right's radio personalities. If you listen to Glenn Beck in particular, he is a beautiful rhetorician. I sometimes think I'm at a tent revival listening to him!

This is a different type of style than, say, NPR's Diane Rehm. Each show she brings to the microphone three to four experts, from both the left and the right, to discuss the issues of the day. As you listen to people respectfully debating without the "punditry factor" (the long unchallenged monologues and slanted arguments) you learn a million times more.

Byron Harvey said...

Thought you'd like it!

I think that the distinction between a Beck (whom I rank well above the other two mentioned, Limbaugh and Hannity; I find Glenn to be fair, insightful, and hilarious; firm in his beliefs, of course, but reasonable, and not the "party hack" that the others really can be) and the NPR lady is that he freely confesses his partisanship; he's not a news guy (nor are the others, by the way), but a commentator. I think that a news program ought to have both sides, and that there ought to be a sharp distinction between those who report news and those who offer political commentary, that those who do the former ought to bend over backwards to not be biased, but that those who do the latter, admitting their presuppositions, ought to be able to go at it with impunity (though if/when they lie/misrepresent things, they ought to be called on the carpet).

I think there is a place for both, and that we'd be well-served to encourage more of the Diane Rehm-type stuff. When's she on?

But one question, and answer honestly: doesn't O'Reilly do that a lot? He's not always "genial", but I think he's reasonably fair. His moderately-conservative bias isn't hard to figure out, but he doesn't give a pass to people on either side of the equation, and I think his interviews of Hillary, Obama, and even Rosie O'Donnell, for that matter, were conducted with a lot of class. Just MHO...