An Example of the Stormin' Mormon (Glenn Beck)'s Mode of Operation

Glenn Beck and Historical Inaccuracies

My friend, and huge Glenn Beck fan, Byron Harvey, has been debating me on my last post concerning Glenn Beck and his Mormonism (and how I think that his inability to discern the historical fallacies of Mormonism should give rise to our calling into question Beck's discernment when he touts himself as a great historian).

Byron questioned my take that Beck often gets history wrong.

Glenn Beck's historical inaccuracies are so often, and so subtle, that there could be an entire blog dedicated to it. Every time I watch him, I squirm, because at some point he will do these things. I don't have the time or energy (or interest, to tell the truth) to create such a blog. But I will do this: Let's watch just one clip from the Glenn Beck program and make some observations.

Here are just a few observations.

1. Beck raises up the Massachusetts Colony's Constitution as the bastion of godliness and the true religious beginnings of this country. After quoting it, Beck says, "Today, in that same state, you'd be boiled in your own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through your heart just for thinking such thoughts. And God forbid you bring a Christmas cookie for the other kids at school. That is how far off course we have drifted." Beck fails to mention that, as a Mormon, he most likely would have been banished from the colony, like they banished others they deemed as heretics - Roger Williams, Anne Hutchison and the Quakers. The law of the Massachusetts stated that blasphemy was punishable with death. If the Puritans in Salem burned what they thought were witches, what would they have done to a Mormon?

2. Then Beck has the audacity to preach from the Old Testament about the Exodus. This is what I think gets evangelicals all excited about Beck - "Glenn makes these biblical analogies! You see?! He is one of us!" But they are not considering that Beck is not one of us - he has chosen to be a member of a false religion that twists the gospel of Jesus Christ. His interpretation of the Bible must be taken with circumspect.

For instance, Beck says that God told the Israelites on Mt. Sinai to "just do ten things." Really? Has he read Exodus? What about all those crimes that resulted in the death penalty? "Anyone who attacks his father or his mother must be put to death" (21:15), or "Observe the Sabbath, because it is holy to you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death" (31:14). What does he do with all those laws? There was a lot more than "just 10 things that they had to do." And to imply that it's that simple to understand the Bible reveals Beck's naivete or his ideological bias (I'll let you decide).

And (this is a pet peeve of mine), is it healthy to compare America to the nation of Israel and the Exodus? This is not good history - it repeats the same mistakes that was going on in some churches at the time of the Revolution. It continues this blasphemy in our day, twisting the gospel away from what it actually is about.

3. Beck then says that the Washington Monument represents what the American Founders' "principles that were embedded everywhere!" He fails to tell us that the Washington Monument wasn't constructed until 1848 (and not finished until 1884). So, what did the founders have to do with the design and construction of the Washington Monument?

Beck is making a case by citing Seals and Monuments. This is just shoddy historical work, isn't it?

Take a look at the real "Great Seal of the United States." It takes its symbolism not from Christian sources but pagan sources. Look at Washington Monument. It is not based on Israelite or Christian architecture, but Egyptian. Look around Washington D.C.: Not only is Moses seen in the artwork and architecture, but also men like Confucius and Solon. There are plenty of pagan statues of Roman, Greek, and Egyptian gods. Maybe what we see “embedded everywhere" is not a favoritism toward a Judeo/Christian founding of the nation, but a respect for all these ancient civilizations.

4. Next, Beck states that Thomas Jefferson wanted the country to have Moses and the Exodus on the National Seal. Certainly, the founders enjoyed using the Exodus for symbolism about their war against England and their escape from tyranny to find freedom. But does this really mean that the history of the Unites States is equivalent to that of Israel in the time of the Exodus?

Beck claims that since Jefferson considered the Exodus for the Seal for the United States, then the "the wall of separation between church and state" is a novel, progressive lie – a concept that was foreign to the founding fathers.

But he is misleading his audience. Anybody with even the simplest education in American history knows that it was Jefferson who coined that phrase in his letter to the Danbury Baptists!

Are we really supposed to buy what Beck is peddling here?

related post: Glenn Beck: The Stormin’ Mormon’s Credentials to Teach History: Christians believe that Glenn Beck is a legitimate historian of American history? Really?


steve said...

Maybe Beck should introduce his audience to the Jefferson Bible. I'd love to hear his spin on that one.

Neil said...

I have just watched Becks interpretation of history to the CPAC conference. He states that the Versailles Treaty led to Hitler; this is a simple minded interpretation indicating the mind of someone who cannot cope with complexities. There are many contributing factors to Hitlers rise, who very easily could have disappeared if it were not for Papens self-interest in the matter in Jan 1932. He then jumps to criticising Rooseveltds dealing with the Depression, but completely ignores what caused it; ie, unregulated market forces ie banks giving credit for stock market speculators, company profits exceeding wage growth which meant workers had no money to buy goods, leading to overproduction and oversupply in the market, leading to massive job loss and unemployment, and so the cycle went on, due to a lack of government regulation of big business. My main concern is that Beck uses bits of history out of context to support his idealogical argument; he abuses the skills of historiography (well, he clearly doesn't have any) and has no credibility. What i am even more surprised with is that some Christians take this guy seriously.

Bob Robinson said...

Yea, that Jefferson was a great Christian, wasn't he?

Thanks for those insights.

John Fea said...

Bob: I am with you on all of this. You do make one minor error on point #1. You are conflating the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 with the 17th century laws that banned outsiders like Hutchinson and Williams.

The 1780 Constitution established after independence) did maintain Congregationalism as the established church in Massachusetts, but it also offered religious toleration to all Protestants. In other words, if you were a Baptist or Episcopalian your tax dollars went to support your own minister. If you were not affiliated with a church or, of course, if you were a Congregationalist, your tax dollars went to support the established (Congregational) church.

Bob Robinson said...

Thanks, John, for straightening me out on that one.

I asked John to come over to the blog and comment. My former dorm-mate at seminary, he is now Associate Professor of American History at Messiah College. I look forward to his forthcoming book in the history of Christianity in the founding of America.

Check out John's blog here.

Byron Harvey said...

Couldn't get the video to play. Said it was a "private video". By the way, for my being a "huge Glenn Beck fan", you watch him a lot more than I do. Seriously.

Without being able to watch the video, it's hard to see if your concerns have much merit. On their face, they don't sound terribly bothersome to me; the first two, at least, I answer with what I've said previously: I doubt Glenn has put nearly as much time, study, and effort into researching his Mormonism as he has issues of American history. We can agree that's a shame, of course; we can also agree that he's probably not a lot different in that respect from a significant percentage of evangelical Christians whose understanding of their own professed faith is, at least some times and in some ways, atrocious. The fact that a professing Christian surgeon can't easily articulate the doctrine of sanctification doesn't mean he's not to be trusted with a scalpel, because after all, if he doesn't even know the difference between positional and progressive sanctification, why would we allow him to operate on our kidneys? I doubt (without watching the video) that Beck, rather than "failing to mention" that particular truth about his Mormonism, even knows his Mormonism enough to make that connection (after all, he's told that he's a "Christian" by his Mormon elders).

As to "just ten things", again it'd be interesting to watch the video, but perhaps a third explanation is simply the use of hyperbole...I'll reserve judgment 'til I see it. Oh, and I agree with you about Israel/America analogies, but if Beck doesn't understand the gospel, then he's sure not twisting it, right?

Have to hear more context on points 3 and 4...

Bob Robinson said...

I replaced the "private" video with a "public" one. Don't know how that happened - the original one was "public" when I found it. This version is a little longer than the one I used before, a lot of stuff about the pilgrims to starts it out. My original clip started at the 2:52 mark on this video.

As I watch this longer video, it is actually an even better example of what troubles me about Beck. Here he cites Bruce Feiler's book, America's Prophet: Moses and the American Story. This pop-history book makes the case that Moses (and the Exodus story) is the main way that Americans have seen their story - of escape from tyranny to freedom (here's a review of the book at the Washington Post). So, how I see Beck is this: He is willing and happy to tell his audience the "facts" about how Moses and the Exodus informs us about the beginnings of our country. But he is unwilling to do the hard work of discerning whether or not equating America with the Israelite Exodus was a good idea or not, it is just assumed that it was. And, on top of that, as Stephen Prothero states in the Post review, "the Mormons... more than any other group of Americans, took to reenacting the Exodus story. Brigham Young was, as his biographer Leonard Arrington rightly noted, an 'American Moses' who led his people from persecution in Illinois, through plagues in the plains, to the Promised Land of Utah."

My question about Glenn Beck is this: Is it because he's a Mormon that he uncritically embraces the Moses/Exodus motif for American history? Or is he just such a bad historian that he is unable to practice this deeper kind of discerning analysis?

Byron Harvey said...

OK, just watched it, and as to point #3, Bob, I just don't see the point you're making AT ALL. He isn't claiming that the founders had anything to do with the construction of the Washington Monument; that's not the point he's making at all. I'm surprised anybody would assume that. He's simply saying that the principles are everywhere. What's wrong with that? They're in history books too, but he's not saying that the history books were written by the Founding Fathers.

No, it's not shoddy historical work--if you take time to listen to what he's saying. IF the two men cited wanted the seal a certain way, then that's valid history--and it says something about what the men were thinking ought to symbolize America. Why's that shoddy--if it's true? And it would seem that the people who did build our monuments would have some grasp on what the Founding Fathers thought the country was to stand for, right? I don't concede your point at all, Bob.

Finally, I think he might could have been a little clearer with his phraseology, perhaps, in talking about the wall of separation--but I understood his point, and he was right, that the way that wall of separation--which wasn't in the Constitution, of course, but which Jefferson put in the Danbury letter--is being currently interpreted could not possibly be what Jefferson meant by it. Not possible. Rightly (though he didn't make this clear), he pointed out what the Constitution does say regarding religion--which involves two restrictions upon the government (and none upon religious institutions--but that's not what a lot of folks understand the First Amendment--or the "wall of separation"--to mean today).

At most, Beck in this piece could have a.)chosen to bite off a little less for the sake of clarity, and b.)could stand to really study the difference between his Mormon beliefs and what evangelicals, etc. believe--because as I've agreed, he tends to gloss over those substantial issues.

But when you said words to the effect that he "often" lists "historical inaccuracies", I thought you'd be able to produce something more substantive than this, Bob. It seems to me like you've forged a conclusion and then, at least in this case, shaped the facts to fit it. Not that we all don't sometimes do that, I'd say, but honestly, I think you gotta do better than this to prove that point.

Lastly, for no reason other than to attempt to prove that I'm not a Beck Kool-Aid drinker, I think that he can often be too sensationalistic. I think that he's a little self-promoting at times. I think he could slow down and be a little more precise at times.

But I also think that he's as sincere as the day is long--even if sincerely mistaken on occasion; that he's not drinking the Kool-Aid for the Republican Party to the degree some of his colleagues are; that he truly fears for America--even if his fears may at times be a bit overblown.

Bob Robinson said...

REALLY? You don't see my point "AT ALL?" Really?

You say, "I thought you'd be able to produce something more substantive than this, Bob."

I said to start this post, "Glenn Beck's historical inaccuracies are so often, and so subtle, that there could be an entire blog dedicated to it. Every time I watch him, I squirm, because at some point he will do these things."

To make my point, I simply pasted into the blog the first video at youtube I found and commented on it.

You've watched Glenn Beck enough to have seen this modus operandi - he cherry picks this fact and then that fact and pieces them together to make his ideological case. This isn't the only time he's cited DC's architecture to make the case that America has lost its Christian moorings. And every time, he glosses over the Egyptian, Eastern, and Pagan symbols that are "embedded everywhere." If the architecture of DC not only reflects Judeo/Christian history, but these others as well, WHY DOES HE NOT SAY SO? Because if he does, then it throws his argument off (notice that when he does mention that the Washington Monument is "Egyptian," he hints that this is because of the story of the Exodus - a wry move to make it about his ideology and not about the fact that it was in honor of Egyptian architecture).

Earlier, you wrote, "The fact that a professing Christian surgeon can't easily articulate the doctrine of sanctification doesn't mean he's not to be trusted with a scalpel, because after all, if he doesn't even know the difference between positional and progressive sanctification, why would we allow him to operate on our kidneys?"

I appreciate that fact that a surgeon does not have to have correct theology in order to be a good doctor. But that is comparing apples to oranges.

Beck, as a self-proclaimed student of history, is here comparing America to the Exodus. In doing so, he has entered historian/theologian territory. And thus I am comparing apples to apples.

Anonymous said...

It does seem that you are being unfairly critical of Beck. Why all the animocity? Is it primarily fueled by his Mormonism? I hope that is not the case. Look, Beck is doing this country a great service and there are hordes of good Christian men and women who are now keenly watching the current landscape with wary eyes, people who are now horrifically aware of some of the anti-Christian, liberty robbing agendas that are being pushed right now by people who make it a point to mock and deride Evangelicals (you) in sickening ways.

And this is your outreach, your solidarity? You repay Glenn Beck by allowing your obviously out of all proportion disgust with his cultural identity to be a weapon to villify his efforts? He is on your side! Stand together folks or we're going to be following in the steps of Europe, a hollow spiritual shell of a place full of empty secularists like Bill Maher.

You sound threatened by the Mormons. What are you afraid of? If you are right and they are wrong then continue to make your theological case without regarding them. Is your gospel not sufficient for your ministry? Mormons aren't the enemeny here, Secularism is and one do you will recognize that too late.

Bob Robinson said...

I refer you to my comment to you on the previous post.

I understand that these posts may sound like I have animosity toward a person simply because they profess faith in a false religion. That really is not what I intend to do. Rather, I intend to help evangelicals (those that are indeed in my camp) understand that Beck is not necessarily telling the truth, and that we tend to want to believe him based on our political ideology rather than because he is a trustworthy source for truth.

And BTW, whether he intends to deceive or not is not the point - I believe that he simply is not capable of discernment when studying history.

John Fea said...

A few comments on this video. This will have to be quick and dirty, so here goes:

1).Christians should certainly be willing to commend the Pilgrims for giving thanks after such hardships. As far as Beck's passing reference to the "tyranny of the King" this is anachronistic. Beck slips this Whiggish reference in order to connect the Pilgrims to the American Revolution.

2). Beck is partially correct about the Massachusetts Constitution of 1780. The passage he read in Article II is accurate. But to claim that the Mass. Constitution claimed religious liberty is a bit misleading. The Constitution maintained an established church. (Congregationalism). Non-Protestants did not have religious liberty in early national Massachusetts until 1833.

3). Beck suggests that the Massachusetts Constitution is representative of all the states. While many states did maintain a Protestant establishment, Virginia was one state constitution that offered complete religious freedom. In other words, only Virginia upheld the kind of religious liberty Beck champions. The other colonial constitutions that did make reference to God all placed restrictions on religious liberties. For example, Beck's own Mormon faith would have been tolerated in Mass., but Beck would have to pay taxes to support Congregationalism and he certainly would not be allowed to run for office.

4). The whole Washington Monument stuff is really strange. He says that America is founded on principles like LAUS DEO and uses the monument as evidence. Actually, the monument is a part of a Christian culture that pervaded 19th century America, but this culture was only possible because the framers of the Constitution favored religious freedom and passed the First Amendment. At the time the Washington monument was erected one could argue that America was culturally a Christian nation. This explains the references to God. There were many attempts to Christianize the Founders and the Founding during the 19th century. The Monument was one of them.

5). Jefferson did believe that there should be a wall of separation between church and state. So did Madison. Washington and Adams not so much. But even Washington and Adams could not make a legal or Constitutional argument that the United States was a "Christian nation." Some of the best scholarship has argued that this wall was not as high and impregnable as the 1947 Supreme Court made it out to be in the Everson case. The Wall was there, but it certainly had some permeable cracks, as evidenced by the fact that Jefferson saw no problem worshiping in the House of Representatives during his presidency.

6). Beck's attacks on progressivism are absurd. Religious progressivists promoted American exceptionalism to a much greater extent than fundamentalists during the World War I era. Beck's American exceptionalism (America is God's Israel with a special destiny) sounds a lot like the kind of exceptionalism promoted by Woodrow Wilson and other progessives. Woodrow Wilson and other liberal progressive Protestants believed that they could usher in the Kingdom of God by spreading democracy and addressing social ills. They were some of the most ardent defenders of "Christian America." They wanted to transform the culture and the world. Many Fundamentalists tended to hide behind their premillennialism and had no particular interest in making the culture Christian because they were trying to get people saved so they would be ready for the imminent return of Jesus.

The worst part of this video is Beck's use of history to promote a political agenda. This kind of cherry-picking from the past to prove a political point in the present is ahistorical and disrespects the complexity and fullness of the past. Yet many who watch Beck will praise him for his historical insights. Beck manipulates the past for his own ends. This is bad history and one of the worst forms of revisionism.

For what it's worth...

Bob Robinson said...

You wrote, "For what it's worth..."

I think that's worth a lot. Thanks for those insights!

Anonymous said...

Well, there are some important links between some of the inspiration for creating America's government, the world's first true "democracy," and his reference to Moses. This site has some more on those connections.