Poetic Justice for Beck’s Social Justice Rant

tea kettle with boiling water

“I beg you, look for the words ‘social justice’ or ‘economic justice’ on your church Web site. If you find it, run as fast as you can. Social justice and economic justice, they are code words. Now, am I advising people to leave their church? Yes!”

Why run?  “Social justice” codes for Nazism and communism says conservative commentator, Glenn Beck.  And he does not care if this pisses you off.  If anything, his notoriety is helpful.  “I could give a flying crap about the political process … We’re an entertainment company,” he said in a Forbes magazine cover-page article this month. In the 12 months leading up to March 1, 2010, his company Mercury Radio Arts brought in $32 million in revenue.  Five million daily viewers are in love with his Fox News show.  His wildly irresponsible statements are helpfully cataloged with a generous profile on Dickipedia — a wiki of dicks.  Here are some highlights:

“I’m thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I’m wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it.” (2005)

“When I see a 9/11 victim family on television, or whatever, I’m just like, ‘Oh shut up.’ I’m so sick of them because they’re always complaining.” (2005)

“The only [Katrina victims] we’re seeing on television are the scumbags.” (2005)

Not listed but equally ridiculous:  “This President, I think, has exposed himself as a guy over and over and over again who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture” (2009).

“I don’t necessarily believe that [what Beck says] is reflective of his own personal politics — I don’t even know if he has personal politics,” says Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers, a trade magazine devoted to talk radio. “I see him as a performer.”

Performer he may be, but for much of the American religious world, the social justice slam was the last straw.  All hell broke loose; many in the American religious establishment turned their firepower on Beck.  From Scott Trotter, a spokesman for Beck’s own Latter-day Saint community:  “Public figures who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints represent their own views and do not speak for the church.”  Evangelical leader Jim Wallis, on his blog GOD’S politics, said, “the Catholic Church, the Black Churches, the Mainline Protestant churches, and more and more Evangelical and Pentecostal churches including Hispanic and Asian-American congregations all consider social justice central to biblical faith.” He then called for Christians to boycott Beck’s show.  Beck qualified his comments by denying them: “No, no, no. Didn’t say that [tell people to leave their churches if they talked about social justice]. I said if they are basing their religion on social justice. Social justice and economic justice are code words. Look for those code words, and then ask your church, ‘What do you mean by that? What is that?’ Because they’re code words. And don’t be sucked into that.”

In an April 6 Huffington Post article, Hollywood Seventh-day Adventist Church pastor Ryan Bell talked about meeting with filmmakers at his church to create PSAs responding to Beck: “Our goal is to help people understand what social justice is and its place at the center of Christian faith.”  Here is the first of these that can be viewed at socialjusticechristian.com

If anything good came of Beck’s comments, its this: American Christianity proved that it was up to the challenge of fighting back against conservative attempts to shape its narrative and quell the struggle for social justice.  Religion is fundamentally not right wing or left wing.   And faith has no quarrel with social justice.

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Bjorn Karlman

50 thoughts on “Poetic Justice for Beck’s Social Justice Rant”

  1. i’m proud of the positive work done by my friends on this PSA. i continue to be saddened, however, by the constant battling that continues over what’s right or wrong, conservative or liberal. Jesus love pure & simply motivates us to love one another. no matter what we call it. social justice highlights the depth of where our love for one another should be. i long for a day when we can just simply “love as He loved us.”

  2. For all that time when we were helping poor people in Benton Harbor… I had no idea Dwight Nelson was secretly brain washing us to become Nazis. Thanks to Glen Beck, I now know that those Unicef cards with the big-eyed sad children might as well be pictures of chairman Mao! Excuse me while I goose-step to the soup kitchen.

  3. Even though Beck defines his show as “entertainment” (what… like the Daily Show with Jon Stewart? Really?), the vast majority of his viewer don’t see it as such, and take his truculent views straight to their hearts. If Crossfire was “hurting America”, in Stewart’s viewpoint, what is Beck and Limbaugh and Coulter and all their companion rabble-rousers doing in the name of “entertainment” then?

    This is a long clip, but the salient point starts around 2:48: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFQFB5YpDZE

  4. The consistent attack against conservative commentators is that people don’t get what they are. Trust me, people understand the concept of ‘tongue and cheek’ commentary. This is the ‘ditto head’ concept that Rush makes fun of all the time. A couple studies I have seen show that Limbaugh’s audience is overwhelmingly rich, male, and well-educated. However, people think that a bunch of retards with missing teeth are listening to his show. It is just not true. Retards do not watch/listen to political commentary.

    In the case of Beck, I can guarantee you that his listeners don’t take him literally on his statements that are purposefully over the top. They understand that he is an entertainer. I know a lot of people who watch Beck. Almost all of them consider him hit and miss. In other words, when he is right, he is dead on (which is why people watch the show), but at times, he is just a crazy guy walking around in circles and banging on a chalkboard. I would consider him the Jim Cramer of politics. He is informative, but the best part about his show is that it is funny and maybe if you are lucky, you will get a good idea or two out of it.

    And as a side note, out of the people I know who watch the Daily Show and the people I know who watch Beck, the Daily Show viewers seem to be much more under the illusion that Stewart is impartial and/or literally true all of the time.

    As for the term ‘social justice’, I don’t think there is any doubt that it is code for socialism/communism. Now, if a person wants to do charity and help others, I think that is great. Do it. However, if you invent a new term, ‘social justice’, and try to equate it with the regular concept of justice in order to justify state mandated redistribution of wealth, then you have a serious problem. You don’t control me, and you do not have more of a right to the fruits of my labor than I do. In that sense, I think Beck might have been wrong. He should not attack private charity and he should have been more clear on his point…which I believe was to not be a part of a church that was run by a Jeremiah Wright type character. At least, I think that was his point, I don’t remember because I didn’t take it too seriously when I saw it.

  5. Also, I don’t know anywhere in the Bible where it says people could be or should be economically equal. It does say, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”

  6. Yes let’s take this verse literally for a moment: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” This quote is actually advancing a classic socialist argument that the laborer (not the capitalist) should reap the greatest benefit from his or her work. The unfortunate reality, however, is that men and women around the world continuously toil away without ever fully “eating” the fruits of their labor because the capitalists (whatever race or religion they may be) continuously leverage their resources to take more and more of the fruits of the poor man’s labor. You need to find a new verse to defend Beck’s preposterous rant.

  7. Have you ever started or run your own business? If yes, is that harder or easier than working for someone else’s business?

  8. One last thing, I am not really defending his rant with that verse, just saying the concept of social justice which is synonymous with economic equality by my understanding, is certainly found no where in the Bible. Quite the opposite is true…that you should die if you aren’t willing to work for yourself. I pretty specifically said that people should help one another and that he should not attack private charity.

  9. Thanks for the very sincere thinking Kirsten. Good to see an approach to faith that rises above partisan differences. That certainly seems a lot more meaningful and worthy of investment.

  10. Yeah, I am having trouble separating the shock value of what Beck says, from what the man really thinks. The blurring of those lines is doubtless part of the intrigue. I don’t necessarily mind this always but in this case particularly, it seemed pretty irresponsible.

  11. Well, opinionated shows are entertaining and I see nothing inherently wrong with that. I am concerned, as you are, that Beck’s viewers don’t understand the fact that he is no literalist, that he says things for shock value and that he is a carefully self-constructed caricature. David, talks below about Beck’s audience. I looked up the stats on traffic to glennbeck.com… seems like a pretty well educated crowd so maybe his stuff is just one big inside joke among educated conservatives… check out the link: http://www.quantcast.com/glennbeck.com

  12. I was pretty intrigued by what you are saying RE Beck’s audience understanding his tongue-in-cheek commentary. After tons of googling the best demographic info I am getting is http://www.quantcast.com/glennbeck.com. Looks like his demographics are much like those of Limbaugh that you mention. If anyone can find a good site that compares effective break-downs of viewer demographics, I want it because I would want to compare the Beck, Stewart and Maddow crowds.
    As for the term “social justice”, I think it is fair to say that the term is ill-defined. I think a lot of people that use the term choose on purpose not to define it. As far as I am concerned, it deals with organizing for systemic social change in society and this does sound more left wing. The proponents of social justice that I have come into contact with are all ardent capitalists at the same time as far as I know. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t important to keep an eye on the lunatic fringe though. And as for Beck attacking private charity, I don’t think he was, hence his Wright explanation.

  13. What about Old Testament debt forgiveness and New Testament communal living?… they sound like organized solutions to social problems…

  14. So it is crazy to think Jesus was a capitalist, but not to think he is a socialist? It is hard to reflect the character of Jesus when you are being coerced to do so.

  15. I made that last comment without seeing this one. So you don’t consider it socialism…that is fine. Like I said, as long as people doing it consent, I really don’t care what they do. Also, I would say that just like retards don’t watch Beck or Limbaugh, I would assume it is the same with Stewart and Maddow.

  16. Man, I just added a comment on your catch on my OT views and then it got lost… So your point is taken. It is far too easy to pick and choose with religious narratives and the lessons they contain. I am less about the specifics – cleansing rituals, rules about who and when to stone, ceremonial feasts – and more about themes – helping the needy in a systemic fashion. And I believe this collectivist, communal approach to living and caring for the next, comes out in the biblical narrative.

  17. That’s fair. But what if they are consenting to organizing for systemic change? This would, in the end affect you if numbers are on their side. And then, you who may not consent, have to abide by what they have brought about through systemic change.

  18. You would have to give me an example of what you are talking about. There is choice is almost everything we do in the United States other than government sponsored monopolies. Give me an example, and I will tell you if I would object.

  19. I can remember Barbara Walters asked the same question. She really wanted to know what he truly believed in. Answer in short was “America.” I don’t think you can get a straight answer from him. He is making money on complaining and saying hateful or ignorant things. We on the left love Colbert and Stewart for their political candor, but there is a strong difference between Fox and Comedy Central. One is a news agency that claims to be fair and balanced, the other is a comedy channel. Even when you examine tone, Beck, like a preacher, is strongly pushing for a certain view or agenda. Anyone who comes onto his show who he disagrees with, he berates them and will even cut off their mic so they cannot talk over him. You should watch the clip on youtube Beck Vs. Acorn. Anyway, I have talked with many on the far right about him, after they asked if I liked him or not. They tell me he says it like it is and they get really fired up over it. That scares the hell out of me!

  20. I’m not sure if I agree with your assessment of Limbaugh’s numbers. Limbaugh claims his weekly audience is anywhere between 13-20 million, reaching heights of around 25 million at times. You claim the majority of that audience is “rich, male, and well-educated”. If both assertions stand, then nearly the entire rich-white-male demographic in the United States tunes in to Limbaugh on a weekly basis. And we all know that’s a gross overstatement. Don’t try to make his audience sound more informed and intellectual than it actually is.

    I also disagree with the notion that you can write Beck off as a “hit and miss” political gag show. What about Beck’s 9/12 Project? Would you consider it political theater or an attempt at effecting change via real grass-roots politics? Further indication that he is considered to be more than “hit and miss” entertainment was made evident during his introduction at CPAC, where his show was lauded as having the educational merit of a graduate level seminar on social issues, political philosophy and history. Further, the act of inviting Beck to fill the same pulpit as Reagan–the godfather of modern conservatism–should not be overlooked, as it affirms his status as one of the intellectual leaders of the conservative movement, or, at the very least, one of it’s cult heroes. And why have so many of his talking points gone mainstream? Because plenty of them have.

    My second problem with Beck and his apologists is this: unlike Stewart, Becks’ vehicle is not Comedy Central, but a “fair and balanced” news source, Fox. And if Beck’s value can be summed up as “hit and miss” political theater, explain how Fox can justify calling themselves “fair and balanced” while airing his show? “Hit and miss” is simply not congruent with “fair and balanced”. “Hit and miss” actually sounds more like a liability if “fair and balanced” is what you’re shooting for. To explain away Beck as “hit and miss”–a “fusion of entertainment and enlightenment”, as it states on his website–allows him to avoid being held accountable for the irresponsible (stupid) things he says and for the misinformation (lies) he disseminates.

    This scenario brings up my third problem with Beck. It seems that conservatives–moderate and fringe alike–are quick to rally behind Beck when he makes a dent in the liberal machine, but quick to pass him off as comedy when he crosses the line.

  21. For the record, I don’t like Beck.

    White males make up 35-40 percent of the US population depending on who you count as a white male. So right there, is somewhere between 105-120 million white guys in this country. How many of those are rich depends on your definition I suppose. My definition is a little more relaxed than others. That might be the main point of contention here. I consider much of the middle class to be rich.

    ‘Rich’ white males are supposed the main demographic for the Republican party. I don’t know why anyone would find it surprising that they are also the people who listen to Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck.

    Beck could also be seen as the Kieth Olbermann of Fox. Both are over the top silly clowns (inaccurate and stupid at times), but both also make very good points that warrant being taken seriously. That is what we get for merging news with entertainment. I don’t mind it actually. I think most people on both sides generally get it.

    It is just like any other controversial figure (especially political). Think of the race merchants on the left. They are pretty much just clowns there for our amusement, but every once in a while Al Sharpton, for instance, gets into something that warrants the left rallying behind him, and they do. It in no way invalidates the whole left and it shouldn’t…despite him being a shameless race merchant.

  22. Just got done watching the Beck vs. Acorn clip. Pretty entertaining. Those interviews are never fair. Nice to see a match for Beck though. I will say that you can witness almost the same kind of thing on MSNBC if you just switch around the politics. I don’t think either MSNBC or Fox are good for news. But it seems that we don’t even want straight news anymore. CNN is losing tons of ground to MSNBC and even more to Fox.

  23. OK, one of the examples that some of my friends were involved in LA was affordable housing. Here, if you got the right backing, housing developments would always have to include a few units that rented for far below market value in order to provide affordable housing to people that make under a certain wage. With the income demographics in LA you could easily get enough numbers of willing supporters to persuade local government to force developers to include such housing units. What would then be forced on you as a developer is a loss in profit. Also, you as a market-value renter might feel cheated when there is someone living next to you for a fraction of what you pay. Democracy in action?

  24. I really struggle with Beck. On the one hand I hate him and on the other I have unending respect for his ability to engage us. He is certainly irresponsible but at the same time he engages us politically where a lot of us may have be uninformed had we not been drawn by his antics. I think David may be right about Beck’s demographics (he’s helping me dig up some quality demographics on Beck’s audience – not easy to find) and that they tend to be well-educated and fairly affluent. I am not as worried about them, I’m more concerned with the crazies that may take his entertainment literally and actually kill Michael Moore. That is always the risk when you indulge the taboo. Remember the movie “Death of a President?” That was a risky move on the part of the left that would definitely have caused outrage if the right made a sequel now and had it be about Obama.

  25. I like the opinion makers, I don’t really have a problem with their spin. Outright lies and encouraging violence is where I start having a problem. When Beck uses violent language I agree that most people understand the tongue-in-cheek puns but I also agree with those that feel these kinds of comments are all that would be needed to set some crazy off on a killing rampage.

  26. MSNBC is trying to emulate fox… which makes them look really stupid. I hate it when Olbermann talks to the people on air that he is angry at… as if they are watching. After Walter Cronkite died, all the major news anchors were bemoaning the fact that the news just isn’t the same anymore. The thought that came to mind was, “well, you don’t have to waste our time with Tiger Woods!” But then again, they are supplying a demand. I like to get my news from NPR, but even they can be a bit sensationalistic at times.

  27. I am against all unnecessary force, but the situation you described is not that bad in my mind. If for no other reason, because it is done at the local level. If a company really objected to that type of rule, or was unable to meet the requirement, they could always do business in another state. Of course, the problem is that you could unintentionally raise prices for everyone else. If you raise the cost of doing business, they will raise their prices on their normal customers.

  28. Death of a president is a good thing to bring up. I have to say, I never had any problem with it. I watched it, and I thought it was actually pretty interesting.

  29. Well, if it ever happens, and Beck is the guy who inspired the killer, then you could have a point.

  30. By the way, the whole Tea Party fits that same demographic.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/15/us/politics/15poll.html

    To be clear, just because someone is wealthy and well educated does not mean they don’t hold some stupid or outright inaccurate views. However, there is so much misinformation out there (most of it not done maliciously) that every single person has multiple views on political issues that can be disproved rather quickly. I live politics and talk about it all the time. I get proven wrong by people who know nothing all the time, and I often don’t even challenge false beliefs because it is such a hassle to change people’s minds on things that are 100% known to be true.

  31. Well let me play devils advocate. We need news with spin to it. It satisfies a very human need to be right and be with like-minded souls. NPR is intellectual and liberal and that is why you and I like it. Joe the Plumber sees us as aloof and unpractical and he likes the fair and balanced straight talk psycho babble from Fox. I want more spin. This shoes engagement in the issues rather than bland digestion of facts:)

  32. Well, until that happens what do we do? Do you think the liberal condemnation of Beck and his rhetoric helps or hurts him? I think it helps him for the most part. And during this administration Fox will do better because it is the voice of the opposition.

  33. The jury is out for me on this one because again, this kind of a message could have led to Bush getting shot. Stupid killings used to come from the left and it could happen again even if most of the current American hate killings come from the right.

  34. Yeah, the demographics of the Tea Party certainly speak to them not being particularly uninformed. I am wondering about their overall direction right now though. They seem to be fairly splintered. I wonder how this will translate to votes in November. Love that you live politics.

  35. I went to the Phoenix Tea Party so everything I am about to say is based off of that experience. There seemed to be little organization and (based on what I was reading on the signs) little cohesion in message. The most important thing is that these people are all really mad and all don’t like Obama. I think that will translate into votes because that is usually what decides elections — turn out.

    I also have to mention this, Stevens wanted to retire from the Supreme Court earlier, but didn’t because he wanted to be replaced by a liberal judge and Bush was in office. I think there is a reason he is retiring now rather than next year.

  36. I am very used to people being taken out of context. I have not heard the audio of the supposed violent things he has said. If he really said them with malice, I think he should be fired. There are plenty of guys I would rather have on the air anyway. However, I really really don’t think he wanted people to kill Michael Moore. So it really all hinges on that for me. Liberal condemnation may help him in some ways, but I think it would hurt more than help. I know there was a boycott of companies that sponsored his show. I think it also narrows his appeal. I don’t feel bad for him though. He is making crazy amount of money and has a platform where millions of people in his audience. That’s more than most could ever hope for.

  37. I don’t know what killings you are talking about. There is tiller the baby killer. That guy was right wing. I guess Mcveigh was right wing, although he wasn’t a Christian like some people assume. It exists for sure, but there was also the Virgina Tech guy who hated Bush and I am pretty sure he mentioned all that stuff in his manifesto that he sent to NBC. Or that teacher in Alabama that supported Obama.

    Not trying to change the topic, but do you think Oswald killed JFK or do you believe it was a conspiracy?

  38. I’ll have to disagree with that. Perhaps this gets to the issue of educational reform. For over a century schools have been focused on telling students what to think in order to satisfy benchmarks. Perhaps if students were taught analytical and critical thinking skills at a young age, they would think Fox and spin tactics are distasteful. But now, if you try to have a political conversation with anyone, they use talking points… i do too. Instead of oversimplifying, lets ask essential questions and relate facts to build answers :-) The new world economy demands this skill, and this idea may explain why we are so far behind the rest of the world. ps. i just finished Wagners Global Achievement Gap… my thinking has been effected by his talking points….

  39. I am with you on the point that things should not be taken out of context. My only response is that when you say extreme things like “I’m thinking about killing Michael Moore,” you lose some of your leverage to make claims that you are being taken out of context – it is too inflammatory and to likely to taken literally.

  40. I don’t give the crazies too much thought. What I’m worried about are middle-of-the-road Americans taking on Beck’s narrative when they hit the polling booth, or when they explain the world to their children (although, in both cases, that would be their prerogative). And to be clear, I’m not giving hacks like Maddow, Olbermann or the Op-Ed section of the NYTimes a free pass either. My question is of the nature and necessary consequences of all these opinions, and how they affect us in the short and long-term. Are unsubstantiated talking points–liberal and coservative alike–just the foundation of benign, yet highly entertaining political table-talk, or do they have the potential to do much more, to shape our thinking and influence how we conduct ourselves in a voter-based republic? And when did we start treating crazy talk as an ultimate, if not respectable, form of freedom of expression? What of responsibility to the public? Prudence in speech? Factual information? Both sides argue that they’re sober enough to sift through all the crap. I just don’t think that’s the case.

    Reveal to me the hidden merits of blah-blah-blahing.

  41. You are cut out to be an educator my friend. I guess I don’t mind some spin because I feel it is inevitable and that if you train yourself to feed from a number of different news sources you can achieve some balance. That of course won’t happen if you shut off your critical thinking skills and park yourself in front of just MSNBC or Fox

  42. Hahaha! The hidden merits of blah-blah-blahing can, in my opinion, only be found in the context of paying attention to the broader news and commentary conversation. Bias is not necessarily a bad thing. As blasphemous as it sounds, I actually enjoy watching Fox. I really do want to know how they spin so I can better understand and debate the issues with people from across the aisle. Obviously, there are dangers to spin because if you simply consume one side of it, you end up with a very distorted picture. But bias and strong opinions are part of the American political experience and they are not going to go away. I think we should identify the obvious culprits as entertaining spin and simply take their points in the context of the larger debate and the more traditional protagonists/news outlets.

  43. I like your thoughts on this, especially the idea of blah-blah-blahing being useful only if the viewer has a grip on the broader picture. And I understand your “look, it’s a train-wreck” fascination with Fox.

    News without opinion, as Fox has keenly intuited, does not sell in America. We don’t do neutral very well. And you’re correct to point out that–historically–bias and strong opinions form the core of American political expression (think the fiery writings of Patrick Henry, the politicized church pulpit tirades during the Civil War, or the wildly yellow journalism in the lead-up to the Spanish-American War). Americans live large, we are an emotional people, and we don’t mind drawing lines and drawing them as thick as we can.

    There are times when I just can’t stomach it, though. Maybe in my time away I’ve gone soft.

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