Sunday, March 21, 2010

Does Glenn Beck Really Hate Jesus?

This was posted at Time magazine's blog last Sunday by Time writer, Amy Sullivan:
When Glenn Beck told listeners of his radio show on March 2 that they should "run as fast as you can" from any church that preached "social or economic justice" because those were code words for Communism and Nazism, he probably thought he was tweaking a few crunchy religious liberals who didn't listen to the show anyway. Instead he managed to outrage Christians in most mainline Protestant denominations, African-American congregations, Hispanic churches, and Catholics--who first heard the term "social justice" in papal encyclicals and have a little something in their tradition called "Catholic social teaching." (Not to mention the teaching of a certain fellow from Nazareth who was always blathering on about justice...) (“Why Does Glenn Beck Hate Jesus?”).
If I were making Beck’s point I wouldn’t have said “social justice” is a code meaning Communism or Nazism. Those ideologies made use of the “social justice” term, but the relation is indirect. When it comes to churches that preach social justice, I’d say instead that the phrase is a code for humanism, an ideology that’s completely antithetical to Christianity.

I’ve recognized humanism in liberal preaching since I was a teenager. And I run as fast as I can, too. You betcha!

Amy Sullivan’s idea that she can recruit papal encyclicals, Catholic social teaching, and the “fellow from Nazareth who was always blathering on about justice...” to the side fighting for partial-birth abortion, gay marriage, and cloning human embryos for body parts is typical of the reality distortion that comes from a lifetime of social-justice teaching. (Run!)

She’s right that there’s a tradition of Catholic social teaching, but it shouldn’t be confused with current social justice talk. Church teachings about social justice flowered in the late 19th century, but the Church's authentic teachings are rooted in Christian orthodoxy and natural law: two sources hateful to modern liberals. The most important encyclical of the era, Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, utterly condemned socialism and class envy, and insisted on the right of private property, and the individual’s right to be free from the intrusive meddling of the State--including redistribution of his wealth by the government.
“[I]t is clear that the main tenet of socialism, community of goods, must be utterly rejected, since it only injures those whom it would seem meant to benefit, is directly contrary to the natural rights of mankind, and would introduce confusion and disorder into the commonweal.”
Nor do I think Sullivan is right about today’s Catholics first hearing the phrase “social justice” in papal encyclicals, as most Catholics wouldn’t willingly read a papal encyclical if it were printed in serial form on the sports page. That’s about the only reading material American Catholics have in common. I think instead that Catholics, regrettably, first heard the term “social justice” from a generation of Vatican II-era priests and sisters who badly misunderstood the Council, and were clueless what the Church meant by social justice. For forty years Catholic schoolkids and parishioners have been inundated with a substitute social gospel that was half Marxism, half encounter-movement mumbo-jumbo, and all humanism.

Not that millions of Catholics weren't inspired by the new teaching, because they were: they were inspired to quit attending Mass, to join evangelical denominations that actually took God seriously, or to discover New Age “spiritualities,” or the opportunities of complete godlessness.

Anyone familiar with this “peace & justice” legacy amongst Catholics would find nothing surprising (nor edfiying) in the moral fiasco of 53% of Catholic Americans voting for a presidential candidate whose support for the unlimited abortion license--the highest violation of the Catholic social justice teaching there is—exceeded 100% on the Planned Parenthood approval scale.

But social justice folks never see the contradiction. In any policy controversy all social-justice Christians love to play Jesus of Nazareth as a trump card, the idea being that because Jesus helped poor people, and they always say they’re helping poor people, they’re entitled to win every trick. Sullivan is no exception. She works Jesus into her attack on Beck (“not to mention…”), by mentioning, without a single relevant detail, “the teaching of a certain fellow from Nazareth who was always blathering on about justice...”

I take the bit about “blathering on” as Sullivan’s attempt at humor, as well as an unconscious admission that social-gospel preachers really do “blather on.” (Last week my wife and I sat through a homily on the Prodigal Son in which Father talked for four minutes about the difficulties of the present financial climate, and the foreclosures, and the people losing their jobs, and the costs of health care, and blah, blah, blah, before finally noting, almost as an afterthought, that the Prodigal Son was impoverished because he himself had squandered his inheritance through wild living.)

If Sullivan is going to accuse Glenn Beck (who calls himself “gospel-believing”) of “hating Jesus” just because he warns listeners against churches that preach social justice, then she owes Beck and her readers something more substantial in defense of social justice than a cheap reference to Christ’s “always blathering on about justice.”

Because I don't think Jesus talked about justice all that much, and when it comes to what theological liberals mean by justice (economic equality, nuclear disarmamant, saving the planet, gender [sic] equality, nanny-state government, national health care, open borders), he didn't talk about it at all. My exhaustive concordance lists not a single reference to the word “justice” in the New Testament. Nor does my reading of the Gospels indicate it was a constant theme, nor even an occasional theme, of Jesus’ teaching.

He talked about personal righteousness to his disciples. But that is not what’s meant by “social justice.” He told soldiers not to steal, tax collectors not to cheat, and he told religious leaders not to be hypocrites. He talked a lot about the need to believe in him, and that he had to die to make it possible for us to be with God. But all that stuff about the kingdom of heaven is, well, other-worldly, when social justice believes that man/woman/transgendered persons really do live by earthly bread alone. Jesus was more focused on mercy than justice, as he knew we needed the first, and we'd never survive being judged by the standard of the second.

As for taking on the power structure, yes, he talked back to Herod and Pilate, but he never acknowledged that they had any power over him, other than that which was granted by heaven. He was always more interested in whether or not they believed in him than where they stood on the redistribution of wealth.

Jesus showed no interest in fighting for oppressed victims of the Roman occupation, even going so far as to recommend that, when compelled by a soldier to carry his pack a mile, you carry it two miles; contrast this with contemporary peace & justice solutions, often more sympathetic with Palestinian freedom-fighting movements that blow up school buses or organize an anti-Roman intifadah. Jesus also was a disappointment as a pacifist. In numerous encounters with Imperialist soldiers he failed to tell them either that war was not the answer or that they had a duty of conscience to refuse to serve in an unjust occupation.

When it came to his treatment of recognized victim groups: well, let’s just look at the record. He told disabled paralytics, Samaritan minorities, even a woman victimized by intolerance of her sexual freedom—that they shouldn’t sin any more—as if their private moral choices even mattered compared with addressing the root causes of their behavior: systemic evils like economic inequities and racism. He often spoke to the poor as if they were morally accountable for doing the right thing regardless of whether society was treating them fairly. Once he even yelled at a crowd of listeners because all they wanted from him was free food.

Then there was that moment (there was no YouTube then) when he referred to a Samaritan, indirectly, as a dog, just because she asked him for help—a remark that violated countless social justice proscriptions: about equality, sexism, multiculturalism, diversity.

Nor was that the only time Jesus made it sound as if God favored his religion over anyone else’s. But don’t we all know that the Deity (as Bill O’Reilly likes to call Him) respects every religion, or lack of religion, equally, as they all lead to Him (or Her) regardless?

Jesus did enjoin his followers obey the Ten Commandments, the foundation of any Biblical conception of justice. He also insisted they love one another, and to practice acts of charity--caring for the least, feeding the hungry, caring for widows. But social justice and charity are not the same thing. Charity is personal. Social justice is predicated on transforming society, by means of government compulsion and interference in every level of human existence, to accomplish complete economic and social equality: that impossible thing, as Leo XIII said in Rerum Novarum, of reducing “civil society to one dead level.”

Sullivan concludes her attack on Beck this way:
The term "Social Gospel" has been considered a dirty phrase by conservatives for a while now. But if that's what Beck meant, he has quickly learned the consequences of sloppy language. And in any event, he has certainly discovered the dangers of publicly practicing theology without a license.
Yeah. Just like that fellow from Nazareth who was always blathering on without a license about his Father’s world....

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