Glenn Beck and "liberation theology"

Weepy demagogue Glenn Beck

Paying attention to weepy demagogue Glenn Beck is akin to giving oxygen to a house fire–no good will come of it, and you’ll probably make it worse.  I was cross enough about his appropriation of the Lincoln Memorial on August 28 (and only in part because it was my birthday)–but his comments on President Barack Obama’s supposed “liberation theology” bear a little commentary.  I’m surprised that more people haven’t commented on this already–so here goes:

My theory is that this is Beck’s stealth strategy for calling Obama a Marxist or socialist.  Not that I think most of his followers get that–he’s dressing up his ideas in inteleckshual-sounding phrases that are designed more to deflect deep thought than inspire curiosity and further research.  Finally today, Tim Rutten in the L.A. Times tells us what liberation theology actually is, and why it’s so stupid to accuse Obama of being one of its acolytes: 

Liberation theology is a movement that took shape in the late 1950s and ’60s among Latin American Catholic thinkers, foremost among them the Peruvian Dominican priest Gustavo Gutierrez, who coined the term. The other “founders” were the Uruguayan Jesuit Juan Luis Segundo; the Spanish Jesuit Jon Sobrino, who has spent most of his career in El Salvador; and the Brazilian Franciscan Leonardo Boff. (These are hardly shadowy figures; Gutierrez, for example, is the O’Hara Professor of Theology at Notre Dame.)

Their common position was that social injustice is a form of violence arising from sin. They urged the poor — and those acting in solidarity with them — to reflect on Scripture from the perspective of the poor. To that end, some argued that certain facets of Marxist analysis, particularly those having to do with social class, could be helpful. None of this is particularly mysterious, nor does it have anything to do with Obama. In fact, it’s hard to imagine anyone touched by liberation theology proposing anything like his Wall Street bailout. 

Word.  But for the full-on Beck-a-palooza roundup, head on over to our friends at Religion in American HistoryPaul Harvey has links to lots of posts and articles by actual inteleckshuals and their analyses of Beck:

American history doesn’t disappoint, does it, friends?  Just when you think it can’t possibly get any worse–it finds a way!  Never say we’re not a can-do kind of people.

0 thoughts on “Glenn Beck and "liberation theology"

  1. Yeah, I wondered about that “liberation theology” thing myself — I also understood it to be primarily Latin American Jesuits who saw fighting for the poor and politically disenfranchised as integral to their mission and the vita apostolica.

    The fact that Beck seems to be historically ignorant on this point surprises me not at all.


  2. So, keeping that toe-hold on Cuba at Guantanamo is actually part of some counter-intuitive strategy to overthrow sugar and banana lords across Latin America, along with their corporate running dogs (or is it the other way around) and distribute land to the peasants in little twenty acre, er, hectare, parcels? The only liberation theologists I ever knew were the (nominally) ordained teachers in the religion department at my cute little mainstream protestant denomination-affiliated SLAC, back in the days of peace, love, and understanding. And they pretty much soft-pedalled the potential eye-for-an-eye dimensions of that positionality.


  3. I heard something on NPR by the head(?) of the Southern Baptist Convention. The jist of it was that he “believes” Obama is a Christian of the “Northern Eastern Mainstream.” And then he skipped to how he doesn’t agree with “Liberation Theology.” It appears that this isn’t just Beck anymore. I wish I could have listened more closely to the interview, but screaming toddler, etc. etc.


  4. I heard the NPR piece with Richard Land on NPR (he also called Mormonism “the fourth Abrahamic faith”, which I thought was interesting. But there are other Southern Baptists who are deeply skeptical, because of the conflation of God and Nation…. can’t find the link now (gotta finish tomorrow’s lecture) but will try later.


  5. Um. Yeah. There is so much wrong with Beck that I don’t know where to start. But I’m willing to bet that if we want to find a real theological link, it’s somewhere in the Book of Revelation.

    More seriously, as much as I get Comrade PhysioProf’s sentiments, it’s important to remember that there are a LOT of people in this country like the attendees (most of whom were neatly dressed, I note). I really do think that elitist ad hominem comments are counter-productive — we have an awful lot of people here who are scared and that fear has been used by people like Beck to prey on their fears of being marginalized. Maybe it’s better to acknowledge those fears as real (even though most of us here don’t get them at all) and work to alleviate them rather than reinforcing them?


  6. Very few non theologians or historians know much about liberation theology. Even fewer American realize that in our current stage it is a good idea to have a local incarnation of liberation theology. After all, we are enslaved to the banks, their CEOs and the oligarchy that runs the country.

    Beck probably stumbled upon liberation theology by mistake without ever knowing much about it. Another explanation might have to do with the religious right which fights the social part of religion, all religions, and therefore sees liberation theology as a major enemy. (Fanatics have enemies that do really exist in addition to a myriad of existing enemies.)


  7. There is something a little bit funny (in a sad way of course) of a bunch of populists enraged over high unemployment and struggling economy and crushing health care costs jumping on the “activism that helps the poor is bad” bandwagon. Beck is clearly counting on his audience not to know anything about liberation theology except that it has been connected by conservatives as Marxist. (Do ANY of these people actually read the Bible?) Anyway, one of the other sneaky rhetorical devices Beck engaged in during that portion of the speech was to claim that Obama was following liberation theology and then to say, very clearly that liberation theology is “not Christian.” We already know not to expect any kind of integrity from Beck, but it kind of took my breath away to hear him discuss a spiritual and political movement generated from the Society of Jesus as “not Christian.” And I was even more shocked that nobody discussing this point on NPR picked up that sleight-of-hand.

    IMO it would be awesome if Obama espoused liberation theology. If we *must* couch all politics in this country in terms of Christianity, why not introduce a radical “liberal” strain?


  8. It’s a funny place we’re at in American religious history when protestant evangelicals are less tolerant of differences of opinion among protestants so that by comparison Catholics seem. . . well, catholic (small-c) in their embrace of different theological traditions. (When of course, the American protestant suspicion of Catholics is that they get their orders from the Pope in the mail and all follow along blindly. . . )

    I’m sure Beck (and Richard Land, as wini and Susan note above) seized on “liberation theology” because if they talked about Dorothy Day, a lot of their audience might actually agree with Day and the Catholic Worker viewpoint. “Lib theo” seems dangerously foreign, by comparison.


  9. My solution: If you make more than $100k a year you must pay fifty percent federal income tax with no exemptions. Seeing as I will never make $100k a year, and pray to God I can one day make $30k a year with my fancy degree, this would not bother me at all.

    Also, there should be a massive new car tax seeing as I will never have a new car.

    Now, the above things will never happen, but when I sit in my seminars talking about books only a handful of people have read I begin to think about how I am jumping through all these hoops for a degree that might be financially worthless in the end.

    But, you say, “You are not in school for the money!” No, I am not. But it is really fucking scary when I think about getting a job in academia or anywhere for that matter. My advisor tells me that I will be competing against a handful of people in my field, but I am still very scared. I can’t even get married like I want to due to the financial stress. In fact, my bride-to-be, a public school teacher, was just “let go.” So now we must live off the $8k a year stipend that I get, which was cut from $10k last year. Oh, and her unemployment until it runs out. Oh, and the beneficence of my parents.

    So that’s my story and it is pretty grim. Then I listen to Beck and people like him and he gives me a tempting target to blame: The Government. Then I think about all those “worthless” history courses and they remind me that if not for The Government my state university would be even more underfunded than it already is, and my bride-to-be would have no unemployment.

    I listen and watch Beck a lot. He’s not a bad guy. He’s not a stupid guy. But like so many people, he let’s his ideology drive his view of history. And worst of all, he tries to apply history to contemporary problems, which I think is a mistake.

    Yes, I will continue with my degree. I love history. And if I must be poor, I will be Dr. Poor Guy. Oh,


  10. Liberation theology is not unpopular in liberal mainstream Protestant theological circles these days. Though it is far more popular as an affectation than an actual robust theory and praxis. I don’t think the conservatives who are using it as the latest convenient label for “heretic” understand how *either* liberal Protestants or Catholics are making use of it. And liberal Protestants for decades now have been accused of appropriating the trappings of faith to pretty up their purely political goals.

    I don’t follow Beck at all, but my very superficial take is that this all goes back to Jeremiah Wright. If the counter to “Obama is a Muslim” is “duh, no, he’s a Christian,” then they are ready with “not really!”


  11. Mark K. has it right, I think. My progressive-decentralized-church minister stepmother told me that that code of “liberation theology” is meant to get the ignorati to type it into a google search: “Liberation theology Obama.” Try it. It brings you right to Jeremiah Wright, so Beck doesn’t have to keep calling Obama a racist–the internet will do it for him.


  12. Well it is definitely a strategy for calling Obama a Marxist or a socialist, but it’s not even a stealth strategy — it’s so obvious (and as has already been pointed out, it has been done).


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