Beck, Social Justice, and Hypocrisy

A couple of days ago, Glenn Beck said this on his TV show:

I’m begging you, your right to religion and freedom to exercise religion and read all of the passages of the Bible as you want to read them and as your church wants to preach them . . . are going to come under the ropes in the next year. If it lasts that long it will be the next year. 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!

Now, the blogosphere is on fire from the left to the right as people fall over themselves to denounce Glenn Beck. I ought to say up front: his was a pretty stupid thing to say. And I love Glenn Beck for saying it. Before I take on Beck’s detractors we need to start with the fact that is at the root of the controversy:

Meaning is a slippery thing.

Take words like “liberal” and “freedom.” Two or three centuries ago freedom meant something like “the right to make your own decision and live with the consequences.” Today it can mean anything from “the freedom to make your own decision and avoid the consequences” (think abortion as birth control) to “the entitlement to get what you want” (think about the “right” to housing or health care or employment). Back then a “liberal” was someone who believed in the individual right to be free from government tyranny. Today a “liberal” is someone who believes in freedom through government tyranny. In terms of practical politics, the old meaning of “liberal” and the new meaning are polar opposites.

The reason that the definitions changed is that people who wanted to argue for big government in the land of the free had to find a way to make their un-American ideas palatable. They used words like “liberal” and “freedom” as a sugar coating around the bitter pill of intrusive government meddling in our day-to-day lives, and in so doing turned the definition of the word inside out.

Pink Floyd had a little bit to say about that:

So, so you think you can tell Heaven from Hell,
Blue skies from pain.
Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail?
A smile from a veil?
Do you think you can tell?
And did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts?
Hot ashes for trees?
Hot air for a cool breeze?
Cold comfort for change?
And did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage?

Interestingly enough, so did Isaiah:

Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!
Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!…
Which justify the wicked for reward, and take away the righteousness of the righteous from him!

and again:

Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the LORD, and their works are in the dark, and they say, Who seeth us? and who knoweth us?
Surely your turning of things upside down shall be esteemed as the potter’s clay: for shall the work say of him that made it, He made me not? or shall the thing framed say of him that framed it, He had no understanding?

Think it’s a little strange to quote a psychedelic 1970s band and a prophet of God? I’ll use whatever gets the point across. And this is the point: no armed enemy can take our freedom from us. We fought and bled for it once, and again and again since then. If you try to take from us the liberties our fathers and mothers sacrificed so much for, we will never relinquish. But if you successfully convince this people that light is dark, up is down, and bitter is sweet than we will trade in our heroes for ghosts without a shot being fired.

That’s what happened to the word “liberal.” That’s what happened to the word “freedom.” That’s what has happened to the word “rights.” And it’s what happened to the phrase “social justice.”

Now I didn’t know this, and I suspect Glenn Beck didn’t either, but the term “social justice” has a long history in the Catholic Church going back at least a century and a half and relying on writings that are far, far older. There are also defensible versions of the term outside the Catholic Church, including the writings of 20th century philosophy John Rawls, who taught that the basics of social justice included:

  • Freedom of thought;
  • Liberty of conscience as it affects social relationships on the grounds of religion, philosophy, and morality;
  • Political liberties (e.g. representative democratic institutions, freedom of speech and the press, and freedom of assembly);
  • Freedom of association;
  • Freedoms necessary for the liberty and integrity of the person (viz: freedom from slavery, freedom of movement and a reasonable degree of freedom to choose one’s occupation); and
  • Rights and liberties covered by the rule of law.

See anything in there to disagree with? Me neither. This version of “social justice” is like the original version of “liberal.” It’s an essential part of American cultural-political identity. Glenn Beck doesn’t have a problem with Rawl’s version of “social justice” any more than he has a problem with Madison’s version of “liberalism.” Glenn Beck was ignorant of this version of the term, but anyone who listens to Glenn Beck knows what he meant.

The term “social justice” has been a buzzword of everyone from the Leninists to the Nazis, and American progressives use it as well. The rhetoric of “social justice” is used as a fundamental rationale for increasing government power to seize private property and redistribute it. To enforce affirmative action quotas. To restrict freedom of thought and freedom of speech by punishing politically incorrect viewpoints.

Glenn Beck likes old-school liberals and old-school social justice. Glenn Beck doesn’t like modern liberals (a.k.a. progressives) or modern social justice.

This seems pretty simple to understand, but no one out there seems to grasp it. From First Things (a fantastic Catholic paper) comes the not-at-all sensationalist headline “Glenn Beck Thinks Catholics Should Leave Their Church.” Really?

Could Beck’s claim be construed as “anti-Catholic?” Yes and no. I think if anyone else had made the remark it would have been hard to dismiss the anti-Catholic undertones. But Beck is a special case: He is too prone to say any dumb thing that pops into his head and too ignorant about history and religion to truly understand the implications of his statement. This doesn’t excuse him, of course, but it certainly is reason not to be too shocked when a self-professed “rodeo clown” advises people to leave their churches over Catholic “code words” like social justice.

Still, I’m curious to see how Beck’s loyal defenders will excuse his latest outrageous remarks. If we’re not supposed to take him seriously when he says stuff like this, when exactly are we to take him seriously?

There is no small amount of irony in Joe Carter’s characterization of Beck as “ignorant.” Guess Glenn Beck was too dumb to know social justice is a Catholic concept, right? Sorry, Joe, but that door swings both ways, and it makes you to ignorant to realize that social justice is also a progressive political concept. Making an ignorant statement is bad enough, but making an ignorant statement right after you attack someone else for the same kind of ignorance? Now that’s rich. I think another Biblical verse may fit here. Something about a mote in someone’s eye. And a beam in your own.

But if you think that was bad (and it was bad), try the ever-rational Huffington Post:

Glenn Beck says Christians should leave churches that use the word “social justice.” He says social justice is a code word for communism and Nazism.

Beck says Christians should leave their social justice churches, so I say Christians should leave Glenn Beck. I don’t know if Beck is just strange, just trying to be controversial, or just trying to make money. But in any case, what he has said attacks the very heart of our Christian faith, and Christians should no longer watch his show. His show should now be in the same category as Howard Stern. Stern practices pornography and Beck denies the central teachings of Jesus and the Bible. So Christians should stop watching the Glenn Beck show and pray for him and Howard Stern.

I’m not sure whether to categorize this as more hypocrisy or sheer idiocy, but he doesn’t get the benefit of mere ignorance the way Joe Carter does. Look, in order for Glenn Beck to “attack the very heart of our Christian faith” he would have to be attacking the Christian faith’s version of social justice. But–as Jim Wallis points out in the very first line of his own post–Beck clearly doesn’t believe this. So Willis’s statement is literally impossible. It’s beyond putting words in a person’s mouth, because first you have to ignore the words that they actually said and then put in words that are directly opposite of what you just heard.

The intent of Willis’s article is clear: “Christians should no longer watch his show.” Willis doesn’t care about what Beck said, or what he meant, or what is true. He only cares that he has an opportunity to score some points, rack up some hits, and take someone he doesn’t like down a notch.

And now we’re back to that whole “meaning is slippery” concept. If you care about the truth then you have to make a good faith effort to try and get the meaning right. At a bare minimum you want to make sure that people understand what you mean when you use a word. It’s inconvenient and a little irritating for modern liberals and classical liberals to both use the word “liberal”, but as long as everyone is up-front about what they think the word means no one is being dishonest.

The dishonesty enters the equation when someone decides that they can win a little short-term advantage by deliberately misusing the meaning of a word. Whether that’s progressives co-opting the word “liberal” because it sounds American or HuffPo bloggers stuffing meaning into Glenn Beck’s words that simply isn’t there, the result is the same: someone is lying. (And it’s not Glenn Beck.)

I’m tired of this fake outrage whenever someone thinks they can make a buck by misunderstanding someone else on purpose. When soccer players fall on the ground and pretend that someone has broken both their legs off, it’s irritating and a little pathetic. When Lindsay Lohan sues over the “milkaholic” commercial, it’s ridiculous and very pathetic. But when self-avowed Christians try to cash in on someone’s honest mistake, it goes beyond pathetic. Hint: it’s number 9 on the list.

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Comments

  1. Joe Carter says:

    This seems pretty simple to understand, but no one out there seems to grasp it.

    It’s rather ironic that you give Beck the benefit of the doubt but not his critics.

    Unlike Beck, I’m quite aware that the term social justice has multiple meanings (we’ve discussed that point on FT many times). But why does that excuse Beck? Let’s assume for the moment that he wouldn’t have a problem with the Church’s meaning of the term (which I think he would), how does that let him off the hook? He’s still saying that people should leave their churches over a political issue.

    In fact, if we are to take him seriously—which people go nuts when you actually take his words as if they were meant to be taken seriously—then Beck should leave his own church. Will he do so? Of course not. Beck’s a fake and a clown. He doesn’t mean a word he says. He’s just an entertainer who would (and likely will) flip to the other side if it would get him more ratings.

  2. Linda B. says:

    Thank you for your story. There is a correlation today between the “Social Justice” phrase and the left. Being Catholic I grew up attending church every Sunday with my parents and siblings. However, we attended one church when I was in high school and college that made my parents walk out and go to another church. On one occasion the priest drove an old style Volkswagon Bug down the isle of the Church for Passion Sunday and there was a sign on the car that said “King of the Road”. He chastised his flock constantly for praying the rosary during mass and for many other practices they had been doing all their lives and he too would preach about various social causes. On another occasion he had a merry-go-round on the altar. My father made the statement “I come to church to find solice and rest from the world and instead I get more of the same.” Many of the people left this Church and withdrew their support and attended another Catholic Church in the area.

    I believe we are our brothers keepers, but the “Social Justice” being advocated now is really socialism in action. The social message in many churches is to help the illegal immigrants, but what that will do is create amnesty for these people and another vote for the far left. The warning message here is to be alert because many of the Alinsky supporters have entered the churches to take them to the left. Beware of false prophets….

  3. Gail B. says:

    I agree, and this confirms something you said in an earlier piece on Beck–about his not being all that well educated. However, I believe that Beck means well, is not trying to tear people from their churches or cause strife among the congregations with their faith.

    I think that Beck is onto something and is trying to put out a caution flag…something like the caution light at the intersection of life.

  4. Randy Wills says:

    Great, great, article, Robert.

    First, let me say that I love (agape love, of course) Glenn Beck and I pray for his safety. My criticizm of his faux pax with the Massa interview notwithstanding, I think that he is doing more to bring awarness to the public of what is coming down the pike at us than anyone else.

    And your take on the hypocricy of the Jim Wallises of the world is spot-on. Jim, editor of “Sojourners”, is one of the founders, along with Brian McLaren, of the progressive “Emergent Church” movement, built, not around the all-suffieciency of Jesus Christ for personal salvation, but on “social justice”. And if my recollection is correct, Brian is the brother of Peter McClaren, the self-avowed Communist Professor of Education at UCLA.

    In my opinion, Glenn Beck was neither wrong nor “ignorant”. If the church that you attend doesn’t understand the difference between “cause” (personal regeneration through faith in Jesus Christ) and “effect” (implementing the Golden Rule” in all that we do), I say, along with Glenn, “take a hike” and find a church that does. The word “Christian” has as many meanings in today’s culture as “freedom” or “justice”.

    Randy

    Randy

  5. Robert Wallace says:

    Joe Carter-

    It’s always interesting to hear back from someone I’ve blogged about, although I’m happier when it’s someone I’ve agreed with or praised. In either case, thanks for the comments.

    I am not applying a double standard to Beck and his critics. The actions of Beck and his critics are fundamentally different.

    Beck spoke out of ignorance. Ignorance itself is not deplorable. It’s only deplorable when for some reason we ought to have known better. Beck has a responsibility to research before he opens his mouth, but I believe it’s unfair to expect perfection from someone who spends 20 hours or so every week speaking live.

    I wish I could extend the same excuses on your behalf, but I can’t. We agree that Glenn Beck is ignorant on this issue and that you are not. And yet your argument rests entirely on what you know to be false: the proposition that Beck willfully attacked Catholic theology.

    According to your own words this is impossible, and according to your own words this is what Beck did. So either you’re an extremely poor thinker (which I have no reason to believe) or there is some other explanation.

    Several possible explanations present themselves. Trivially all bloggers want to attract an audience and sensationalism attracts an audience. Thus you have a rational reason to misrepresent Beck’s actions for the sake of great headline (and yours was sure a doozy).

    More importantly, however, it’s obvious that you have a pre-existing animosity towards the man. I can easily attribute his reckless words to anything from incompetence to over-zealousness based on what he said, but you clearly object because you believe his recklessness is based on greed and egomania.

    Because you already believe that Beck is a self-serving hypocrite it’s a simple matter to muddle personal biases and objecive evidence and subsequently draw the conclusions which you did. (I’m setting aside the fact that I find yur characterization of Beck naive in the extreme. Regardless of where you got it from, you’re clearly relying on it to draw a conclusion you could never draw otherwise.)

    This animosity leads you to make a self-contradictory argument and then embellish it with truly outlandish claims. For instance you believe Beck would have to leave his own church to follow his advicse, but as a life-long, devout Mormon I can tell you this is absurd.

    You also make the extremely questionable claim that there’s something intrinsically wrong with Beck urging people to choose their congregation based in any part on politics. Was slavery a political issue? How about segregation and Jim Crowe? According to your proposition no one should be allowed to urge anyone else to decide what church to attend with reference to these issues. I think we can agree that this is also absurd, can we not?

    I’m sorry, Joe. You seem like a perfectly nice person, but to me the evidence is clear that you’ve let your personal vendetta overpower your reason. What you’re doing is simply axe-grinding, pure and simple.

  6. Michelle Zhang says:

    Isn’t Beck a fairly “devout” LDS Church member? I’m pretty sure the Catholic and religious definition of “social justice” is at the heart of the LDS Church message. This is why I was immediately suspicious of these articles accusing Beck of being “heartless” or “anti-Catholic”

  7. Michelle Zhang says:

    And I admit full well that I didn’t know that the term was already widely used and had different meanings. I just thought Beck was making up a definition on his own or something.

    But in any case, I didn’t come to the conclusion that he meant what people were making it out to mean.

  8. Rick M. says:

    Beck is correct in what he means but perhaps a better term could have been used. I am still looking for a church that is not in the Governments pocket. Opps, did I just make an incorrect PC statement!! ?

  9. Randy Wills says:

    Just one more thought on this issue.

    “Social justice” and the eradication of “whiteness” are one-and-the-same. I have a half-written article on this subject that I’m planning to submit to Jeff for publication on AR. I think that you will find it very interesting. Joe Carter might even be enlightened by it.

    It is only through the prism of anti-”whitness” that you can understand all that is going on. And if you understand “whiteness”, you will understand why the Constitution, as written, is an anathema to those who are committed to purging the U.S. of all vestiges of “whiteness”. You will also understand how it was that Black Liberation Theology sprung from a mixture of “social justice” Catholicism in Latin America and Marxism.

    It’s a very interesting story, but when you understand it, you will know what to expect.

    Randy

  10. TNelson says:

    Joe is right in one respect. Beck will ‘flip sides’ when the Republicans are in power, but not for the reasons Joe states. Beck will switch sides because the most corruption and the most damaging effects of that corruption can always be found in whatever party has the most power. The greater the power, the greater the corruption. Beck will expose corruption (as he sees it) wherever it exists, not just on one side or the other.

    Becks ‘flip-flopping’ in itself is not the problem. It is in fact a good thing when equal principles are applied. The problem is in how Beck sees things and then chooses to pursue them at times.

  11. Gail B. says:

    Finish your article, Randy! I want to read it.

  12. Bobby K says:

    I have to say I agree with Glenn, if you don’t agree with your church, find a new one. Or change the person that is delivering the message. The Catholic Church and any other Church that is or has been offended by these statements, well they are just as thin skinned as any of the others that can’t take it. People are beside you as long as they agree, put they will get behind you and push you over a cliff the first time you say something negative about them. People in this country are getting afraid to stand up for anything. If we say anything about anyone, it’s because we are racist, homophobic, anti women, anti Jew, anti anything. People need to get a backbone. Because we know if we say anything the MSM doesn’t agree with then we are wrong and we are the uneducated backwoods redneck from the south. People, crawl out of your shells and say what you believe. And if you don’t agree with your church, then yes you should find one that you do agree with, be it Methodist, Catholic, Baptist, Mormon, or what ever, if they call you a racist for leaving then I can’t say that was the right Church for you. Just because we don’t agree and want people to work as hard for their stuff as we work for ours, doesn’t make us racist or anti anything..

  13. Anonymous says:

    “Glenn Beck was ignorant of this version of the term”

    Respectfully, One must be careful with cavalier usage of disparaging comments, as you mentioned and referenced by example (Joe), the mote is yet to be the action.

    As Ms. Zang referenced, one must be mindful of the deep animosity between these two religions, he knew.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_justice#Catholic_social_teaching

    Take any definition, layers of the onion.

  14. Quit condemning (John 3:17) says:

    Just as deplorable is all the eco-justice I suffer thru at my church. I automatically skip Earth Day Sunday as it has become a religion unto itself.
    I too seek solace and spiritual inspiration. I am smart enough already to know to reduce, reuse and recycle. Give me a break.

  15. Amy says:

    I believe Beck has a valid point.

    In reference to Randy Will’s statement above, Preston Road Baptist Church was actually going to have Jim Wallis speak at their church until people protested about it. This is a mainstream, Baptist church we’re talking about here.

    Jim Wallis is a guy who actually started an organization to defend the Sandanistas in Nicaragua. He thinks the “restructuring” that Castro and Chavez have done are to be admired. He completely believes in this new “social justice” that so many churches are turning toward. In doing so, they are turning against the Bible.

  16. YouShouldKnowBetter says:

    Well written. I find Beck to be a good source of information I wouldn’t find elsewhere. You have to put a filter on some of the stuff that he just blurts out with. It’s like having a conversation with your best friend. You might be agreeable about disagreeing but you don’t have to see eye to eye on every single thing. I consider myself a God fearing christian and I took no offense to the statement. I merely saw it as an extension of the verse on guarding your heart(Proverbs 4:23). There are false churches and false doctrines. I draw little concern over the likes of Huffington making accusations. The namesake of that rag appears on Bill Maher regularly to spout direct venom at all faiths but Islam. The verses you pulled from “Wish You Were” had been rolling around in my head for weeks around the 2008 election. Just trying to get my head around how some of my friends were so taken in by this administration. I think now they realize the change they are getting isn’t exactly what they had in mind. If you watched Obama’s campaign trail rhetoric and talking candidly with people like Joe the Plumber it became evident to me that I didn’t want the change he envisioned.

  17. La Crimson Femme says:

    Robert,
    Another wonderful article! I love it. Your articles are very well thought out.

  18. JAN says:

    Robert, once again you have written an absolutely wonderful and thought provoking article.

    The first thing that struck me, once again, by all this outrage is that people get too offended way too easily any more. With all his high amounts of energy it is no wonder that he ‘spouts’ off sometimes in ways that could shock people. As much responsibility as there is on the individual delivering the message, there is also responsibility on the individual receiving the message. Look for the nuggets of truth and go from there. If you can’t find the truth in the message then you can disagree with him. To disagree solely on the method of delivery is, to me, your problem and not his.

    I heard him today state that social justice was about equalizing people. He went further to state that from his reading of the Bible that there is only one person who is the great equalizer of people and that is Jesus Christ. I couldn’t have been happier to hear these words, and on a national platform.

    From my perspective, many churches have changed their messages over the years. In order to attract and retain more “bodies” in their pews they have watered down the message in order to not offend anyone. Last time I checked the Bible is offensive and very well should be. I should have been offended by my own actions to drive me to the relationship I have with the Lord now.

    I don’t take any offense from Beck at all. I happen to have an ADD child and can easily recognize his “bounciness”. I pray for him all the time as I truly believe his heart is in the right place. He is a man of God and has no problem declaring such.

    Thank you Robert for engaging us once again.

  19. Twisted_Colour says:

    1 Corinthians 10:24, Philippians 2:3-4, Matthew 25:43, Acts 20:35, John 13:1-17, Psalm 41:1, et cetera.

  20. Robert Wallace says:

    I’m listening to Beck’s radio show right now, and the ‘social justice’ fiasco is his lead. Turns out that it came out in the NYT. (He also spent a lot of time talking about it during yesterday’s show). He’s doing a terrific job so far, and as far as I can tell I owe Beck a bit of an apology. His original quote was sliced to edit out his own clarification.

    I’m going to be working on pulling material together for another piece, because this is a huge issue with enormous political ramifications.

  21. John says:

    Robert,

    Glenn Beck is a Benedict Arnold. He tells about 85% truth just to get you roped in only to stab you in the back later. Did you know that he was from the VAT tax during climate gate? Or that he flip-flopped on global warming and now supports it. Or that he was for the banker bail-out (until the bill passed and then pretended to be against it)?

    This guy is a snake and cares nothing for our nation. He is a complete hypocrite.

    HTTP://WWW.YOUTUBE.COM/WATCH?V=MRYNE4TGEOW

  22. Robert Wallace says:

    John-

    Thanks for sharing your views. I have to say that I find them bizarre. Glenn Beck flip-flopped on the bail-out bill? So did I. The economics made sense, which is why everyone from President Bush to Glenn Beck to me was fooled. In fact, the economics *still* make sense. The theory is sound. The problem is that in practice the US didn’t end up with a legit bail-out bill. We ended up with a grab-bag of progressive expenditures. I learned a lesson from that. Beck learned a lesson from that. From what I’ve heard Bush learned a lesson from that.

    As far as the global warming goes: I’m with Beck 100% on that as well. You can read here at AR my attacks on the global-warming hysteria. But that doesn’t mean that there is no global warming at all. I don’t know the answer to that question. Maybe there is some, but it’s not human caused. Maybe there’s none. Maybe there is some, it is human caused, but there’s nothing we can do about it. Those are all reasonable questions to have, and I’m not going to attack Beck for having them.

    Off the top of my head I can’t recall the details of the VAT-tax.

    But – based on 2/3 – I’m going to have to say you sound like a crank. If you expect perfection from your pundits then you’re only pundit is God the Almighty. When he gets a spot on Fox let me know. In the meantime the only thing a rational person can expect of any other human being is sincerity and competence. Beck has demonstrated both consistently.

  23. Ian R Thorpe says:

    Social Justice is an obsolete concept now Robert but like “Liberal” it has been perverted to serve the “progressive agenda”.

    “Social Justice” originates in the days when here in the UK one was born to a “place” in society and could not rise above nor fall below it.

    In the legal system that meant in any dispute the court would have a bias towards the higher born contestant. Worse than that evidence took second place to breeding. The smoking gun (or bloodied sword) did not carry as much weight with judge or jury as the “word of a gentleman” against a low born person. Well a gentleman or woman was not capable of lying.

    That is the world the concept of social justice was born in. It was always irrelevant in the US due to a statement on the opening paragraph of the Declaration Of Independence.

    But think how some of the ideas considered by the Obama administration suggest a return to the authoritarian injustices of eighteenth century Britain. Court cases being decided on the basis of social class and wealth for example; Privileged minorities being required to abide by different rules… fortunately, as the healthcare debacle has shown, such ideas would never get through congress so just as here where the “progressive” Labour Government’s plan to make us all carry ID cards loaded with RFID chips that would enable the authorities to locate us to within 6 feet at any time fell to public opinion and just as a suggestion from Revenue and Customs that they be given access to every bank account is going the same way, we can show that power still resides with the people.

    They can’t put us all in prison.

  24. Gail B. says:

    Amy –

    Thanks for that close-up report of your church. And, I agree with you.

  25. Gail B. says:

    Well, Beck seems to have gotten the attention of the White House, even if they won’t call him on the Red Phone. Fox News has pulled its livestreaming from the Internet. Interesting. I can’t find ANY site that carries Fox News live.

    I think Beck’s programs can be seen a day late, however, at http://www.watchGlennBeck.com.

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