Beck and Obama’s radically different theologies

Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the contributor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.

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53 Responses

  1. Mike Farmer says:

    I understand it as a difference between collective salvation and personl salvation.Report

    • Julie in reply to Mike Farmer says:

      @Mike Farmer,

      I did considerable research on “collective salvation.” Long story short – the term collective salvation is not related to liberation theology or any Obama religious belief.

      Searching the Internet did not result in any information linking collective salvation to Liberation Theology, until Glenn Beck and others started using the term in relationship to Pres. Obama and Liberation Theology. The majority of the pre-Obama references were to Catholic churches.

      There were slight (no detail) references to “Buddhism, Eastern mysticism religions.”

      I researched Obama’s use of the word collective salvation. The anti-Obama individuals, which included Glen Beck, used one sentence out of a paragraph. The results were taking the words “collective salvation” out of context. Obama used the words in a non-religious context as a motivation for helping other to improve “America.” The following is from a commencement speech at Wesleyan University:

      “It’s because you have an obligation to yourself. Because our individual salvation depends on collective salvation. Because thinking only about yourself, fulfilling your immediate wants and needs, betrays a poverty of ambition. Because it’s only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential and discover the role you’ll play in writing the next great chapter in America’s story.”

      In the same commencement speech Obama interchanged the word with “collective service:”

      “Surely, if his service and his story can forever shape America’s story, then our collective service can shape the destiny of this generation.”

      Merriam-Webster dictionary has three meanings for salvation. Only one meaning relates to religion.

      In another commencement speech, Obama used the words: collective dream, collective responsibilities, and collective labor. Each time, it was used in regard to making America better.Report

  2. Robert Cheeks says:

    “Obama is probably a lot closer to evangelical Christians than Beck.”
    Far be from me to seek the snark, but I don’t see anything of a Christian form that pertains to Barry’s religious beliefs. Barry’s a secularist, a Leftist ideologist of one sort or another. Everything else is political theatre. And, while he’s an outstanding politician, the president is unable to hide this from the unwashed.Report

    • Robert Cheeks in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

      @Robert Cheeks, It would be nice to be able to edit…..!Report

      • dexter45 in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

        @Robert Cheeks, To edit or not to edit, that is the question, whether tis nobler to take back space against a sea of mispelled words, run on sentences and poorly written arguments, or blah, blah blah. Anyway, as an agnostic who leans toward atheism I find President Obama’s religion a non starter. What counts is what he does. Question, can one be a leftist and a Christian?Report

        • Robert Cheeks in reply to dexter45 says:

          @dexter45, Dex, dude, I have this fight with my ‘leftist’-Christian friends…er, the ones I still have, and they are running rather thin. Given that the commie-dem party, yea in the year of our Lord, ’72, pounded the abortion plank into ye commie party platform, forever leaving me as a viable political entity. So it is, and so it shall be, that ye so-called “Leftist-Christians” are non sequiturs, the dog ain’t huntin’, it ain’t so, and absolutely not.Report

        • Lyle in reply to dexter45 says:

          @dexter45, My suspicion is that since Jesus said sell all you have and give it to the poor he would be a far leftist. Of course Constantine could not stand this so he modified the traditions to suit him. (Recall that for over 100 years the roman emperors ran the church and turned it the way they wanted it to turn. If you actually read the gospels, christ is for the poor and has no use for the rich, saying its easier for a rich man to pass thru the eye of a needle than get to heaven. Of course no church would follow the pure doctrine, because it means the church itself has no worldly goods and the clergy can’t fix their edifice complex.
          The catholic church finesses the issue by saying that tradition overcomes the plain words of Jesus, always had and always will.Report

          • tao9 in reply to Lyle says:


            That is so deeply resonant theologically. Two truncated scripture citations of which the meaning has, incidentally, been debated for 2 millenia. Some Wiki hoo re: Constantine. Some random snottery re: the clergy.

            Concluded with ignorance and stone bigotry.

            I imagine your grasp of gravity is as impressive.Report

            • Lyle in reply to tao9 says:

              @tao9, Where in the gospels are the rich called good? Christ came for the poor, the rich were in charge at the temple and spoke greek. That was the elite at the time. One can make a case for liberation theology from the gospel, but then one can make any case from scripture because the devil even quotes scripture to his own purpose.
              Its just to me that Constantine was the worst thing that ever happend to the christian movement, reducing its vibrant diversity. If he had stopped with the edict of Milan he would be ok, but then he gave the clergy tax exemptions and the like, so the church became an element of the state, and eventually in the west for a while the state.
              Yes there are passages where christ helps the elite (see the centurion) but its because of a direct request. In general because christ came to set brother against brother, the elite found him a dangerous influence so they got rid of him.Report

  3. Mike M says:

    “But I do have something against Glenn Beck and his belief that “social justice” is evil.”

    I think it’s less that he believes social justice is evil and more that he has the sneaking suspicion people are using the guise of social justice as an excuse to behave nefariously.Report

  4. Joe Carter says:

    ***Obama is probably a lot closer to evangelical Christians than Beck.***

    I would say that are both far apart from us evangelicals, though for different reasons. Mormonism isn’t compatible with orthodox Christianity. But Obama’s view of Christ, sin, hell, and many other core doctrines are probably just as incompatible.

    For example, when Obama has talked about Jesus he doesn’t seem to be claiming him as fully divine, i.e., the second person in the Trinity. Perhaps I missed his clarification, but when his stated views on Jesus that I’ve seen imply that he was only a “wise man.”Report

    • Keljeck in reply to Joe Carter says:

      @Joe Carter, From what I’ve read of Obama’s remarks, this is accurate. He seems to be a liberal Christian with some liberation theology flavors. My problem would not be to say that Obama is in some weak sense “more Christian” than Beck, I don’t know how to do that calculus. It’s above my pay grade. My problem is that an evangelical would look at two people outside of orthodoxy and choose the one who happens to hold similar political views. Christianity is more than politics, and to give Beck a voice like he tried to use Saturday is harmful to the Church. Especially with how nationalistic it was.Report

    • Julie in reply to Joe Carter says:

      @Joe Carter,

      Obama has said that Jesus is the only way to salvation for him. It is unrealistic to expect anyone running for an elected position or the President to say that anyone not believing in Jesus will go to hell. They represent all citizens – not just Christians.

      Bush said in an interview that he thought Muslims go to heaven. The media and others should not ask the question.Report

  5. gregiank says:

    If there is one thing the world really needs is people criticizing other peoples religious beliefs. Its not like looking down on other peoples beliefs has ever turned out badly or anything. And why would anybody even care to ask what beck thinks about Obama’s beliefs without any actual proof that he knows and understands them? Most of what passes for judgement of Obama’s beliefs is slander based on dislike of him.Report

  6. Jaybird says:

    I’ve been thinking about this for a while.

    The evolution of Religion and doctrines and whathaveyou are infinitely fascinating to me.

    Judaism, through Paul, evolved into Christianity (with the help of a host of characters) but most Jews don’t see Christianity as a true descendant of Judaism properly understood. Most Christians, of course, do. I don’t have the competence to say which take is the right one.

    The Catholic Church frowns upon Protestants taking Communion to the point where, on Christmas and Easter, the Priest has to give a little speech about “the Tragedy of Schism” where he says (paraphrased) only confessed Catholics should be walking up to the table… and Protestants know that you don’t have to confess to a priest, you don’t even *NEED* a priest to translate for you (let alone a Pope), and you can have a relationship between yourself and God and the Bible and that’s all you need. Protestants see themselves as an obvious evolution of the Christian faith. Catholics, on the other hand, see this as schism.

    It’s hard for me to say which has the upper hand, here.

    Which brings us to Mormonism. Mormonism isn’t an obvious evolution of Protestantism (I’d give that award to Unitarianism). It’s like a throwback to an older religion. The Protestants are wrong, the Catholics are wrong, let’s go back to the source (and the new sources! Yay!) and forget all of this excess baggage.

    And, of course, it looks to folks who aren’t members of the church like the Mormons just made up a whole bunch of crap out of whole cloth.

    I, sadly, don’t have enough distance to say that I can’t judge who’s right or who’s wrong in that debate.

    Anyway, the fact that Mormonism went reactionary rather than “progressive” makes Mormonism look really different from Unitarianism… which went progressive much like the protestants did from the Catholics, the Catholics from the Orthodox, and the Christians from the Jews.

    Anyway, that’s what I’ve been thinking about.Report

  7. Silus Grok says:

    Frankly, we know very little of either President Obama’s or Glenn Beck’s personal convictions. Men in office — especially high office — tend to speak in such grand generalities as to make their public pronouncements of any value whatsoever. Some generalize to obfuscate, others generalize to be inclusive. It’s pretty hard to know which until well after the fact.

    Glenn Beck, on the other hand, is most decidedly a political opportunist — willing to say just about anything to further his own, private, profitable agenda. If his pronouncements on faith and religion are the least bit genuine, they condemn him.

    As a Mormon, I’d say he doesn’t reflect Mormon thought in the least — except the convolution of Mormon thought that has fulminated in the conservative backwaters of the rural West. Mormons outside of “Deseret” — and many, many inside (like myself) — find his brand of priestcraft wholly foreign and entirely distasteful.

    Beck’s “I Have a Scheme” speech will live in infamy — but not before doing much damage, to our society, to civic discourse, and to the church he calls his own.Report

  8. cfpete says:

    I don’t believe in god, but I will criticize the idea of “social justice” because I have no idea what the hell it means. Putting it another way, I have heard representatives of renters use the term in court to fight eviction.
    Does “social justice” mitigate property rights?
    If you plan to insert “social justice” into law, I would appreciate a definition.Report

    • gregiank in reply to cfpete says:

      @cfpete, just google it or go to the wiki link i posted above. it really isn’t that foreign a term or hard to find out about from people who are for or against it.Report

      • cfpete in reply to gregiank says:

        What I am trying to say is that the definition of “social justice” seems to vary. If E.D. Kain, like President Obama, want to insert “social justice” into the law then I would like a concise definition. If we are talking about some Christian idea of “social justice”, then we have a much bigger problem.Report

        • gregiank in reply to cfpete says:

          @cfpete, huh…who is trying to insert any religious idea into the law? (well aside from many on the religious right)

          My real puzzlement is that Social Justice is a compassionate religious idea about making the world better for people. Somehow beck has turned this into a reason to fear Obama. So Obama is a fascist , socialist, muslim, secular, religious person who beck insists believes in a religious doctrine of making the world more just and better. Its a world salad of non-sense. Madlibs makes more sense.Report

  9. Silus Grok says:

    * little value, whatsoever …Report

  10. cfpete says:

    E.D. Kain,
    I don’t care about Beck and think he is a clown, but if you think that “social justice” has nothing to do with the law – then you have been living under a rock for the past two years.
    You apparently believe in “social justice.”
    Should I also infer that you believe in “equality of outcome?”Report

    • JL Wall in reply to cfpete says:

      @cfpete, Not to speak for E.D., but I’d guess that he recognizes that “social justice” CAN refer to the law, but is saying that it doesn’t NECESSARILY refer to the law. That “social justice” in religion needn’t be about passing legislation. My grandparents have tithed their incomes for essentially their entire adult lives — would they call it “social justice”? Probably not, but that’s because they’d just call it a tithe and see it as an essential part of their religion. But would, say, the Reform congregation I grew up attending call it “social justice” — probably. After all, tithing is meant to mitigate the effects of economic life on the less fortunate — which is to say, it’s interference in the market for the sake of compassion. But does a belief that one has a religious duty to tithe mean that you are going to demand that the government require everyone to do so? No.

      Among the many problems with Beck’s claims about “social justice” is that it’s essentially meaningless: a conservative church, like my grandparents’, will speak in terms of religious obligation; an orthodox shul might speak in terms of commandment; a Reform congregation is going to talk in terms of social justice/tikkun olam — when referring to the same thing — because they don’t like to talk about commandment; a mainline/liberal church might talk in terms of social justice because they feel it connects with a history of abolitionism, civil rights, women’s suffrage, etc.Report

  11. Mike Farmer says:

    It’s a little disingenuous for anyone who follows the current discourse in politics to pretend they don’t understand how “social justice” is used by progressives to mean forceful use of the State to institute their version of justice, commanding the rest of us to abide by it. It’s intentionally vague to entail any injustice they believe capitalists have perpetrated on women, the gullible public, third word countries, minorities and the earth. It’s supposed to sound moral and just — who can be against social justice? It’s not social justice we should be against but what it stands for in the minds of progressives (and obviously liberals). What bothers me more than the intentions of the progressives, who are fairly open about what they want, is the uncritical support given by liberals who should know better.Report

    • gregiank in reply to Mike Farmer says:

      @Mike Farmer, where have liberals pushed social justice in the religious sense? If you want to hear people talking about social justice go to a catholic church.Report

    • Will H. in reply to Mike Farmer says:

      @Mike Farmer, I believe the implication is that justice need not be observed in individual cases, provided that injustice, no matter how grave, might serve to alleviate some perceived historical injustice.
      That is, fight history with injustice today.
      Like ice cream which is neither ice nor cream, it makes for great soliloquies if you don’t dig too much.
      Who in their right mind would be against ice cream?Report

      • Mike Farmer in reply to Will H. says:

        @Will H.,
        Sounds about right. Stimulus bills which become jobs bills sound a lot better — who can vote against a jobs bill? Combat troops become support and training troops. I love support and training — it’s so non-deadly-like. Government spending becomes investment — hey, that means we get a return!Report

  12. Kyle R. Cupp says:

    I find it surprising that some devout Catholics follow Beck’s conception of the ideal social order given that his vision is fundamentally incompatible with the social order promoted by the Catholic Church. Their understandings of rights and responsibilities differ to the point where they’re really not even using the words to refer to the same things. Catholics who think in the manner of Glenn Beck do not think as Catholics. All the better for Beck, I suppose, as he wants those who hear the words “social justice” to run for their lives.Report

  13. Koz says:

    “But I do have something against Glenn Beck and his belief that “social justice” is evil.”

    The antipathy toward the Palin/Beck rally is very unfortunate. By most accounts, it was not politically nor religiously contentious. It seems motivated by the desire to turn Palin, Beck and their supporters into unpersons, which we should be able to agree is a bad move. Even taking the most pejorative plausible stance toward such people, I don’t think that’s warranted.

    As far as the rally itself goes, I don’t know what think about it exactly. But there’s at least one thing we should be able to say for it: there’s quite a substantial space between religious practice and public policy, or at least there used to be. Government has gotten bigger over the years so we tend to forget about it but it’s there nonetheless.

    The Beck rally seems to about reclaiming this space (it’s important to note that this is a much bigger deal than one rally), which for me at least is very promising. It also could turn out very badly, it all depends on what happens from here.Report

  14. NoPublic says:

    It seems motivated by the desire to turn Palin, Beck and their supporters into unpersons, which we should be able to agree is a bad move.

    Since the alternative seems to be accepting my own status as an un-person (Atheists shouldn’t be citizens, “If you’re not with us you’re against us”, and all that) I’m not convinced this is the case.Report