Some people have found it off-putting. Taylor Marsh at the Huffington Post says
It offers a surreal reality that makes people feel like they’re in the political twilight zone.
There are countless non-believers or agnostics who understand and accept the idea of natural rights — but who don’t believe in organized religion, and fear it precisely because of it’s (potentially haughty) moralism. I regret that they will feel put off by this kind of public revival meeting.
America is better than Glenn Beck. For all of his celebrity, Mr. Beck is an ignorant, divisive, pathetic figure. On the anniversary of the great 1963 March on Washington he will stand in the shadows of giants — Abraham Lincoln and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Who do you think is more representative of this nation?
In general, it appears that, of those expressing dissatisfaction or displeasure at the event, the common threads are (1) Glenn Beck is a bad guy, (2) we don’t need no damn religious instruction. On whether Beck wears a white hat or a black one I have no opinion. Religious instruction is another matter entirely. I wasn’t there; I’ve only seen accounts; but, from the accounts I have seen, I think Beck was up to something I approve of: restoring the original vision of egalitarianism.
Why was it that the Founders and Framers served their thoughts up laden with so many religious images, similes, and metaphors? Franklin was an atheist; Jefferson was an agnostic bordering on atheism; yet Franklin cited the “Lord of light” in his famous advice to the Convention, and Jefferson called on the Creator as the origin of rights in the Declaration. What’s that all about?
For one thing, they lived in a time when just about everybody was familiar with the Bible, and that was almost the only common thread in enough people’s education to use as a source of metaphor linking ideas of the current day. For another, the Church was then an arm of the State, and at least lip service to its theology was necessary for participation in the public sphere. Both of those factors meant that religion, or religious theory and practice, were a common part of the vernacular; but while that’s been cited as the whole reason, something else was going on there.
The Founders and Framers were egalitarians; the United States Constitution was and remains one of the most profound expressions of egalitarianism in existence. They had a problem, though.
Egalitarianism is clearly poppycock. Egalism — the word is a coinage of Jack Vance’s, as far as I know, and extends egalitarianism to interchangeability — is even less plausible. People aren’t equal in any real sense. I’m 5′7″; am I equal to an NBA forward? The notion is ludicrous. Some people are tall, some short; some weak, some strong; some are smart, others not so bright. Pick any two people at random, and it will not only be clear that they are not equal, they themselves will stoutly insist that they have unique qualities differing each from the other.
What the Founders and Framers meant by “egalitarianism” was equal in value, or, better, equally autonomous — self-willed and self-directed — not exactly equivalent or interchangeable. IMO they also wanted to express something they didn’t say, and which we can express more readily in modern terms: Statistics don’t apply to individuals. There is no population or group, however despised, that has not at one time or another produced an individual of real and lasting value, and there is none, however exalted, that has failed to throw up someone of stupendously negative value. Even had the then-contemporary notions of “nobility” and “the gentleman” had any value, it did not mean that some nobles weren’t too vile to suffer or that some peasants or slaves couldn’t become themselves exalted, if given the opportunity.
Given those conditions, they reached into the common vernacular and brought out what I call “the picnic analogy” — to the picnickers, all ants are equal. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, it says so right there on the label. Compared to that, the worth of an individual human being approaches zero; and, since all zeroes are equal to all others, it follows that “all Men are equal in the sight of God.”
Since then, thinkers have attempted to remove God from that equation while preserving egalitarianism, and always, right down to this day, been frustrated by by the plain fact that it is manifestly not so. Voltaire is not equal to Socrates, Einstein is not equal to Copernicus, and (may God help us) Hegel is not equal to Spengler. They may have produced things of equal value (positive or negative) in their own context, but to call them “equal” is to mangle the language beyond repair.
One of the main thrusts in the effort to find a basis for egalitarianism is to find another standard. The Law is one such — all are equal before the Law. Law has the deficiency that it is finite and material (though not concrete); that proposal then amounts to exalting The Law to the level of God or a God-equivalent. That’s absurd upon its face; moreover, it means that people with a different philosophy may try to so exalt their basic principle. Socialists do this with egalitarianism itself — EQVALITY is elevated to Godhead, and all actions flow from that. It does have the advantage of being self-contained, self-referential, and thus immune to perturbations.
Another line of thought is to take one or another material, finite concept as the standard. That approach always boils down to lawn mowing: That poppy is too tall! Cut that sucker down! By any finite standard, human beings are not equal. Some are tall, some are short, some are smart, some are stupid, and any finite yardstick will reveal those differences. And, since the only number equal to all numbers like it is zero, this philosophy leads inexorably to cutting down all the poppies. We are all equal in death. This is not a particularly useful basis for proceeding.
In part, the reason for the disquiet is ubiquity of information transfer. Before cell phone cameras, iPods, and the Internet, meetings like Beck’s were a matter of interest only to their attendees, where now they must be noted, and remarked upon, by everybody and his dog. Beck uses religious tropes as his vehicle because he is best before an audience which employs those tropes, and those who find the tropes off-putting aren’t really his target audience — though it’s clear he’d prefer that they join it. In an earlier day they would simply have not responded to the call to join the meeting.
The Founders had no shortage of 700 club equivalents and Huckabee clones; the fundamentalist revival meeting has been a feature of American society since the first settlement of the Continent by Europeans. It should be telling that they chose to cite God as authority anyway. Glenn Beck is telling you that he supports the egalitarianism of the Founders and wants to see it become once again the bedrock assumption of American society. I fail to see how that isn’t a good thing.