The True Mirror of Our Doctrine

The conduct of our lives is the true mirror of our doctrine. – Montaigne

The other day I saw a news article that said that Glenn Beck, a nationally-syndicated political talk show host who also has a TV show, a man who has millions of listeners/viewers, told them that if their churches mentioned “social justice” or “economic justice” (what he called political “code words” for communism, etc.), his listeners should leave their churches.  This was shocking to me, first because Beck and I are both members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) and I can’t reconcile what he said with the doctrine I know from our church.  Isn’t this a violations of the First of the Ten Commandments?  And secondly, because anyone who actually took his advice widened one of the biggest rips in the fabric of our society.

I’m talking about the fact that all of us are bound together in an eternal family.  In too much of the political discourse lately, there has been demonizing, name-calling, and dehumanizing.  To what end?  To get the trajectory of the country to move a fraction of a degree to the left or the right.  At what cost?  We are sacrificing our kinship with our fellow man to our political objectives.  

We are too willing to create a chasm between “us and them,” refusing to acknowledge that they are us and we are them.  We are encouraged, even commanded by partisan leaders and “men of words” to vilify and hate the others.  As Eric Hoffer observed, “Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a God, but never without belief in a devil.”  Partisans are inculcating us with unreasonable fear and then wielding that fear to further their own goals at all costs, not through cooperation and understanding but through accusation and obfuscation, because, in the words of Hoffer, “[the fanatic] fears compromise” and “sees in tolerance a sign of weakness, frivolity and ignorance.”

The partisans prefer that we adopt the thoughts of the group because, as David Brooks wrote in a recent column, “People who are thinking in the group mode are loyal, disciplined and vicious against foes. People in the person-to-person mode are soft, unpredictable and hard to organize.”

Politically the group mode of thinking is valuable, but what is our raison d’être?  God didn’t create us to help our parties win elections or to move the country left or right; we’re here to obey Him.  And we cannot bifurcate our spiritual lives from our political lives.  If we cannot reconcile them, then at least one of them is false, and in trying to maintain them separate and separately, we can find no peace or balance.  Hoffer saw this as an intentional state of mind effected by the men of words: “By kindling and fanning violent passions in the hearts of their followers, mass movements prevent the settling of an inner balance.”  Many of us seek peace and balance in spirituality; in fact for some it is the primary reason for religion.  Why would we surrender that balance to the ideologies of other people whom we don’t really know and whose motivations we can’t fathom?

We Americans have gotten into a habit of checking our spirituality at the door of political discussion (and expecting the same of other cultures).  We shouldn’t do this; we shouldn’t be ABLE to do this because our faith should be so much an integral part of our personal constitution.  It should be the backing of our tapestry, not an accent color on it.

But the “men of words,” who also usually claim to be God-fearing men, want us to follow a different doctrine.  They want us to embrace a political doctrine that is contrary to our spiritual doctrine.  And how can we argue with them when they’re so darn accurate?  George Orwell, in his great essay “Notes on Nationalism” said, “Political or military commentators, like astrologers, can survive almost any mistake, because their more devoted followers do not look to them for an appraisal of the facts but for the stimulation of nationalistic loyalties” (he defined “nationalism” as “the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit [read political party], placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests”).

Accuracy is not truth.  All half-truths are accurate; that’s the “truth” part.  But they’re not only untrue, but anti-true.  And this is one of the biggest tools the “men of words” use.  They use accurate half-truths to demonize “the others” and make them seem less than human so that we can justify hating them.  Hoffer further noted, “To wrong those we hate is to add fuel to our hatred.  Conversely, to treat an enemy with magnanimity is to blunt our hatred for him.”  So if they can get us to do no more than use derogatory nick-names for down-the-political-spectrum people or parties, they have pushed us down the road of hatred to the point where, as Orwell put it, “Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage . . . which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side.”

We must change how we each participate in the political debate; not for the nation but for our own souls.  We must acknowledge the humanity of those we do not agree with.  We must take up John Adams’s “pacific and friendly disposition” in negotiation and debate.  But mostly we must remember that every person we’re told we should vilify and hate is a child of God and a heavenly sibling.  And knowing how He loves us, we can assume how He feels when we treat His children the way we sometimes do.  And if we just can’t do it, if we just can’t see the other’s perspective, understand her motives, then it’s time for mom’s advice to come into use.  “If you can’t say something nice (about God’s children), don’t say anything at all.”

8 Comments

Mike W. says:

Dave,

This is amazing. I’m going to post it on my facebook. Hopefully some traffic can read and ponder. This is right on.

Leah S. says:

I love this! I feel this reminds us to step back and take a deep breath! No matter how bad things get just remember we are all a Child of God. Nicely written.

Steve B says:

My only problem with this is that you “read a news article” on what Beck said instead of hearing what he actually said in context. It was much softer than what the press is reporting. I don’t listen that much, but I happened to hear it as I was driving, and I agreed to a point.
Despite that misunderstanding I agree, but it seems to me that people right now are relying on the media chariactures of individuals, parties, and ideas instead of the actual.

Centrist says:

Steve, I have a friend who tried to explain to me “the context” of what Beck said. I guess I’m just a little think-skulled because I couldn’t get past the fact that Beck is telling people to leave their churches, the best conduit they’ve found for reaching their life’s purpose, and all because of a political philosophy. American exceptionalism, captalism, and conservatism will not guide these people toward salvation. Every two years around primary election time, the leaders of Beck’s church (the one’s he would complain to if he saw “social” or “economic justice” on http://www.lds.com) release a statement to the effect of “Principles compatible with the gospel may be found in the platforms of various political parties.” Beck’s comments seem directly contrary to this.

Besides all that, Christianity is to a great extent about social and economic justice. The apostles of the old testament practiced it. government is not the venue for achieving it–which makes Beck’s comments even further off base, because churches are the PERFECT venue for social and economic justice to be addressed.

Lastly, if Beck was so misunderstood, why hasn’t he retracted of clarified what he said? People like Beck don’t make mistakes like this. They are articulate (if not always eloquent) masters of the art of words and they almost never make these kinds of mistakes.

I would like to think I’m misunderstanding him. Please tell me what he really meant.

Steve B says:

Can’t say, I’m not him. However, he does have the right to call them as he sees them. The problem is the word “justice” in social justice. The phrase is a paradox. There is no such thing. Justice is law, and law is protection of inalienable rights (and if that includes regulation to a point then that is fine with me). If we try to make the law serve equality (especially economically) instead of having the law dealt equitably, we sacrifice the integrity of the law. If churches are trying to achieve equality (especially economically) through the law, then we have priestcraft. You may not agree with all of this, but if that is what Beck meant then he has a point.
Churches are great for helping the poor (heavens knows I’ve been helped), and for taking up the cause of the oppressed, but if they are trying to do so with positive law, that can’t be good.

Centrist says:

Steve, what was the context I’m taking it out of?

“Justice” is not a political word–it’s been politicized. Think about it this way: should Christianity fight for or against social and economic injustice? I think Christianity should fight against social and economic injustice, which means for social and economic justice. All the talk of equality, etc. is political talk, not true to the definitions of the words.

The point of the Beck portion of the post is that he is creating (not just highlighting, but creating) divisions among God’s children for political gain and for the sake of ideology. Talk about priestcraft!

I didn’t say anything about civil or criminal law. I talked only about eternal laws and our obligations to our heavenly siblings despite our political differences.

Steve B says:

You are saying that justice does not necessarily refer to law? That is not my understanding, but in that light then what you are saying is true. I think that the social justice advocates believe that they should use law in a very legal sense, and there is the rub.

Traveler says:

The other tragic aspect is that radio performers such as Glenn Beck can incite irrational behaviors from their listeners/viewers through their spinning of the situation to match their ratings goals. Glenn Beck says exactly what he needs to in order to get his ratings. If the listeners/viewers actually believe that these entertainers (and that’s all they are) are truly working toward the good of the people (or some ideology)or a worthy cause, that is what truly scares me.

For example, Rush Limbaugh stated on his radio program that he was so incensed over health care reform that he would move to Costa Rica if it ever passed. News flash, I don’t think Mr. Limbaugh will be relocating in the near future.

If you want to talk about taking things out of context, you need to address these radical entertainers who constantly take quotes and soundbites out of context in order to provide some inflammatory bit on their show to fuel their call volume/ratings. These guys laugh all the way to bank because the people have forgotten how to think for themselves. I guess the scriptural references to mankind as sheep aren’t really that far off.

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