On Glen Beck’s role as public Historian

It seems that most of my recent  posts have been about Glen Beck.  I thought I was over writing about him until I read this week’s New York Times Magazine cover story.

The article, which attempts to  make Beck seem reasonably sensible, often refers to Beck  role as a historian.  According to the writer, who followed Beck around on some recent lectures, “‘several people at Beck’s events described themselves as ‘students of history’ or ‘historians.’

Here is the kicker:

Beck’s Anchorage show started late — around 9 p.m. — and Beck was still speaking as 11 o’clock approached. He kept going, and going, and delivered a stem-winding ending about how George Washington became terrified at the end of his life about doing something that would dishonor himself and his country. I looked around the crowd of about 4,000, and it seemed no one had left. The room was perfectly silent after two hours plus — late on a Saturday night — to hear a self-described “recovering dirtbag” with not a single college credit to his name teach them history.

The same thing could be said of Beck’s role as public theologian.

Would you let a doctor look at your MRI and make a diagnosis  if he couldn’t even make it through a community college program?  Would you let a lawyer represent you in a case if they had only taken one single law school class and then dropped out before the semester was over?

It is not a  perfect analogy but that is what happens every time Beck goes on the air and makes claims that no serious historian or theologian could support.


2 thoughts on “On Glen Beck’s role as public Historian

  1. I agree– the willingness to submit to the rigors of the discipline one espouses matters deeply. I, for one, am grateful the MD who performed a medical test on me yesterday was board certified to do so and had years of practice at it. I would never want an undergrad to stick an endoscope down my esophagus.

    But the call for credentials (as your post might be read to do) can bite both ways.

    Consider Jesus.

    What were his theological credentials? From which institution did he receive a degree in history? Yet here was a man who made bold claims about history– past, present and future– and about God in the midst of that history.

    No– I’m not equating Glenn Beck with Jesus. Not even close. You know me better than that!

    Jesus wasn’t making false and unsupportable claims about the past based on a sketchy knowledge of it and a desire to make it fit his present and self-aggrandizing political agenda.

    Neither did Jesus make claims about God that could not be supported within the biblical tradition. His own teaching was compatible with the Law and the Prophets, and often closely paralleled that of other rabbis of his day.

    So the issue may not be about credentials at all– but about willingness to learn, live and proclaim truth, even at the cost of one’s own life.

    • Hi Taylor.

      Thanks for your comment and you are right. The call for credentials bites both ways and Jesus does not have a phd in religion or history from Harvard or even an associates degree from Nazareth Community College. Plus, our Methodist church is rooted in the hope that non-credentialed people can become literate, if not theologians and historians. And maybe that is where our church has failed.

      If our church had done its job, perhaps the lies that GB tells as history professor would have found much less fertile ground to take root in.

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