This past Saturday Fox News commentator Glenn Beck held a rally that many have rightly termed a revival at the National Mall in Washington DC. Beck promised that the event, called “Restoring Honor,” would not be political in nature, and even though Sarah Palin was one of the event’s main speakers, it seems he may have stuck (mostly) to his promise. The event has been likened more to an old Pentecostal tent meeting or a church picnic, then to a political rally.
Beck, a Mormon, invoked the name of God as the answer to our nation’s woes and declared Saturday the day that America “begins to turn back to God.” His audience, predominantly white and brimming with Christians, cheered Beck and the other speakers and provided the New York Times and plenty of Jesus-laden quotes about the fate of this country.
Some readers may expect us at Patrol to condemn Mr. Beck and his rally, but I’m going to do the opposite. I’m going to thank him.
For far too long there has been great confusion, a severe blurring of lines between Christianity and our national, civic religion, which, as far as I know, has yet to be named. But when a religious rally is held and the unifier is not theology or denominational tradition, but political ideology it is clear that a new religion has emerged, or, at least, been codified. Many of the Christians in attendance at Beck’s rally may not believe that the truth was revealed to Joseph Smith, Jr. in the nineteenth century, but that is less important than what they do believe in common, that our nation has strayed from its righteous path and the way back is through conservative politics.
This national religion-which-is-not-Christianity, has been a long time in the making. It is the religion of “God Bless America” and of the belief that the founding fathers intended the United States to be a “Christian nation.” It is the God of our currency, Pledge of Allegiance, and ultimately our exceptionalism. Certainly it bears a likeness to Christianity but it differs in its priorities. It doesn’t “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness,” rather it seeks first the kingdom of America. There is no denying that at times these things can align, but where they diverge, this civic religion chooses the latter.
Beck’s rally isn’t the only place where conservative politics is taking precedence over theology. See also the recent coverage of The King’s College selection of Dinesh D’Souza as the president of the college. In this case, where the institution’s professed evangelical affiliation and the theology thereof conflicts with Mr. D’Souza’s Catholic beliefs, the common ground that they share, conservative politics, proved to be the more important connection, as Carl Trueman pointed out at Reformation21. For the record, I have no problem with a Catholic scholar heading The King’s College, but in much the same way the school’s provost Marvin Olasky has asked Jim Wallis to come clean about his association with “The Left,” it would seem that TKC must be upfront about prioritizing its identity as a conservative college over that of an evangelical college.
As for Glenn Beck, I truly thank him for going beyond ecumenism and really making the distinction between the two religions more clear. This way, I hope, those of us who are Christians may not have to spend so much time in the future lamenting the ways in which our faith has been co-opted for political means. We won’t have to be mistaken for followers of the unnamed civic religion any longer, thus making it easier to demonstrate what it might look like to live out the Gospel as an American citizen.
All that’s left to do, I suppose, is come up with a name for this new religion. Nationalianity? Americanalism? Beckianity?
Jonathan D. Fitzgerald
Jonathan D. Fitzgerald is editor of Patrol and author of Not Your Mother's Morals: How the New Sincerity is Changing Pop Culture for the Better. Follow Fitz on Twitter.
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