Vail Daily columnist Jack Van Ens: What national vision binds us?
We restore our nation’s honor, claims Fox talk show host Glenn Beck, by turning back the clock.
Today political divisiveness proliferates. Yesterday, specifically on Sept. 12, 2001, common purpose united our nation. We banded together to fight terrorism the day after al-Qaeda insurgents hijacked four jetliners and murdered almost 3,000 Americans.
Like a surfer riding a mammoth wave, Beck is convinced he’s caught the crest of a huge social movement. A longing for our nation to come together is its anchor, as we felt on Sept. 12 almost a decade ago.
There’s a surge, according to Beck, to recapture that day when our nation’s psyche wasn’t split, when U.S. leaders prayed with common folk “to bring us all back to the place we were on September 12, 2001. … We were not obsessed with red states, blue states or political parties. We were united as Americans standing together to protect the values and principles of the greatest nation ever created.”
What are these values and principles? What’s the moral glue holding together pieces of the American experience?
Beck often recites the conservative mantra that our nation needs leaner government, lower taxes, and personal liberty that thrives when Uncle Sam doesn’t meddle in the free market. He capitalizes on his listeners’ fears. They distrust government, disdain federal spending to help those marginalized in our society and deem the Social Security program a necessary evil, at best.
Somehow, Beck imagines that on Sept. 12, 2001, most of our citizens subscribed to an economic creed that’s pro-business and anti-government. What about those, then and now, who believe that we need an effective government, large enough to meet the needs of the poor, disenfranchised and elderly, which still keeps the engine humming of a well-functioning free market?
The U.S. never has been a melting pot where our oneness means that we sing the same political song. Our nation has always been more like a salad bowl with ingredients that are quite different in taste, size and look. It’s this pluralism that unites us. We weave colorful threads into a pattern that illumines our national identity.
Our national oneness gains strength when we mutually respect distinctions, rather than obliterate them. Picture our national unity as if it were a political orchestra. Instruments of different shapes and sizes offer chords that create a score.
Beck gathered his flock, sounding like an evangelist winning souls, at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial this past Aug. 28, marking the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. He turned the occasion into a religious revival, summoning our nation to return to God and country.
Beck recited the Gettysburg Address, promoted biblical faith, hope and love, and ludicrously tried to identify himself with MLK’s reforming spirit.
Sounding as if he were like Jesus who ushered in his ministry by declaring, “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent …” (Mark 1:15), Beck declared our country must repent from dependence on big government. This would restore our nation’s honor and gain the blessings of God’s kingdom on Earth.
What he failed to mention is that Beck’s kingdom on Earth subscribes to “scripture” crafted by militant novelist Ayn Rand, who hated government. She wrote the perennial best seller “Atlas Shrugged.” Its voice inspires Beck and his legions.
Rand declared, “I want to be known as the greatest champion of reason and the greatest enemy of religion.”
She replaced the cross with the dollar sign. Rand often sported on her coats dollar sign broaches. At the head of her casket rose a 6-foot wreath featuring a dollar sign. It was the same symbol her main character John Galt hung over the world in the last sentence of “Atlas Shrugged.”
“Every line of the Bible is challenged, countered and dismissed by the 1,168 pages of ‘Atlas Shrugged,'” asserts Martin Marty, a Lutheran historian who taught at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
Is this the vision we desire for our nation? Don’t “the better angels of our nature,” as Lincoln phrased it, thrive on more than Beck’s gospel where greed is good and government is bad and God is dead? Is this the place to which you want the U.S. to return?
Will this vision restore honor to our nation and elevate its noblest impulses?
The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the non-profit, tax-exempt Creative Growth (www.thelivinghistory.com), which enhances Christian worship through storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes,” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.