One thing everyone can agree on is that Glenn Beck--the conservative star of TV, radio publishing and occasional live events--is hot. He's also controversial, as a Beck-friendly columnist recently acknowledged in USA Today:
perhaps his most impressive feat is his ability to unite a broad coalition of liberals, media scolds and conservatives under the single banner of Beck-hatred.
What's less clear is what Beck believes and how those beliefs shape his political views. Beck recorded a DVD entitled "An Unlikely Mormon" (with Deseret Book Company, which is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) but it doesn't connect the dots between faith and politics.
I have tried to connect these dots myself, but my requests for an interview with Beck for Religion News Service have been declined.
Into the gap steps scholar and author Joanna Brooks, who tries to explore Beck's beliefs in an article entitled "How Mormonism Built Glenn Beck." The article appears on the Religion Dispatches site, which describes itself as a "progressive" daily online magazine that promotes "rigorous, open and respectful debate" about "the intersections of religion, values, and public life."
Their piece on Beck does just that, exploring his beliefs without rancor or hysteria. Two portions are particularly interesting, including a section exploring Beck's debts to one key Mormon thinker:
Cleon Skousen (1913-2006), the archconservative and fiercely anti-communist Brigham Young University professor, founder of the Freeman Society, and author of 15 books, including The Naked Capitalist, The Making of America, and Prophecy and Modern Times. Beck, who first cited Skousen in his 2003 book The Real America: Messages from the Heart and the Heartland, later started pitching Skousen's 1981 book The 5,000 Year Leap on air in December, 2008. He wrote a preface for a new edition of the book issued a few months later and in his March 2009 kick-off of the 9/12 movement declared Skousen's book to be "divinely inspired." In a recent article for Salon.com, Alexander Zaitchik suggested that Beck "rescued [Skousen] from the remainder pile of history."
Equally interesting is the section on Mormon masculinity:
Beck's oft-ridiculed penchant for punctuating his tirades with tears is the hallmark of a distinctly Mormon mode of masculinity. As sociologist David Knowlton has written, "Mormonism praises the man who is able to shed tears as a manifestation of spirituality." Crying and choking up are understood by Mormons as manifestations of the Holy Spirit. For men at every rank of Mormon culture and visibility, appropriately-timed displays of tender emotion are displays of power.
There's much more in this 1,500-word piece. And until Beck himself reveals more about how his beliefs shape his politics (or someone points out a better piece on this topic), this article will serve as my guide to the Gospel according to Glenn.