Tuesday night’s Catholic Vote conference call with Glenn Beck and 144,000 or so of his biggest Catholic fans didn’t break much new ground.
Fans will not be surprised to hear that he talked about Dietrich Bonhoeffer (one of his heroes) or that he called for days of fasting and prayer for the nation. Even I know these are staples from listening to snippets of his radio show every few days.
I was surprised at the strength of his pro-life message, although that might not be new. I don’t listen every day and I don’t have a subscription to his newsletter his magazine or his one-man, online television network. I haven’t been to any of his national events, like the one that packed the National Mall a couple of years ago or the one that filled Dallas Stadium earlier this year. I knew he was pro-life (he has a daughter who has special needs, and I’ve heard him speak movingly about what joy she brought to his life) but I didn’t know he was that pro-life.
“Life is the most important thing” to consider when deciding whom to vote for, he said. Paraphrasing Moses, he said we are all now faced with the choice between life or death.
Pretty strong stuff, and whether you think it’s strong-good or strong-bad probably has more to do with your opinion of Beck than your assessment of the political situation.
No, what struck me most about the call was his outsider’s view of the Catholic Church. Now a Mormon, Beck has long-ago Catholic roots, but now he views the Church from the outside in. He admires Pope Benedict XVI, and he had some nice words to say about the cardinals he met on a recent trip to Rome for his ongoing effort to ignite another Great Awakening (hey, it could happen!). But he summed up the Church quite nicely as only an outsider can.
“Catholicism is at war with itself,” he said, in the excited tones of someone reporting a news story he’d uncovered just this morning. And although a lot of us are quite aware of the war, that probably is news to a lot of people inside the Church as well as outside of it. Many people don’t pay attention.
And then he said — in a tone of perfectly ordinary perplexity that had nothing to do with the reporter on a foreign culture or the prophet calling a nation to repentance — “I don’t understand how Nancy Pelosi can say that she’s a Catholic. I don’t understand how Joe Biden can say that he’s a Catholic.”
The Pope says one thing, Beck observed, and they do another. So how can they say they’re Catholics?
I don’t understand it either, Glenn. I have my own ideas, sometimes quite as apocalyptic as you at your most apocalyptic, and sometimes as mundane and dispiriting as “they just don’t care — and neither does anyone else.”
But I know this much: Sometimes you need an outsider to tell you the Emperor has no clothes. It’s often hard for us to figure out what’s going on when we’re in the middle of the Catholic culture wars. Some of us are too eager to jettison our fellow believers from the Barque of Peter because they don’t agree with us on every particular, and others are so afraid of misjudging that we overlook people boring through the deck with augers.
But an outsider — even an outsider who has left the Church for a, shall we say, “interesting” alternative — knows what the Church is supposed to be. This is the guy who wrote an editor for the Washington Post titled “Why We are All Catholics Now” after the famous line by Mike Huckabee. Beck decided to take a public stand with the Catholic Church — only to find out that roughly half that very Church doesn’t stand with the Catholic Church.
It’s perplexing, all right. And for the sake of all of us in the Barque, whether we’re boring holes or baling, I hope Beck is wrong about that whole Moses “choose between life or death right now” thing. Because even if you think Glenn Beck is a morally bankrupt showman, you’ve got to admit that even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while. And if he’s right about that, a lot of us are in trouble.