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Glenn Beck and the Cult of the Individual

Lawrence Bush
June 17, 2010

by Lawrence Bush
June 18th, is the date on which the Denver, Colorado talk-radio host Alan Berg — a big-mouth progressive — was assassinated, gunned down in his driveway, by four white supremacist activists in 1984. Preparing the June 18th Jewdayo entry about poor Alan Berg has had me thinking about his rightwing doppelganger, Glenn Beck.
Although I read some conservative magazines and occasionally listen to right-wing talk radio as a motivational exercise, I’ve generally relied upon The Daily Show to fill me in on Glenn Beck. Recently, however, Beck took on some friends of mine at the Jewish Funds for Justice (JFSJ) — and I realized that I’m ignoring him at my own peril.
Actually, it was JFSJ that started the rumble. Beck had simply denounced any and all faith communities that engage in the work of “social justice” or “economic justice”, which he called “code language for Marxism.” Beck’s ideology views any and all effort to cultivate a communal sensibility or a spiritual recognition of interdependence as communism-in-disguise. So the Jewish Funds for Justice, which is dedicated to mobilizing synagogue communities on behalf of some very significant social and economic justice work, responded by launching a sassy Haiku Glenn Beck website and with an op-ed piece by JFSJ President Simon Greer in the Washington Post that defended the fundamental idea of the “common good” and the role that government can serve in promoting that common good.
An inflamed Glenn Beck then quoted the editorial on the air and declared that such thinking — the very idea of the common good — “leads to death camps . . . and a Jew, of all people, should know that.” Beck’s logic is that any efforts by society to define the common good leads to coercion, repression, and worse. Progress must therefore be left in the anarchic hands of the marketplace, where individuals pursue their idea of the good and the “common good” shakes out . . .
Simon Greer responded at Alternet and in the Washington Post, the American Jewish Committee weighed in against Beck’s exploitation of the Holocaust to serve his political agenda. JFSJ also began a pledge campaign in opposition to Beck. Other media folks like Keith Olbermann also weighed in to defend JFSJ. Meanwhile, the ghost of Joseph McCarthy was seen stalking the studios of FOX television. . .
I was in Seattle to speak to the progressive Jewish group, Kadima, when this controversy came down, but in my talk, coincidentally (but not at all coincidentally), I said that “the embrace of interconnection versus our willful blindness to it. . . seems to me to be the fulcrum on which our world, and especially our country, now teeter-totters”. Glenn Beck has made me realize how much I got that right! — and how much of a heavy, heavy weight he provides on the side of the Cult of the Individual, a death cult if ever there was one.
Jewish Funds for Justice, meanwhile, is a true leader in mobilizing Jews to work on behalf of the common good. Check them out — and defend them!

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.