Monday, August 30, 2010

Beck, Mormonism and Race

It is most fascinating to note that Glenn Beck’s religion of choice is Mormonism, and considering much of that sect’s somewhat bizarre teachings, it is but a short step from extrapolating its effect on his mind. The Book of Mormon itself is almost certainly a fiction of Joseph Smith’s imagination—and a rather wild one at that. Allegedly, a group of Hebrews somehow found their way from Israel to North America sometime around 600 BC; the method Smith used to arrive at this number is probably similar to the one used by Sen. Joe McCarthy to determine the number of Communists in the State Department (although probably not as arbitrary as in the film “The Manchurian Candidate”— a Heinz 59 catsup bottle). This particularly group of Hebrews grew so big it split into factions, one—the “Lamanites”—“lost” their way, evolving into present day American Indians, while the second faction—the ‘Nephites”—created a highly advance civilization, building cities paved with gold, before being killed-off by the Lamanites around 400 AD. Given the fact that the more advanced Europeans managed to kill 90 percent of the Native American population in the U.S. by 1900, this seems hardly plausible, but so is much of Mormon theology; in any case, there is zero archeological evidence to support this version of American history.

According to Smith, a prophet and his son—Mormon and Moroni—compiled a text of the sect’s teachings on gold plates and buried them in some secret place. Then one day, for no apparent reason, Moroni chose Smith as the person who he would appear to with the gold plates in hand, which Smith was allowed to transcribe from before Moroni disappeared, taking the plates with him.

Enough of that hokum (at least Muhammad’s interpretations of strange noises as “revelations” from God at least have the advantage of requiring creative thought). The fact that Mormons have often been portrayed as a “persecuted” group masks the fact that it holds some rather uncomfortably stone-age ideas, one of which may best explain Beck’s version of civil rights. In his “updated”—or rather, the racist white—version of “I Have a Dream,” he called for the “completion” of Martin Luther King Jr’s dream that all men will be treated with equal respect, except with the Beck-inserted proviso that this be accomplished without resort to government interference; however, Beck’s treatment of Barack Obama as the first black president is something that King would find disturbingly contrary to his own “dream,” not to mention racist. Alveda King, meanwhile, sullied the memory of her uncle by appearing with Beck at the Lincoln Memorial event—and worse, agreed with Beck that King did not believe in social justice, social programs and redistribution of wealth. She plainly allowed herself to be a shill and a pawn in Beck’s self-promoting gig: in fact, King fully supported LBJ’s civil rights and anti-poverty initiatives, and in 1968 stated that:

“We will place the problems of the poor at the seat of government of the wealthiest nation in the history of mankind. If that power refuses to acknowledge its debt to the poor, it would have failed to live up to its promise to insure "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to its citizens.”

What part of that Beck doesn’t understand is a moot point, since Beck is clearly completely ignorant of King, his beliefs, and the civil rights struggle in general, as is helpmate Sarah Palin and most of the people who showed up at the rally. King and his compatriots knew full well that state authorities and the white racists they served could not be trusted to act in good faith in advancing the cause of equality before the law; only the federal government and its courts had the power to overthrow racial discrimination at its core.

Returning to Mormonism, which Beck converted to in 1999, it isn’t hard to discover what he finds so attractive about it. Until recently, it was decreed that African-Americans could not be full members of the sect. African-Americans represent about 0.5 percent of the student population at Brigham Young University, making them easy targets for prejudicial commentary. In 1954, BYU elder Mark E. Peterson made the following illuminating remarks on African-Americans:

“(Quoting Brigham Young) ‘No person having the least particle of Negro blood can hold the Priesthood.’ It does not matter if they are one-sixth Negro or one-hundred and sixth, the curse of no Priesthood is the same. If an individual who is entitled to the Priesthood marries a Negro, the Lord has decreed that only spirits who are not eligible for the Priesthood will come to that marriage as children. To intermarry with a Negro is to forfeit a ‘Nation of Priesthood holders’....

“I think I have read enough to give you an idea of what the Negro is after. He is not just seeking the opportunity of sitting down in a cafe where white people eat. He isn't just trying to ride on the same streetcar or the same Pullman car with white people. It isn't that he just desires to go to the same theater as the white people. From this, and other interviews I have read, it appears that the Negro seeks absorption with the white race. He will not be satisfied until he achieves it by intermarriage. That is his objective and we must face it. We must not allow our feelings to carry us away, nor must we feel so sorry for Negroes that we will open our arms and embrace them with everything we have. Remember the little statement that we used to say about sin, "First we pity, then endure, then embrace"....

“When he told Enoch not preach the gospel to the descendants of Cain who were black, the Lord engaged in segregation. When He cursed the descendants of Cain as to the Priesthood, He engaged in segregation.... Who placed the Negroes originally in darkest Africa? Was it some man, or was it God? And when He placed them there, He segregated them....The Lord segregated the people both as to blood and place of residence. At least in the cases of the Lamanites and the Negro we have the definite word of the Lord Himself that he placed a dark skin upon them as a curse—as a punishment and as a sign to all others. He forbade intermarriage with them under threat of extension of the curse. And He certainly segregated the descendants of Cain when He cursed the Negro as to the Priesthood, and drew an absolute line. You may even say He dropped an Iron curtain there.... Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African Race? If the White man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.”

And since Cain killed his brother, God gave his descendents the “mark” of Cain: “You see some classes of the human family that are black, uncouth, uncomely, disagreeable and low in their habits, wild, and seemingly deprived of nearly all the blessings of the intelligence that is generally bestowed upon mankind. The first man that committed the odious crime of killing one of his brethren will be cursed the longest of any one of the children of Adam. Cain slew his brother. Cain might have been killed, and that would have put a termination to that line of human beings. This was not to be, and the Lord put a mark upon him, which is the flat nose and black skin. Trace mankind down to after the flood, and then another curse is pronounced upon the same race--that they should be the "servant of servants;" and they will be, until that curse is removed.”

Have things changed since then? I read an article back in 2008 about the African-American student experience at BYU. Many of these students are offended by continuing “folklore” among church leaders and white students that holds that African-Americans are still being “punished” with black skin. African-American students are also more likely to be expelled for violating the so-called “honor code,” such as when a black football player offends religious and social dogma by dating a white female student (one might recall that Beck compared Tiger Woods to O.J. Simpson, what can now be seen as an obvious reference to the Mormon injunction against intermarriage). Most white Mormons have had no previous contact with African-Africans at all, and even those who try to be “friendly” cannot refrain from making ignorant remarks. Worse, church leaders have made no effort to debunk the “mark of Cain” shibboleth.

So, if you want to understand Glenn Beck’s racial “philosophy,” all you need to know is that he found Mormonism closest to his heart.

No comments:

Post a Comment