31 August 2010

'Collective Salvation' is what Civilization is All About

Theologian Glenn Beck has determined that the President of the United States is not a proper Christian. The radio talker is not saying that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim. Rather, he claims that the Chief Executive is a sort of heretic. Beck can tell this because Obama has said on at least one occasion that "my individual salvation depends on our collective salvation." Beck, a Mormon, believes that this sentiment distorts Christianity's proper emphasis on individual salvation, each soul taking personal responsibility for saving itself.

Googling the heretical phrase reveals that the future President uttered it most notably in 2008, when he delivered the commencement address at Wesleyan University. Immediately afterward, the New York Times published an excerpt including the terrible clause. Here are the candidate's un-American words:

It's because you have an obligation to yourself, because our individual salvation depends on our collective salvation. Because it's only when you hitch your wagon to something larger than yourself that you realize your true potential and discover the role you'll play in writing the next great chapter in America's story.

Looks like typical commencement-speech banality to me. What it doesn't look like is a theological statement. Beck has chosen to read a religious context into Obama's use of the word "salvation," but in context there's nothing here to suggest that the Senator was speaking about the salvation of the soul. In cliched language, Obama was saying something the Founders would agree with: a person's character finds its highest expression in public service and civic virtue. It is a relatively recent innovation in the history of Western thought to believe that public service subtracts from a person's freedom or corrupts his character. Where Jesus would stand on the issue is irrelevant.

In a civilized society, the only proper object of a state's existence is the collective salvation of its members. Any state not committed to that end inevitably ends up favoring one class of people, however constituted, over others. Why Christians (or Mormons) should favor that sort of state rather than one dedicated to collective salvation in the secular sense of the words is a question I leave for Glenn Beck to answer.


Anonymous said...

Being a mormon, Mr. Beck is not a "proper christian" either. But then, being a right-wing talking head who makes a living from selling hate, even if he weren't a moron, errr, mormon, Mr. Beck would not be a "proper" christian.

hobbyfan said...

I think the Osmonds have disavowed any knowledge of ever having associated with Beck.

Seriously, though, Beck is trying to curry favor with the "religious right", but anyone can see right through his little scam.