I was fascinated by the coverage of the Glenn Beck rally several weeks ago.  Particularly that which focused on the curiously “religious” flavor of the event.  Not that Beck doesn’t pluck that string regularly, it has mostly been kind of subjunctive and by attribution.  His 9/12 project is all about implicit religion, or an implicit foundation of some its nativist values in religion.

Beck is obviously not very theologically sophisticated.  Even his widely-noted condemnation of “social justice” seems to be based more in conservative social attitudes than in orthodox theological ones.

So, when his rally turned so religious, it was a bit of a surprise. We all expected political red meat.  Especially with Sarah Palin in attendance.  Maybe it was the grandeur of the setting, maybe the dustup about MLK.  Maybe he became humbled and awed.  And, as Kathleen Parker pointed out, the themes of self-criticism and humility that came to the fore were probably comfortable to him given his experience with the twelve steps.

Our fears that such a rally might turn in dangerous, rather than introspective, directions from its roots in religion was probably justified, though.  It could have.  That is a natural vector for impulses based so obviously in “the religious.”  The mind begins to swirl with un-requited themes of difference and distinction.  If God is so much on our side, then what do I think of those poor people who are not with us?

Evidence of this comes today from our race for Governor here in one of the square states.  Dan Maes, the Republican in the three-way race, said in Durango yesterday that his race is a “spiritual battle” against forces of evil.  “When I interact with some of these people,” he is quoted as  saying, “I can feel the evil. They are not evil people, but evil finds its way into the system and we must stand and fight this to the end.”  And where is this evil?  Maybe its in the state campaign finance rules, which he has been found to be in violation of.

The two things that we might want to keep an eye on are the sensibility linking Maes with Beck: that somehow political discourse is at its roots religious, and the extension of it avoided by Beck and embraced by Maes, that by definition those on the other side are not only politically wrong, but religiously and morally wrong, too.

My undergraduate class read this week about the history of the way Maes’s Puritan forebears expressed that judgment in relation to the Quakers in their midst.  Same with the Wiccans in their midst and those who they could accuse of being so.

It would be more troubling in our case if Maes were not on his way to a projected pummeling at the polls, but the impulse is one that we need to keep an eye on, and one the media seem not to want to unpack for us.