Glenn Beck’s religion and mine

I was delighted to see that The Jewish Press, the largest independent weekly Jewish newspaper in the United States, published an essay by Moshe Feiglin, a conservative Israeli leader, repudiating Glenn Beck’s upcoming pilgrimage gathering in Jerusalem.

Feiglin wrote: “The problem is not Beck's beliefs. He is a good person who believes in what he is doing. The problem is that the most loyal Jewish public is giving him its support without thoroughly checking his message. They are unwittingly abetting a very gentle and heartwarming type of modern crusade.”

I'm delighted because the only other place this essay occurred outside of Israel was here in my blog at The Hill, and I am not a Jew. But I see Beck’s event in Israel as the height of blasphemy.

I do not go to church, nor do I particularly admire those who do. My problem in that is Americanism. It feels the religion I was born into was left behind in Ireland and those who made the journey here as my grandparents did were left to their own devices to find guides where they could. This has been elementary to the American condition since at least as early as James Fenimore Cooper, who looked to the Indians for spiritual guidance.

Here are three August ideas that might help the discussion. Pretty much outside the box:

1 — In the classic text “What the Buddha Taught” (1959) by Walpola Rahula, the author writes that all religions are really political organizations. He speaks against that. For 30 years now we have had religious groups rising here as political parties. I don’t see that they should have any problem in claiming territory and that is their human right to be free among themselves. The small sanga can find its way inward, but the large extroverted group tends to totalitarianism. Beck’s attempts now in Israel are perhaps the most despicable.

2 — If you asked anyone what was the most important event of the post-war period they might say Nixon’s visit to China or the end of the Cold War or the Civil Rights Movement of the hippie experience of the '60s. My opinion — again, as a non-Jew — is that the most important event of the century was the return of the Hasidim to Israel and the visionary writings of Rabbi Dov Ber. This and this alone made Israel possible. Israel had been a secular state, a socialist state, a European state, a pseudo-American state, a U.N. enclave, but all of these are political states with folkloric trimmings. Dov Ber Israel was able to return inward to the timeless state, not even a state or a place but a state of mind. This is the true Israel. The only public thinkers I’ve ever heard make this kind of observation about Dov Ber are C.G. Jung and Bob Dylan.

3 — Moshe Feiglin is constantly referred to in the press as a “right-wing extremist.” Indeed, anyone not one of the now accepted pop religions like Beck’s popular politics or pop culture mavens like Deepak Chopra, secular, external, political manifestations like Rahula talks about, could not possibly understand the inner life of a non-secular state. It is part of our American journey and moral and material conquest. It is an American existential problem; we are stuck on the outside — but it is not Israel’s problem.

Recently Feiglin wrote, “There are today more Jews living in Israel than outside of Israel. The exile is over.”

But not for America. And not for Glenn Beck.