Friday, March 4, 2011

Glenn Beck, Skousen & the Utah Legislature: Proof-Texting for the "Constitutional Compound Republic"

Bear with me. I don't know if this is at all helping you, but this blogging about my problems with the Utah Legislature certainly helps me to organize my thoughts. I feel like I've discovered an important key to understanding Beck, Skousen, and the extreme conservatives who dominate Utah state government..

Most LDS missionaries learn fairly quickly that "Bible-bashing" gets you nowhere. Either the Spirit is there to convert or it isn't. And spirited discussion using scripture as fighting words to prove a certain point doesn't bring a good spirit. The technique for this is "proof-texting" or pulling scripture often out of context to argue or prove a particular preconceived view or doctrine. A better process is to read and share scripture to learn, teach, and then testify with the Holy Spirit.

I learned this lesson a few years before my mission among some of my high school friends. I grew up outside Utah and my friends were a varied lot of Catholics, Pentecostals, mainstream Protestants, and Agnostics. I loved seminary and did really well with the scripture chase scriptures marking them in bright red pencil so forcefully that it almost went through the page. These scriptures were great because my ninth-grade first year was the Old Testament, and the LDS-oriented references on the scripture chase list were perfect to "prove" the truth of Mormonism to my friends at school. It didn't work. The seriously religious ones were much better versed in the New Testament and I didn't get that scripture chase list until tenth grade. Bottom line, even after I got the New Testament scriptures marked, I didn't convert anybody. Even my own, true conversion didn't begin until my senior seminary year with a wonderful teacher testifying of the Book of Mormon which was fortified the very next year in Brother Holland's freshman Book of Mormon class.

I've been bothered by it for a long time without being able to fully explain, but I think I see that it is the same with certain political views. The U.S. Constitution is considered by many (even me) to have been written by divinely inspired men. Because of that, some believe it is a sacred text and to prove their beliefs of what they think is right, they pull out the language that supports their point of view whether from the Constitution itself or from other writings of the inspired Founders. Some even "proof-text" the historical leaders of the church or scripture for a particular political view. In fact, it's possible to accuse me of the very same thing! The worst offense in political proof-texting is to put on that cloak of religiosity to manipulate an unrighteous dominion to end all questioning.

Why didn't I see this before? It's not just that the substance of the political message from the that right bothers me, it's how the message is created and presented. As noted in my previous posts on the "Constitutional Compound Republic" (herehere, and here), I find that extreme conservatives (like the majority in the Utah State Legislature) appear to have "wrested the Constitution to our own destruction." (See, there I go!) A rather odd example of proof-texting the Constitution to the extreme is HB76 to establish a state committee to review federal law to determine what is justified under the bill's list of authorized federal constitutional powers. If that isn't a circular mass of confusion, I don't know what is.

Well, that's just my opinion. You can have your own.

Latching on to my "proof-texting for extreme conservatism" theory, I did a little googling to see if anyone else has come up with the same idea. And a few have. Here are some examples:

A skeptics blog on Glenn Beck proof-texting Dr. Martin Luther King.

Comments on a theologians blog on Glenn Beck proof-texting a proponent of Social Justice

A Pastor's blog noting Beck proof-texting the New Testament in support of his attack on Social Justice.

An LDS piece at the blog "By Common Consent" explaining Cleon Skousen's selective proof-texting of the Old Testament.

LDS Blogger Joanna Brooks on Skousen and new Senator Mike "tea party" Lee's tactics in proof-texting to justify an extreme right-wing view of the Constitution.

And finally, BYU Professors in the Deseret News' Mormon Times criticizing both Beck and Skousen for ant-intellectual proof-texting.

These are people from all kinds of different perspectives, several of which I would not generally agree with. Yet they did recognize this proof-texting problem in LDS political thought pertaining to the US Constitution and our government.

I don't have all the answers. And I refuse to engage in the proof-texting tit-for-tat. I will continue to explain my views and where they come from. And I will note the humbugging of the men behind the curtain rather than argue with or be intimidated by them.

More work is yet to be done on this topic.

[and, click here for a final word (for now)]


  1. Hard to be objective in a world full of subjectivity.

  2. Thanks, Dale. That sums it up nicely.

  3. See previous discussion from Facebook:

    What I am getting at, if you are a true moderate, is who are the liberals that drive you crazy in similar ways as the Utah Legislature?

    As I originally stated, I found your post quite interesting, thought provoking, and most likely true (I have no desire to read more about UT politics right now, so I can't verify current conditions). I am just curious to see where your outer limits of agreement and respect of certain political tactics/views are.

    By the way, having a more conservative lifestyle has no bearing on your politics insofar as the way you live does not define your politics. Barack Obama, Harry Reid, and a certain captain in the Corps of Engineers live "conservative" lifestyles as far as I can tell, but their politics are quite a different matter, so no bumping yourself towards the right just for the way you choose to live.

  4. @Dale.

    Well, Michael Moore is too far left for me. I don't like Jesse Jackson or the Clintons, especially some of their creepy advisors (Dick Morris, Lanny Davis, Mark Penn). Although Hillary is doing a pretty good job as Sec of State. John Edwards is officially off my list (well, duh). And Eliot Spitzer gives me the creeps for some of the same reasons. I can't stand Lawrence O'Donnell of MSNBC but I find Chris Matthews hilariously entertaining and I like Rachel Maddow except when she gets too snarky. And Al Sharpton is a bit over the top.

    I would say I am a FDR/Obama slightly-left-of-centerist (which is kind of interesting if you think about it. Both of them were rather pragmatic while experimental in their approaches but accomplished more in moving the country forward than pretty much anybody else - Johnson was very liberal with his Great Society but disastrous with his foreign policy). I don't know what all the answers are but I am willing to proceed cautiously and try a little experimentation in a pragmatic way to see if we can make life and opportunity better for as many as we can. Life-style issues do come into politics so I think that does count in framing a political view. Maybe I'm a "cautious liberal" which is about the same as a "passionate moderate" or an "enlightened conservative."

    The problem is, a lot of people claim to be moderates or independents because they don't like to be pigeon-holed or defined by labels. I feel the same although I am not an independent as I am officially affiliated with the Democratic Party of Utah - which is hardly liberal and in most states would be considered like the old Eastern or moderate Republicans (an extinct species).

    Which reminds me, Jon Huntsman is about the only Republican these days that I would ever consider supporting or voting for. But once he comes back to Utah, they may not let him be a Republican anymore. Maybe that's the ticket to get a Democratic Senator in Utah! Huckabee wins the Republican nomination and suppresses the Utah red vote. Chaffetz takes out Hatch in the caucuses and convention (like they did to Bennett). And Huntsman switches parties which I know is kinda frowned on and the past few who did this have been rather disgusting (Specter,Lieberman - well, whatever party he's in). But it just might work for Huntsman. We'll see.

  5. Maybe we just need a new party. The problem is: the name. Democrat and Republican work well because they are general ideas that most people with any education grasp (democracy, republic) and those ideas in some ways embody and inform many of their supposed policies.

    A party titled "Independent" couldn't obtain a serious, sustained majority because it's name implies that there are things more powerful or common to be independent from.

    "Libertarian" is...well, who knows what that means without reaching for a dictionary? By the time you realize it's root is "liberty", if you get that far, you then think...well, that doesn't say much, the question isn't liberty, but how much and what kinds.

    "Constitutionalist" would result in quasi circular reasoning, and is a bit too cliche. "

    Green"? Nope. Too narrow of an implication.

    "American" is also to cliche.

    "Compromising Party of the Republic" or "CPR" has some possibility in the current political climate, but it doesn't have staying power.

    "Tea"? Ummm....Mormons don't do that kind of thing...besides, what would the next party be? "Coffee"? "Beer"? "Tequila"? "Monster"?

    "Consolidated"...maybe, but probably not catchy enough. "Pragmatic" is too unfamiliar, but perhaps with some education...

    "Moderate" could never work in a 2 party system, it needs 2 other sides.

    Well, I'm about out of party name ideas, unless we start going with names of famous people. The problem with founding fathers is it would draw too much attention to that one persons thoughts...and that is kind of why they made a constitution in the first place. Anyone in the 20th Century is too recent, leaving the only real viable alternative as the "Lincoln" party, or the "Abe" party..."A" party???

    That's my best shot at creating a new party. I really think that the name is key issue to getting it off, and the best of the lot is one of the 3 that center around Lincoln...most likely either "Lincoln" or "A" party.


    Better party names?

  6. I actually like "Compromise Party of America" except it has the same acronym as the Communist Party of America. But back to my theme of the Utah Legislature, How 'bout Compromise Party of the Democratic-Republic. CPDR. Not exactly a great acronym. Or just Democratic-Republicans - wait. that's been tried before.

    There actually is a good chance there could be a party restructuring if the Repubs fall apart nationally in 2012 like I think they just might. I'm still curious to see how the various factions (tea partiers, neo-cons, culture warriors, fiscal conservatives, libertarian-republicans, blue-bloods, etc.)will work together. But we are in a weird pattern that each national party seems to completely collapse alternating every two or four years only to re-surge again, which while highly entertaining to us political junkies, I'm not sure it really helps the country deal with our real problems.


Comments are welcome. Feel free to disagree as many do. You can even be passionate (in moderation). Comments that contain offensive language, too many caps, conspiracy theories, gratuitous Mormon bashing, personal attacks on others who comment, or commercial solicitations- I send to spam. This is a troll-free zone. Charity always!