W. Cleon Skousen - The Man Behind Glenn Beck
By Bill McKeever
Glenn Lee Beck has become a leading voice in American media and his radio and television programs have become quite popular among those who hold conservative political views.
Born in Everett, Washington on February 10, 1964, he converted to Mormonism in 1999 shortly after marrying his current wife Tania (Beck's first marriage ended in divorce in 1994). With all the emotion of a typical LDS fast and testimony meeting, Beck passionately proclaims his love for America while decrying the efforts of liberals to abandon the ideals fashioned by America's founding fathers. He regularly displays his in-depth knowledge of American history, and while he challenges his listeners to "Question with Boldness," many, myself included, wonder if he really did that when it comes to the dubious historical past of Mormonism.
Understandably, Beck's political conservatism has made him a target of the secular and religious left, but he has also received harsh criticism from fellow Mormons of a more liberal bent. The cover story for Sunstone magazine's June, 2010 edition was dedicated to "Glenn Beck: Rough Stone Roaring," and writer Robert A. Rees, made it clear he has little respect for his fellow member.
"Beck is an enigma, a chameleon, a shape-shifter, continually reinventing himself. He has gone from 'zoo radio' cut-up, to stand-up comedian, to political commentator/entertainer, to Fox News firebrand, to cheerleader of a populist anti-government movement, to a modern-day Cassandra prophesying doom and destruction for a nation allegedly in the thrall of progressivism."
"Beck has constructed a universe where the U.S. is under siege by progressives plotting to transform the nation into a socialist or—worse—communist or fascist state. Using innuendo, chop logic, guilt by association, conspiracy theories, progressive and liberal bogeymen, and what seems a carefully cultivated image of righteous indignation, Beck presents himself as today’s Paul Revere, warning the countryside that the enemy is at the gate (or, in Beck’s words, actually 'in the house'). In his broadcasts, Beck uses all the tools of a showman propagandist: he makes absurd comparisons, uses false analogies, tells whopping 'stretchers' (Huckleberry Finn’s term for statements with little regard for fact or truth), weeps on cue (YouTube footage shows him swiping Mentholatum under his eyes to induce tears), and lapses into sophomoric lampooning, mocking, ridicule, sarcasm, taunting, and joking. At times, his TV show resembles a circus side show."
Beck often expresses his distain for socialism, but is he equally critical of Joseph Smith's Law of Consecration or United Order? Mormon historian Richard Van Wagoner explains these concepts in a 1985 article in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought:
"After arriving in Ohio from New York in early February 1831, Joseph Smith convinced Rigdon's communal group to abandon the common-stock principle in favor of the 'more perfect law of the Lord.' A week later, on 9 February 1831, Smith announced God's revealed 'Law of Consecration and Stewardship.' Members were advised that 'all things belong to the Lord' and were directed to deed all personal property to the bishop of the Church. The bishop then returned a 'stewardship' to each head of a household, who was expected to turn over any accrued surplus to the Church. Known as the 'Order of Enoch,' 'The Lord's Law,' and the 'United Order,' the Mormon Order of Stewardship was intended as a pattern of social and economic reorganization for all mankind" (Dialogue, Vol.18, No.3, p.68).
Despite being commanded by revelation (D&C 104), the United Order proved to be a failure among the Saints and was eventually replaced with the Law of Tithing. Later attempts by Brigham Young to revive the concept also met with failure. "By the time of Brigham Young's death in 1877 the majority of the stakes had abandoned the 'United Order'" (William Edwin Berrett, The Restored Church, 1956, p.436).
Mormon Apostle John Widtsoe is among many LDS leaders that looked to a day when the Law of Consecration is reestablished. "When all the members of the Church are full and honest tithepayers, we may begin to look for the establishment of the law of consecration. Then the Lord may re-establish the higher law" (Evidences and Reconciliations, p.287). Though this seems unlikely to happen, one can only wonder how Beck would receive it if it did.
Enter W. Cleon Skousen
Beck doesn't hide the fact that one of the people who has made a major impact on his political worldview is W. Cleon Skousen, a Mormon political thinker and author of The 5,000 Year Leap, a book Beck says "changed his life." First published in 1981, Beck wrote the foreword to a new edition that instantly became a top seller on Amazon.com.
Who is W. Cleon Skousen? Willard Cleon Skousen, the founder of the National Center for Constitutional Studies, died at the age of 92 on January 9, 2006. Born in Raymond, Alberta Canada in 1913, Skousen came to the United States after an agricultural depression destroyed the family farm in 1921. He took a job working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and earned a law degree at George Washington University Law School.
In an article for Utah Holiday magazine (“Freemen America,” Feb. 1981), writers Linda Sillitoe and David Merrill noted that Skousen eventually became the head of the FBI’s communications section as well as J. Edgar Hoover’s administrative assistant. His job as an agent was to identify communist subversion and this “profoundly affected his political beliefs” (p.36).
At the request of his law school mentor and fellow Mormon, Ernest L. Wilkinson, Skousen left the FBI in 1951 to move to Provo, Utah to begin work at BYU. His interest in politics and the threat of communism led to writing The Naked Communist, the title of which he said was suggested by movie mogul Cecil B. DeMille.
In 1956 he began a relatively short career as police chief of Salt Lake City. When he was fired from that position, he returned to BYU in 1967 as a professor of ancient scripture. He began lecturing against communism and, in 1971, founded the Freemen Institute (later to be named the National Center for Constitutional Studies), an organization built around conservative ideology. Sillitoe and Merrill state,
“According to the Freemen workbook, the organization takes its name from the colonial use of the term. Mormon Freemen, however, remind one another of Book of Mormon scripture: ‘And those people who were desirous that Pahoran should remain chief judge over the land took upon them the name of freemen; and thus was the division among them, for the freemen had sworn or covenanted to maintain their rights and the privileges of their religion by a free government. (Alma 51:6.)'"
Though never officially endorsed by the LDS Church, Skousen was able to use his Mormon influence as a means to further his ideals. Many local LDS leaders had no problem promoting Skousen’s organizational activities from their pulpits. This led to a letter being read from then President Spencer Kimball urging local leaders to stop such announcements lest it be construed that the LDS Church was officially endorsing what was being said at the meetings. This did not mean that LDS leaders were not at least unofficially supportive. In fact, Skousen was a personal friend of Ezra Taft Benson, himself an ardent anti-communist who once served as Secretary of Agriculture under President Eisenhower. Benson later became Mormonism’s 13th president.
Skousen’s influence went far beyond his Mormon peers. Like others with conservative political views, he was close to Rev. Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church. Moon proclaims that he is the “Third Adam” and teaches that Jesus failed to complete His mission. In 1987 Skousen refused to disavow the controversial religious leader from Korea, saying that “theologies must be put aside to fight communism” (Salt Lake Tribune, “Skousen Isn’t About to Break His Ties to Rev. Moon,” April 29th, 1987, p.B1). Skousen was also very well connected to noted evangelicals who shared his conservative ideals.
Skousen’s politics aside, it was his theology that was especially troubling. His book The First 2,000 Years, published in 1953, included a section on God that can only be described as blasphemous.
Under the subtitle “The Source of God’s Power,” he wrote,
“Through modern revelation we learn that the universe is filled with vast numbers of intelligences, and we further learn that Elohim is God simply because all of these intelligences honor and sustain Him as such…His glory and power is something which He slowly acquired until today, ‘all things bow in humble reverence.’ But since God ‘acquired’ the honor and sustaining influence of ‘all things’ it follows as a corellary (sic) that if He should do anything to violate the confidence or ‘sense of justice’ of these intelligences, they would promptly withdraw their support, and the ‘power’ of God would disintegrate. This is what Mormon and Alma meant when they specifically stated that if God should change or act contrary to truth and justice ‘He would cease to be God.’ Our Heavenly Father can do only those things which the intelligences under Him are voluntarily willing to support Him in accomplishing” (pp.355-356).
The idea that God could “cease to be God” is not at all unique to Skousen. In fact, on page 354 he rightfully notes that the phrase comes directly from the Book of Mormon (Mormon 9:19; Alma 42:13, 25).
Skousen sums up these passages by saying, “In other words, if eternal principles were violated, God could cease to be God!”
On page 356 he also cites Doctrine and Covenants 93 to support his position.
“In the Doctrine and Covenants, ‘intelligence’ or that eternal, self-knowing will within each of us is called by several names. Sometimes it is called the ‘the light of truth,’ sometimes ‘the light of Christ,’ and in one place it is identified with the phenomenon of ‘life.’”
D&C 93:29 states that “Man was also in the beginning with God. Intelligence, or the light of truth, was not created or made, neither indeed can be.”
Tenth Mormon President Joseph Fielding Smith taught,
“...there is something called intelligence which always existed. It is the real eternal part of man, which was not created nor made. This intelligence combined with the spirit constitutes a spiritual identity or individual” (Answers to Gospel Questions, 4:127).
In 1969, Hugh B. Brown, a member of the LDS First Presidency, stated,
“We believe that before the creation of the body, all men existed as intelligence, These intelligences were not created or made, neither indeed can they be; the intelligent entity in man which we call spirit or soul is a self-existing entity, uncreated and eternal. Thus man is crowned with the dignity which belongs to his divine and eternal nature” (Conference Reports, April 1969, p.51).
The idea that God “acquired” the sustaining influence of anything should be regarded as absurd by those who understand the true attributes of the biblical God. To think that God can only do what these alleged “intelligences” support Him in accomplishing strikes at the heart of His omnipotence.
Skousen’s conclusions also seem to throw an interesting twist into what is known as the LDS doctrine of eternal progression. If man has truly progressed from a mere intelligence with the power to dethrone God, where is this power now that he has moved on to mortality? If you combined all of the wills of every human on earth, you couldn’t muster up enough power to strip God of His heavenly position. If that was really something we could have done as “intelligences,” it seems obvious we cannot do it now. Could it not then be argued that rather than progressing, we are really regressing?
How many theological views Beck shares with Skousen, I cannot say. Glenn Beck often speaks of God and Christianity and he has guests from both Mormon and evangelical backgrounds on his show to support positions he is trying to make. Such a combination of diverse backgrounds is bound to cause confusion to those wanting to know precisely what Beck really believes. I think many would agree that as long as Beck is a faithful member of the LDS Church, it is probably prudent to weigh carefully what he says regarding spiritual matters.
- Questions for Glenn Beck, by Bill McKeever
- The Not-so Mormon Soteriology of Glenn Beck, by Bill McKeever
- When the Constitution “Hangs by a Thread” – The White Horse Prophecy in Modern Mormonism, by Bill McKeever