America is special. America has a mission. America is a beacon of liberty. America, God shed His grace on thee.
We call it American exceptionalism—the belief that, from among the countries of the world, the United States of America has been uniquely called by God to be X. In this equation, X equals whatever you think America stands for.
The Shining City on a Hill, the New Jerusalem, Manifest Destiny, the Sacred Union, the Great Society, the protector of God’s chosen people—X has many incarnations, some of them draped with Geneva gowns or encased in sidewinder missiles.
Harsh realities have pulled Christians back from the brink of this idolatry—half a million dead here, a generation lost to a sexual or unitarian revolution there—causing believers to remember that Stone that smashed the idol of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, or that line from Kipling about being one with Nineveh and Tyre. Maybe we’re not so special after all. Or just as special as, say, those Iraqi Christians recently liberated from their homes and churches.
Like Rome, America has a religion that supports and guarantees her greatness, one that sacralizes her exceptionalism. Imagine, if you will, if this country had a sacred past, one that factored into the salvation narrative itself. You look at this vast continent, and your mind boggles—all of this land, and it was only occupied by loincloth-wearing animists for a thousand or more years? Was anyone else here before them? Where did the lost tribes of Israel go? What if they came here! And since transatlantic travel was pretty scarce during the first century a.d., and since Jesus Christ came first “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” wouldn’t it follow that He appeared, resurrected from the dead, right here in America? And lest the gates of Hell prevail, doesn’t it then follow that a record of this would be written down, on golden tablets that would endure centuries of weather, and buried for later discovery? And (skipping ahead) wouldn’t the discovery here of “another testament of Jesus Christ” firmly establish the uniqueness, the permanence of America? And (skipping further ahead) wouldn’t any threat to America therefore be an attack on God?
W. Cleon Skousen thought so. For him the threat was the Red Menace, and he fought it on behalf of Elohim as an FBI special agent, a speaker for the John Birch Society, and in his book The Naked Communist (1958), in which he prophetically listed the goals of communism—many of which were fulfilled during the Cold War.
Skousen, you may have guessed, was a committed Mormon. As such, he denied the key tenets of Christianity, while using biblical terminology. Thus, for example, he believed that the one we all know as god, the father of Jesus (and Lucifer), was once a mere creature, but this “Elohim” “acquired,” through virtue, the glory and power of a god, being recognized as such by the universe’s “vast numbers of intelligences.” Thus, Skousen wrote (in 1953),
since God “acquired” the honor and sustaining influence of “all things” it follows . . . 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.
You may ask yourself, why in the world would anyone become a Mormon? This perception isn’t lost on the Latter-Day Saints, who don’t advertise that you, too, could rule your own galaxy, any more than Tom Cruise speaks publicly of the fate of the Thetans. Instead, they make those heartwarming commercials about family time and other things that interest conservatives.
Like, say, the threat of communism. Or liberals. Or the “racist” Barack Obama. Or any other threat to the aforementioned American exceptionalism.
Glenn Beck, the weeping conservative firebrand, has been a Mormon for a little over ten years. And while he pays homage to the writings of such great conservatives as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Martin Luther King, Jr.—which writings he calls “our American scriptures”—Beck has made it no secret that his favorite author is Cleon Skousen. Not Cleon Skousen, apologist of Interplanetary Elohim, but Cleon Skousen, author of The 5,000 Year Leap (1981), a catalog of the “divine” teachings of America’s Founding Fathers, who, it turns out, were to a man advocates of Mormon-style American exceptionalism. Beck urges his audiences to purchase the book, for which he has written a new Foreword.
It was the unstated theme of Mormon-style American exceptionalism that undergirded every word of Glenn Beck’s keynote speech at his recent “ecumenical” Restoring Honor rally in Washington, D.C.
To be continued . . .
This article first appeared in the October 2010 issue of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture.