By Robert Parham
Executive Director, Baptist Center for Ethics
Rush Limbaugh told what he thought was a joke to a cheering crowd at the 2009 Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual gathering of conservative activists and politicians. In his rambling remarks televised on FOX News, Limbaugh said that when Larry King died, he went to heaven and was met at the gates by Saint Peter. King’s one question was: “Is Rush Limbaugh here?”
“‘No, he’s got a lot of time yet, Mr. King,’” said Limbaugh, pretending to be Peter.
“So Saint Peter begins the tour,” said Limbaugh. “Larry King sees the various places and it’s beyond anything we can imagine in terms of beauty. Finally, he gets to the biggest room of all, with this giant throne. And over the throne is a flashing beautiful angelic neon sign that says, ‘Rush Limbaugh.’”
The audience laughed.
Limbaugh said, “And Larry King looks at Saint Peter and says, ‘I thought you said he wasn’t here.’ He said, ‘He’s not, he’s not. This is God’s room. He just thinks he’s Rush Limbaugh,’” said Limbaugh.
The crowd erupted with laughter, applause and hoots. Conservatives thought it was hilarious that God would envy the rival deity named Rush Limbaugh. Not a boo, not a hiss, not a grumble was heard from the crowd.
While CPAC was a secular event, it was an event sponsored, supported and attended by Christian Right organizations and leaders. The CPAC program listed as co-sponsors: Concerned Women for America, Family Research Council and Liberty University’s law school. Exhibitors included the Alliance Defense Fund, Liberty Council and Regent University’s Robertson School of Government. Focus on the Family held a reception for former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum.
No doubt, a lot of conservative Christians were in the room. Days later, no Christian Right leader has objected to Limbaugh’s claim to be bigger than God, a claim similar to what John Lennon said in 1966.
When Lennon said, “We’re more popular than Jesus,” Bible-belt Christians roared with anger. They burned Beatles records, banned Beatles songs on the radio and boycotted Beatles concerts. They tolerated no rival claims to the messiah. When Limbaugh uttered a parallel claim, those who see Christianity under attack offered no response. No cry of cultural hostility toward religion was heard. No demand for an apology boomed from pulpits. No boycott was launched.
Why is that?
Why is it that the Christian Right reacted with such reverence to a man who, through thinly disguised humor, disclosed his prideful self-perception and espoused a worldview that counters the biblical witness? Are they afraid of Limbaugh? Are they afraid of his followers who pack their pews?
What explains the fact that Limbaugh can speak untruthfully, and yet he goes unchallenged by conservative Christians? He certainly spoke untruthfully at CPAC when he said that conservatives did not see other people with contempt. Yet he exhibited contempt in his comments about Senators Harry Reid and John Kerry.
When Limbaugh asserted that President Obama “portrays America as a soup kitchen in some dark night,” that he wants to destroy the United States and that he was fueling “class envy,” his untruthfulness went unchallenged. Limbaugh claimed, “We don’t hate anybody.” Yet he proceeded to speak hatefully about Obama, defending his statement that he hoped Obama failed, which was hardly endearing speech.
If truth telling isn’t a conservative value, what about unbridled greed? Is greed a Christian concern? Limbaugh defended greed. He defended the conspicuous consumption and the corporate mismanagement of Merrill Lynch’s former CEO John Thain as a way to defend capitalism.
Limbaugh asserted the primacy of excessive individualism. Again and again, he preached a radical individualism–the rights of the individual are transcendent. Never did he advocate sacrifice for another or urge his audience to avoid the pursuit of one’s rights for the well-being of others.
Limbaugh’s agenda had no room for the parable of the Good Samaritan, perhaps no longer a valued Christian narrative. Is Rush Limbaugh’s agenda in sync with the moral values and vision of conservative Christians?
Given the thunderous silence of Christian Right leaders about Limbaugh’s worldview, one wonders if talk radio’s man of excessive individualism and political extremism has replaced the biblical witness as a moral compass.
Robert Parham is executive editor of EthicsDaily.com and executive director of its parent organization, the Baptist Center for Ethics.