The News Agency of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness

Beck, Bath, and Bizarre

By: for Om Sweet Om on Jan. 9, 2010
Photo Credits: Google Images
Ganges at famous Varanasi holy pilgrimage place.

Oops, he did it again. Conservative mega-mouth Glenn Beck went on a xenophobic rant against those who choose to journey to India for health-care. He analogized Indian doctors to counterfeit Gucci purses, and mocked India for (what he perceived to be) lack of indoor plumbing.

But it was his jab at the Ganges (Ganga), one of Hinduism's most sacred rivers, that seemed to really cross the line:

Hindu groups are still seething over Glenn Beck's disparaging remarks about India's River Ganges. Although the political commentator has already apologized, upset Hindus are still pursuing their complaint to the Federal Communications Commissions.

Last week, on his Fox News opinion show, the commentator said that the South Asian nation's sacred river sounds like a disease.He said, "One big river they have there, that sounds like a disease. Come on it does. I mean if somebody said, 'I am sorry, you have a really bad case of Ganges...'"

He also took aim at India's healthcare system, saying healthcare there costs a lot cheaper than in the U.S. because the money from medical fees go to doctors who studied at Harvard rather than "Gajra Raja medical school."

He offered a passing apology this week, saying, "By the way, the name of the river in India, Ganges, I said last week that it sounded like a disease, did not mean to offend anybody."

Many Hindus venerate the Ganges (also called Ganga) as sacred, flowing from a divine source. Hindus of all different lineages or sampradyas will often come together to dip in the river, considering her waters purifying and holy. Water from the Ganges is also bottled and used in Hindu rites and rituals, to ritually cleanse places, or placed on the lips of the dying as a sacrament. Some literally worship the Ganges, either by offering ritual worship to the river herself or to an icon of her personified form Ganga Devi. 

Beck's insensitivity -- in making the offending statement to begin with, and then in his flippant "By the way, I didn't mean to offend anyone" apology -- has infuriated Hindus (and others) across the board. The usual suspects condemned the comments, of course: the always-ready-to-protest Bhavna Shinde of the Forum for Hindu Awakening demanded FCC action, and self-designated Hindu "statesman" Rajan Zed sent out yet another press release (purporting to speak on behalf of all Hindus) blasting Beck. But joining in the chorus are some other folks, including the American Association of Physicians of Indian Origin (AAPI) and the  US-India Political Action Committee (USINPAC).

Glenn Beck is entitled to his point of view about India's healthcare, just as I am entitled to point out that I think that point of view is simplistic, short-sighted, arrogant, prejudiced, and sophomoric. And if he needs to sink to the level of a third-grader on the playground ("ewww, your river sounds like a disease!") than engage in meaningful discourse, well, I think that communicates something about his point right there.

I was disappointed by Beck's denigration of India, but not shocked by it. To be sure, I know of Beck's tendency to offend, belittle, and denigrate others in furthering his skewed and xenophobic definition of being a patriot.

But I was a bit surprised that Beck would use the opportunity to hit below the religious belt and put down Hinduism. The truth is that I do expect more from him when it comes to religion.

Why? Because Beck is a Mormon, a relatively recent convert to a religious group that has had to field its own fair share of pot-shots and put-downs. From being branded a "cult" to being mocked for its purported support of polytheism, Mormons (members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) are no strangers to being punchlines.

Just as Beck finds Hinduism's veneration of the Ganges fodder for insulting humor, there are those who would label much of what Mormons hold sacred -- from "holy underwear" to baptizing the dead to a 19th century prophet who uncovered tablets with the aid of divine goggles -- patently bizarre.

Indeed, many did precisely this only a few years ago. During Mitt Romney's quest for the GOP presidential nomination in 2007, some chose to zero in on the oddest or most exotic aspects of Mormonism to evaluate his candidacy. And as Time magazine's Michael Kinsely pointed out, focusing in on the bizarre to dismiss Romney's faith, was unfair and dangerous:

Proceed with caution here, of course. Every religion is full of doctrines and beliefs that may seem nutty to outsiders. Jesus could be seen as a snake-oil salesman if you don't buy the snake oil. [ editor Jacob] Weisberg says Mormonism is different because it is so "recent," involving miraculous events in the 19th century in upstate New York. Well, I dunno. The patina of age may explain why Jesus' walking on water is easier to believe than Smith's golden plates and magic glasses. But it doesn't go far in justifying the distinction.

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