SALT LAKE CITY — Only Glenn Beck could make a crowd of 6,000 fans laugh while talking about how he may be going blind. The fans had come on Saturday to EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City to hear him and other speakers in his "American Revival" event — a blending of an old-fashioned tent meeting, a political science seminar and a comedy show.
Beck was at turns reverent and irreverent — such as when he suddenly swerved from a heartfelt discussion about God to wonder if the Almighty might play a joke on him at the judgment bar by wearing a giant octopus suit. Beck employed this sort of humor when talking about his recent eye troubles.
A few weeks ago, Beck went to the doctor because he was having trouble focusing his eyes. "So, I went to the best doctor I could find — while I could still go to the best doctor I could find," he said, unable to resist a dig at health care reform.
The doctor told Beck he had "macular dystrophy."
"Is that that Jerry Lewis thing?" Beck joked. "I should have given more."
Beck said the doctor told him he might be blind in a year or he might not.
"I said, 'Did you just charge me a thousand dollars for knowing what I already knew my whole life?' I knew that at 3! 'You might go blind someday. You might not,' " Beck said.
But then, the humor stopped. "I truly came to a place that is the greatest blessing," Beck said through tears. "Lord, if you need my eyes, they're yours. They've been yours the whole time, anyway. Thank you for letting me see as far as I have."
The organizing theme for the daylong event was "Faith, Hope and Charity" with the goal of a "restoration" of American values.
Beck began at 10:30 a.m. by inviting Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, offered the prayer. During a break, Hatch told the Deseret News that Beck was "a terrific human being. It takes a lot of guts for him to get out here and help people understand politics and understand virtues and principles."
For Beck, the purpose of his "revival" was to bring people together. "America is going to begin to come together again," he said. "We can disagree. That doesn't mean that we have to be disagreeable. We don't hate anyone. ... We just love America. We come together, and we unite on big principles."
Meanwhile, outside the arena, a handful of protesters were accusing Beck of doing just that. Peggy Wilson of Holladay said Beck's style of entertainment was "inflaming the hate."
Back inside, David Barton, founder and president of WallBuilders, looked at the faith of the Founding Fathers. "Today, what we do is we take the exception and teach it — we don't teach the rule," Barton said. That "rule," Barton said, is that although some prominent Founding Fathers were less religious, many were very religious.
David Buckner, a professor at Columbia University, spoke about the trajectory of the U.S. national debt from $3.2 trillion in 1990 to $14.4 trillion this year. He then added trillions more to that figure from the future costs of various government programs, such as Medicare and Social Security. He said "where we are" would be called "bankruptcy" in the financial world. "Where we are is not who we are. We are Americans. That doesn't entitle us, but it does enable us. We are at a crossroads, and today's the day," Buckner said.
Beck's final presenter was Judge Andrew Napolitano, host of Fox Business Network's "Freedom Watch." Napolitano spoke about how freedom comes from God, not government. "Rights can't be taken away from us," he said.
The biggest applause of the night came when Napolitano said the Second Amendment to the Constitution "was written to allow you to use it against the government if it is taken over by tyrants."
Beck concluded his revival by linking God and freedom. "Do you believe that this land was founded through divine providence?" Members of the crowd shouted back, "Yes!"
God and freedom. Truth and honor. Faith and love. Beck spoke in shouts and in sudden silences. Many of the 6,000 people laughed, cried and then laughed again as Beck spoke of his passions, his heroes — like billionaire Jon Huntsman Sr. — and his faith in America and in God.
"If you have really, truly accepted Jesus, if you have really accepted the Atonement ... you can never, ever repay it. Ever. If he asks for your eyes. ... What? Are you kidding me? That's the smallest. ...
Beck didn't finish his sentence as tears ran down his face.