tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Religious awakening spurs Medved’s socio-political conversion described in 'Right Turns'

I have long been interested in people who find ways to integrate their faith into their work and I was pleasantly surprised when I read Michael Medved’s “Right Turns” that such integration is the theme of his autobiographical book. The only thing I knew about Medved before I picked the book up was that he hosted a movie review program on PBS called "Sneak Previews" for a dozen years. Given that I don’t think much of most of the movies that come out of Hollywood, I wasn’t expecting much from the book.

But I was pleasantly surprised. Medved hooked me early and his robust writing style kept me all the way through the 400-plus pages. Published in 2004, I understand the book is just coming out in paperback. Of course it was interesting to read about his association with a number of famous people –- political people such as John Kerry, Hillary Rodham, Bill Clinton, and movie stars such as Barbara Streisand and Mel Gibson. But much more interesting to me was the transformation that took place within his life.

Medved chronicles his conversion from a far-left liberal to a conservative who currently hosts a right-wing talk radio show. At the foundation of his conversion is his devout Judaism. Medved grew up in a secular home that was Jewish in name only. As a young man, be brought home a girlfriend who happened to be Catholic. When it became apparent to his parents that the relationship might lead to marriage, Medved’s father expressed serious concern. He was angry that his oldest son would consider marrying outside his own faith. This shocked Michael, given he has seen so little to lead him to believe that his parents took their faith seriously. But Medved’s father was serious; he did not want Michael to marry a gentile.

Medved reacted with anger against his father and he left his parents’ home unsure about the possibility of an ongoing relationship with mom and dad. His girlfriend, however, sensed the family tension and decided she didn’t belong with Michael. They broke up not long after that meeting with Medved’s parents. Medved now found himself without a girlfriend and with a strained relationship with his parents.

He reacted by digging into Judaism. He wanted to learn what it meant to be a Jew; he wanted to understand why it was so important to his father that he get married within the faith. As he studied, he grew more interested in his faith. Judaism appealed to him. He started keeping the Sabbath and even the strict dietary laws.

As his faith became more important to him, he migrated toward the conservative end of the political spectrum. As a movie reviewer, his ideas founded in Judaism began to find their way into the reviews he would present on television. He wrote articles claiming Hollywood’s offensive films were out of touch with most Americans. He summed up those ideas in a 1992 best seller book called “Hollywood vs. America.” Today on his radio show, he regularly argues against left-wing political ideology, weaving in Judeo-Christian religious ideals.

Medved’s story impacted me because I know how powerful a father’s reaction can be to a young man’s dreams about marriage. When I was engaged to Susan, I told my parents we planned to travel together to Hawaii, where I happened to be traveling on business. I did not expect my parents to care. My parents graciously did not make a scene upon my announcement, as there were other family members present. But the next day I got a phone call from my dad. He expressed his displeasure with me. He urged me not to travel with Susan. He said it would be bad for Susan and for me. And he said it would set a bad example for my siblings. I was shocked. But in the end, I agreed. I couldn’t disappoint my dad.

That was a turning point in my life. My dad took a stand when it would have been so easy to look the other way. I was, after all, an adult. But Dad made his point, and it impressed me. Medved’s father also took a stand. And it made a lasting impression on him. My story, which I describe in my memoir, “Emerging Son,” and Medved’s story, described in “Right Turns,” shows the impact a father can have on a son –- especially when the son is a young man. A father’s responsibilities don’t stop when his children become 18. Medved’s father apparently understood that, and so did my dad. In my own case, I am very glad that he did; in the case of Michael Medved, a father’s loyalty to his faith shaped the life of a young man who went on to a very interesting, influential life described in this thoroughly enjoyable book.

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