NYT Columnist on Faith, Allegiance, and the "Biblical Metaphysic" in a "Moral Ecology"

Discussion in 'Religion' started by Tiassa, Sep 28, 2020.

  1. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Messages:
    36,424
    Among the worst news in news is when David Brooks↱ shows up to support you:

    During my decades as an atheist, I thought the stories were false but the values they implied were true. These values—welcome the stranger, humility against pride—became the moral framework I applied to think through my opinions, to support various causes. Like a lot of atheists, I found the theology of Reinhold Niebuhr very helpful.

    About seven years ago I realized that my secular understanding was not adequate to the amplitude of life as I experienced it. There were extremes of joy and pain, spiritual fullness and spiritual emptiness that were outside the normal material explanations of things.

    I was gripped by the conviction that the people I encountered were not skin bags of DNA, but had souls; had essences with no size or shape, but that gave them infinite value and dignity. The conviction that people have souls led to the possibility that there was some spirit who breathed souls into them.

    What finally did the trick was glimpses of infinite goodness. Secular religions are really good at identifying some evils, like oppression, and building a moral system against them. Divine religions are primarily oriented to an image of pure goodness, pure loving kindness, holiness. In periodic glimpses of radical goodness—in other people, in sensations of the transcendent—I felt, as Wendell Berry put it, “knowledge crawl over my skin.” The biblical stories from Genesis all the way through Luke and John became living presences in my life.

    These realizations transformed my spiritual life: awareness of God's love, participation in grace, awareness that each person is made in God's image. Faith offered an image of a way of being, an ultimate allegiance ....

    .... In a society that is growing radically more secular every day, I'd say we have more to fear from political dogmatism than religious dogmatism. We have more to fear from those who let their politics determine their faith practices and who turn their religious communities into political armies. We have more to fear from people who look to politics as a substitute for faith.

    And we have most to fear from the possibility that the biblical metaphysic, which has been a coherent value system for believers and nonbelievers for centuries, will fade from our culture, the stories will go untold, and young people will grow up in a society without any coherent moral ecology at all.

    If you haven't heard the jokes about David Brooks in recent years, maybe you should.

    Still, though, for people of my generation, there is something to it. After decades of complaining about godless relativism, look at Brooks' faith: It's a feel-good make-believe in which he gets to choose sides, and in doing so, feel better about himself compared to everyone else.

    Which, in turn, is also the unfortunate joke describing the last several years of his columns.

    To the other, this is Sciforums, and inasmuch as we might observe in our community any lack of "moral ecology", pretty much the only thing to say of Brooks' overwrought recycling of two-bit Christianist supremacism about religion, morality, and lack thereof, is that it takes a special kind of effort to validate David Brooks: "We have most to fear," he frets, "from the possibility that the biblical metaphysic … will fade from our culture … and young people will grow up in a society without any coherent moral ecology at all."

    Funny story: There's this guy I know, and, y'know, he's just some guy, whatever; but he's long been an atheist, and as long as I've known him he has loathed the accusation that his lack of biblical faith somehow equals a lack of morality. Okay, it's not really so funny: Over time his insistent behavior as if to fulfill the condemnation is actually kind of sad. These days, he can sometimes be seen begging rounds with religious people he thinks he can take in a fight, and has become so utterly relativist I can't recall the last time he stepped out of his amoral egocentrism, and he even moved on to telling people what they need to believe in order that he can fight with them. In his own way, he fulfills what he otherwise pretends to loathe and reject.

    Still, that's only one person. To the other, that one person is a reminder that David Brooks can still actually find an audience. And if we need the ski-boxer's third, well, it is not unwise to actually consider what audience might attend the declining columnist struggling to lead Americans away from the liberal elitism of sandwich meat↱.

    Nonetheless, look at the calendar. We're back to the old one about, No Bible = No Morality. It almost reminds me of an old song.

    Almost.

    Never mind.
    ____________________

    Notes:

    Brooks, David. "How Faith Shapes My Politics". The New York Times. 24 September 2020. NYTimes.com. 28 September 2020. https://nyti.ms/30cSqIs

    See Also:

    Brooks, David. "How We Are Ruining America". The New York Times. 11 July 2017. NYTimes.com. 11 July 2017. http://nyti.ms/2tLQPrm
     
  2. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement



    to hide all adverts.
  3. paddoboy Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    26,416
    Not sure if its relevant or not, but as a person some may chose to call a lefty inclined Atheist [although I hate labels] when my Son was ready to start school, I insisted that he go to a Catholic school. Reason? Because I saw the education in Australian Catholic schools, as far better overall then the state run schools, particularly on the aspect of general discipline. My Son now basically has followed his old man, and prefers evidenced backed science, over heart warming, inner glow maintaining beliefs in myth. At the same time we both love dearly our wife and Mother, who is a highly religious person, and a true Christian, who believes in tolerance, unlike a handful of religious zealots and red necks that this forum has thrown up, and that stupidly spend their time attempting to diss science when ever they can.
     
  4. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement



    to hide all adverts.
  5. Seattle Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    6,314
    Who did David Brooks show up to support? What is the point of this thread?
     
  6. Google AdSense Guest Advertisement



    to hide all adverts.
  7. C C Consular Corps - "the backbone of diplomacy" Valued Senior Member

    Messages:
    2,078
    At the start -- Barrett? Or preempting by a few days Biden's similarly questionable patronage: "I’m not opposed’ to Amy Coney Barrett; she’s a ‘very fine person’"?

    But in Brooks' personal explorations underlying that there seems to be a detour into lament about a future of para-religious (political) ideologies replacing traditional, religious (sublime) doctrines.

    "Secular religions are really good at identifying some evils, like oppression, and building a moral system against them. Divine religions are primarily oriented to an image of pure goodness, pure loving kindness, holiness. [...] In a society that is growing radically more secular every day, I’d say we have more to fear from political dogmatism than religious dogmatism. We have more to fear from those who let their politics determine their faith practices and who turn their religious communities into political armies. We have more to fear from people who look to politics as a substitute for faith."​

    Brooks was apparently a speaker in an AEI affiliated lecture series. One example of its concept of "secular religion" might be this -- is it one of his, also?

    Today, the expression can't just be addressing something like the zealotry of classic, non-adulterated Marxism -- but rather the offshoots or tactics and modified conspiracy frameworks borrowed from it. I'd still prefer the term "para-religion" as an informal classification when addressing intense passion, sensitivity and sacred feelings about academic-invented products (regardless of their zig-zag, particular school of thought ancestry).

    "Turn their religious communities into political armies" would possibly be a token attempt at balance or a nod to whatever is currently descended from older fundamentalist activism?

    Brooks (who is such a laundered moderate that he seemed to get along great with Mark Shields on the PBS News Hour) is a thus a literal return of sorts to Jewish roots with a hybrid dash of Church aura?

    In contrast to the mitigated route of Isaac Asimov realizing "the Holy Writings lead the way to science fiction" or Richard Dawkins remarking "I guess I'm a cultural Christian" or an ex Mafia hit-man on 60 Minutes acknowledging he's still a Catholic. I.e., purely a social identity component lingering from customs and thought orientations of a belief system (vestigial status).
     
    elte likes this.
  8. Tiassa Let us not launch the boat ... Staff Member

    Messages:
    36,424
    Brooks' column is an example of the infamous New York Times liberal media conspiracy: In order to promote a Republican-nominated judge with a problematic behavioral record and suspect political and social connections, the columnist opens with complaining about Democrats, and reminds to not judge Republicans or Christians by the company they keep: "If you want to know how Amy Coney Barrett is going to rule, pay more attention to the Federalist Society than to People of Praise, her Christian community." In other words, how dare we scrutinize Christianity so forthright as to scrub its discussion of association with someone. Politically, we've been down this road before, being expected to ignore extraordinary religious influence: Yes, the Federalist Society will tell us a bit how she will do it, but where she stakes her ultimate currency, her soul, will tell us much about what she will do and why.

    Those, however, are political questions; we might simply recall a group referred to as The Family, and consider their influence during a period when, as now, it was considered inappropriate within the boundariess of affecting discourse to question a conservative Christian's religious faith. Brooks, an anti-liberal columnist, starts by complaining about something else—i.e., Democrats—and wraps up in an old shroud of desperate preaching to the choir.

    In between, though, we see a deception, which does actually count for something even insofar as it is a political question about "the anti-abortion Catholics you know" who "driven by intellectual and moral conviction, not by mindless submission to Rome". It's straw. Her judicial record is also reflected in the company she keeps, the very people Brooks would tell us to look away from.

    And why should we look away?

    It has something to do with seveen or so paragraphs spent comparing Brooks' childhood Judaism to his "decades as an atheist". It seems significant, as such, if I counted that many sentences, because only three are about atheism: "During my decades as an atheist, I thought the stories were false but the values they implied were true", he explained. Also, he told us, "Like a lot of atheists, I found the theology of Reinhold Niebuhr very helpful." But the problem was that, "About seven years ago I realized that my secular understanding was not adequate to the amplitude of life as I experienced it."

    There is a secondary joke that I'm skipping, but it has to do with the idea of a polymer testimonial, when people describe their experiences by reciting what sounds like a plastic, mass-produced, empty story. In terms of the joke, Brooks put seven paragraphs into this part, and, sure, it would be a low standard but maybe that's why he is paid to write. Compared to what some people are unable to tell us about what they so badly want to tell us, maybe NYT's writer-in-crisis really is all that.

    Nonetheless, the vapidity of that seven-paragraph testimonial is what stands out: It seems Brooks' childhood Judaism did not prepare him for the needs his adult atheism would experience, such that he could not reconcile himself to the "conviction" that people "were not skin bags of DNA, but had souls; had essences with no size or shape, but that gave them infinite value and dignity", without the aid of make-believe. There's a George Fox joke in there, sure, but nobody ever laughs at those. But this is David Brooks, who in turn is what his column is all about, so what it comes down to is that he needs everyone to look away from the obvious in order to accommodate conservatives and especially conservative Christians.

    And he needs God, and "infinite goodness", to make it all make sense to him. Still, though, atheism is just a convenient whipping idol for Brooks, whose political purpose in the column seems to be convincing people to look away from what shapes someone's beliefs during a period when she is expected to rule on whose beliefs will be respected.

    So if we're looking away, for instance, from the justification of beliefs that, "a wife could never deny sex to her husband, because it was his right and her duty" (Associated Press↱), we might wonder why.

    Seasoned hands will recognize the basic elements: Brooks complains of going through the "same routine", in which, "Some Democrat accuses the nominee of imposing her religious views on the law". Looking away from the religious cult a judge is affiliated with in order to search for the meaning of what she believes is not an exercise in futility, but a forfeiture of credibility.

    And how do we justify this? With a cheap sales pitch against atheism and secularism, the enlightenment of circumstantially dependent make-believe, uncreative mongering that says "we have more to fear from political dogmatism than than religious dogmatism", and while Brooks does actually achieve two sentences that read as if wise—

    We have more to fear from those who let their politics determine their faith practices and who turn their religious communities into political armies. We have more to fear from people who look to politics as a substitute for faith.

    —he is in fact attending the timeless conservative trope of describing what one is protecting in the course of caricaturizing what one fears. If a judge has staked her eternal soul in circumstances including the utter subjugation of women, it is not unwise to attend this influence in trying to understand how that faith shapes the politics.

    The question of looking away from that influence remains squarely the realm of the political. Nonetheless, we're back to Bible and morality, that "we have most to fear from the possibility that the biblical metaphysic … will fade from our culture … and young people will grow up in a society without any coherent moral ecology at all". Brooks has prejudicially precluded the prospect of a "moral ecology" that does not rely on "the biblical metaphysic".

    That is to say, the failed atheist relies on infinite goodness in order that his faith can offer him an ultimate allegiance against his fear of secular politics turning religious communities into armies because there cannot be any "moral ecology" without "the biblical metaphysic", do I have that about right?

    Is he trying to party like it's 1999? It's not quite a revival, but it's blatant, and it's clumsy, and it's a cheap plastic knockoff.

    What I find fascinating is a moment in which it comes to this. Having experienced the culture wars of the last four decades, here we are again, one more time around, and for some reason it's not surprising.
    ____________________

    Notes:

    Biesecker, Michael and Michelle R. Smith. "Barrett tied to faith group ex-members say subjugates women". Associated Press. 28 September 2020. APNews.com. 1 October 2020. https://bit.ly/2SiXjeB

    Brooks, David. "How Faith Shapes My Politics". The New York Times. 24 September 2020. NYTimes.com. 1 October 2020. https://nyti.ms/30cSqIs
     

Share This Page