David Brooks—Creed or Chaos

Posted by Kendall Harmon

The central theme of “The Book of Mormon” is that many religious stories are silly — the idea that God would plant golden plates in upstate New York. Many religious doctrines are rigid and out of touch.

But religion itself can do enormous good as long as people take religious teaching metaphorically and not literally; as long as people understand that all religions ultimately preach love and service underneath their superficial particulars; as long as people practice their faiths open-mindedly and are tolerant of different beliefs....

The only problem with “The Book of Mormon” (you realize when thinking about it later) is that its theme is not quite true. Vague, uplifting, nondoctrinal religiosity doesn’t actually last. The religions that grow, succor and motivate people to perform heroic acts of service are usually theologically rigorous, arduous in practice and definite in their convictions about what is True and False.

Read it all.

Filed under: * Culture-WatchReligion & CultureTheatre/Drama/Plays

15 Comments
Posted April 26, 2011 at 5:41 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. David Keller wrote:

While I don’t disagree with much of what he says, why is it he never wrote about Barak Obama’s “chuch” in Chicago?  How did David Brooks suddenly become the religion editor of the Times when all his other coulmns are political? Could it be David Brooks is really a pretty extreme liberal and Mitt Romeny is getting ready to announce for President?  Oh, probably not. Its probably just a big coincidence.

April 26, 8:32 am | [comment link]
2. LumenChristie wrote:

In the early 1800s Solomon Spaulding wrote a novel about golden plates hidden under a hill/burial mound that were found and which told a story about the ancestors of the Indians being the lost tribes of Israel.  A man named Sidney Rigdon worked for the local printer where the manuscript was kept.  Sidney Rigdon disappeared from the local area; the manuscript disappeared at the same time.  Rigdon turned up shortly later as Joseph Smith’s best friend.  The Book of Mormon came out a few years after that.  Draw your own conclusions.  (There is a LOT more evidence and detail available on this).

The problem with suddenly discovered, questionable “Scriptures” is not whether or not the flavor of their “religiosity” recommends itself.  The question is, “IS that Scripture TRUE on all levels, including the deepest?


In the world of thought these days, Christians are increasingly being pushed to accept this premise:

But religion itself can do enormous good as long as people take religious teaching metaphorically and NOT literally; as long as people understand that all religions ultimately preach love and service underneath their superficial particulars; as long as people practice their faiths open-mindedly and are tolerant of different beliefs….

  (My emphasis)

This is exactly the real battleground.  As long as everything is somehow “true” (“metaphorically”: i.e. sort of but not really) nothing can be specifically true.  Everyone smart knows this, so if you are smart, you must agree with this. All “truths” are equal.

Jesus (so inconveniently) IS a real Person: God incarnate/man divine, crucified, truly died, truly physically risen and truly coming again.  This ain’t no metaphor, sistahs and brothas.

Do we know this? Are we surrendered fully to this?  Are we utterly committed to this Truth?  Because sooner than we think we are going to be called upon, by just such as this author, to pay the ultimate price to testify to this.

Or we will give up and run away.

April 26, 8:37 am | [comment link]
3. dcreinken wrote:

@David, I think Brooks is referring to the “Book of Mormon” musical, not the denomination or its text.

April 26, 8:42 am | [comment link]
4. David Keller wrote:

#3—I understand.  My point is why is he commenting on this now, when in the past umpteen years he has never commeneted on such things?  Ever.  Its because he is a lefty front man for the Times, posing as a “moderate”.

April 26, 8:48 am | [comment link]
5. LumenChristie wrote:

Boil, Froggies, boil

April 26, 9:03 am | [comment link]
6. dcreinken wrote:

David, that’s where I have trouble tracking your argument.  I don’t read anything in the article as critical of Mormonism, but of the reductionist theme of the musical that as long as you understand Scriptures are metaphor and you preach love and tolerance, all will be good.  I’m not sure how that would either hurt or help Mit Romney.

While I"ve not seen the musical, it’s gotten rave reviews and is very popular, so it has become part of the conversation, at least in some circles.  In that sense, I can understand why a NY Times columnist would address it.  If anything, I think Brooks’ final paragraph comes down on a more conservative side of the argument:

I was once in an AIDS-ravaged village in southern Africa. The vague humanism of the outside do-gooders didn’t do much to get people to alter their risky behavior. The blunt theological talk of the church ladies — right and wrong, salvation and damnation — seemed to have a better effect.

April 26, 9:32 am | [comment link]
7. David Keller wrote:

#6—I guess we just need to agree to disagree.  I think the left will trash anyone running against Obama, for any reason or no reason, and this is just the first salvo.  My guess is if the play had been panned David Brooks wouldn’t be commenting.

April 26, 9:46 am | [comment link]
8. dcreinken wrote:

#7 - Well, I think the left will trash the right and the right trash the left, so I see that as par for the course.  I just don’t understand how this is trashing of anything except a “vague humanism” using Brooks words.  Remember, the musical is done by the same people who brought you South Park.  It’s not intended to be a defense of Mormonism, so in a sense I think Brooks is defending Mormonism against the views presented in the Musical (unless I’m misreading him).

I do think that if the musical were a flop, he probably wouldn’t have said anything because the flop would have spoken for itself.

Dirk

April 26, 9:50 am | [comment link]
9. Dan Crawford wrote:

Given Brooks’ recent pronouncement on how people really do have choices in their encounters with the medical-pharmaceutical corporate complex, I take his remarks on theology with the same seriousness.

April 26, 11:06 am | [comment link]
10. Mark Baddeley wrote:

I think it might help to not read everything politically.

The article isn’t, in the end, right - he doesn’t address whether any particular religion is actually true (and he has one or two paragraphs that suggest they aren’t). But he’s observing that America’s infatuation for civil religion - that as long as people believe in ‘God’, however they define him, and are vague on the details but are good neighbors, then that’s ‘true religion’ - that that is merely religion for the well-heeled. It is a clear shot against the bow of the NY Times readership, and you only have to dip into the comments under the article to see that it was heard that way and watch people fire back. He might have gotten something wrong on pharmaceuticals and on Obama (?!) but it’s churlish to imply that means he’s wrong every time he writes.

April 26, 12:56 pm | [comment link]
11. Sarah wrote:

RE: “Given Brooks’ recent pronouncement on how people really do have choices in their encounters with the medical-pharmaceutical corporate complex, I take his remarks on theology with the same seriousness.”

How odd—for on the pages of T19 have been vociferous pronouncements by political liberals that accuse the political conservatives here of acting as if the political liberals have nothing valuable to say about theology and orthodox belief.

And yet here we have a lovely demonstration of just the opposite.  The political liberal proclaims that if someone expresses something vaguely politically conservative, he has no credibility to say something theologically astute.

April 26, 6:33 pm | [comment link]
12. Larry Morse wrote:

dcreinken, you need to read further This:“scriptures are metaphor and you preach love and tolerance, all will be good.” is not at all what
Brooks is arguing. Indeed, his very point is the reverse, that those who adopt so popular approach are in fact ineffective, that it is the standard religious structures, with their standards aand strictures, are MUCH more productive.  This is quite the reverse of what you have said.
  Moreover, this oped piece needs to be read with the following one about Hell and its necessity, for it is a continuation of Brooks’ argument. The two together make a powerful statement regarding the necessity of standards, by definition exclusive, to make a sound spiritual position.  Larry.

April 26, 9:55 pm | [comment link]
13. Larry Morse wrote:

Of all the things Brooks isn’t, he isn’t a liberal. The very suggestion is fiunny to a degree. Listen to Brooks and Shields on the Lehrer News Hour of Friday evenings and then you can here a real conservative and a died in the wool liberal.  Larry

April 26, 9:58 pm | [comment link]
14. Larry Morse wrote:

See below Ross Douthat, A case for Hell.  L

April 26, 10:01 pm | [comment link]
15. dcreinken wrote:

#12, Larry - I’m in agreement that that is Brooks’ position.  I’m not sure I’ve said otherwise.  The part you quoted is the position the musical takes, and Brooks is criticizing that.  My apologies if the wording of my post was vague.

Dirk

April 26, 10:09 pm | [comment link]
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