Part 2: Why do millennials need more than our hyper-individualistic society provides?
David Brooks’ most recent provocative book takes us on a quest for a moral life within a culture sinking in hyper-individualistic amorality. After citing the evidence for this “catastrophe” he directs the readers’ attention to their heart and soul that equips us to love as God demonstrated in the Person of Jesus Christ.
In his chapter on “Heart and Soul” he pinpoints the essence of “the ultimate heart’s desire – the love behind all the other loves – is the desire to lose yourself in something or someone.” He introduces the soul by writing: “I don’t ask you to believe in God or not believe in God … But I do ask you to believe that you have a soul… This is the piece of you that is of infinite value and dignity … because you have a soul you are morally responsible for what you do or don’t do.”
He explains: “Slavery is wrong because it insults the fundamental dignity of a human soul. Rape is not just an assault on a collection of physical molecules; it is an insult to a human soul. It is an obscenity… The soul is the seedbed of our moral consciousness and our ethical sense.” He believes everyone he has met wants to live a good and meaningful life, to experience and express love.
As he reflects on our heart/soul nature, Brooks comes to believe that “human beings at their best are givers of gifts … about surrendering the self and making the kind of commitment that, in the Bible, Ruth made to Naomi:
“Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people shall be my people, and our God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.”
He has come to believe that it is commitment to someone else that changes us, and in fact that it is only within a relationship that we are changed or transformed. He cites Bill Millikan who founded Communities in Schools and later said: “I’ve been working in this field for fifty years, and I’ve never seen a program turn around a life. Only relationships turn around lives.”
This fact points us to having a relationship with God who draws us into loving-self-giving relationships with and for others. Brooks is inspired by those who have given of themselves to and for others, and have created healthy relationships, families, and communities which he holds up as the solution to society’s hyper-individualistic disconnectedness.
His heroes are people of faith and commitment. He mentions a camp counselor who became an Episcopal priest that was “a man for others.” He recognizes that “religion doesn’t produce as many truly good people … as you’d think it would,” but in this priest he saw “a Christian flavor of goodness” that was “simple, sincere, cheerful, pure, overflowing joy, and an erasure of self in the gift of love. Wes was just not thinking of himself that much.”
Another hero who lived for others was Dorothy Day whom he quotes as saying: “Christians are commanded to live in a way that doesn’t make sense unless God exists.”
What she said fits the life of Jean Vanier who bought a house in Paris and started a community for the mentally disabled, a community that has multiplied into 134 communities in 35 countries. Brooks writes: “Vanier exemplifies a selflessness that is almost spooky. He thinks and cares so little of himself … Vanier walked out of a society that celebrates the successful and the strong to devote his life purely to those who are weak.” I vividly remember Henri Nouwen lighting up the halls of academia with his spirituality before he left teaching posts at Yale and Harvard to join one of Vanier’s communities.
David Brooks recognized that his heroes were inspired and empowered by Jesus Christ. He paints with words one of the most poignant pictures of Jesus:
“Jesus is the classic scapegoat … the only thing that is different about the Jesus story – and it is a big difference – is that in this story Jesus came to earth precisely to be the scapegoat. He volunteered for this job, forgave those who executed him, and willingly carried the sins of the world on his shoulders. He came not be the awesome conquering Messiah that most of us would want, but to be the lamb, to submit, to love his enemies. He came not to be the victim of sin but the solution. His strength was self-sacrificial, and his weapon love so that we might live. That’s a clever plot twist.”
Perhaps it is not so surprising that Jesus eventually captured David Brooks’ heart and soul, though his mind still wavers between faith and doubt. He testifies that he now feels “more Jewish than ever before” and “if Jews don’t want me as a Jew (because of his commitment to Christ), they’re going to have to kick me out.”
He is enamored with the beatitudes that are “the moral sublime, the source of awe, the moral purity that takes your breath away … the ultimate road map for our lives. There are a lot of miracles in the Bible, but the most astounding one is the existence of that short sermon.” That statement raises the question about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, and one that he asks and answers honestly and humbly.
Here he identifies with Mother Teresa who struggled with doubts but kept her commitment to Christ, and his acceptance of God’s grace. We pray that he, too, will keep his commitment to Christ. We are thankful that David Brooks, who describes himself as “a wandering Jew and a very confused Christian,” has a place in his heart and soul for Jesus Christ! We are prayerful that he will continue to pray, “I believe, help my unbelief!” We believe God will answer that prayer, and so we pray that those who read his book may seek and find Jesus Christ Who died for us that we might live not unto ourselves but for others in a life characterized by grace and peace, joy and meaning.
Paul Baxter serves as associational missionary for Pine Mountain Baptist Association. Previously, he was pastor of First Baptist Church in LaGrange. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.