I admire conservative commentator David Brooks for his frequent wanderings into the gray areas between faith issues and psychology, sociology, politics and the humanities. In this new piece in the Times (“Building Better Secularists”) he tries to give a brief nod to the essence of secularism but then falls right back into the neo-conservative pew of piety, or something. I’m always a bit perplexed when someone throws stones from within a stain-glass house.
He critiques secular thought in the same way he critiques thought itself, reason itself. . .
The only secularism that can really arouse moral motivation and impel action is an enchanted secularism, one that puts emotional relations first and autonomy second.
He reveals a blind spot I often hear from people of faith who see no real good, no meaning, no hope, no humanity in a non-faith life. In fact, Brooks even says it quite clearly,
They suffer from a loss of meaning and an unconscious boredom with their own lives.
It seems to me that if secularism is going to be a positive creed, it can’t just speak to the rational aspects of our nature. Secularism has to do for nonbelievers what religion does for believers — arouse the higher emotions, exalt the passions in pursuit of moral action.”
Lots of examples of that “moral passion” in our world, are there not?
Ironically, for a emotionally rationalistic person like Brooks, the problem with the criticism of Secularism he represents is that it removes the Human dimension and assumes the secularist is all in their head, a machine–it’s all about the rational with no feeling or human experience. He sees only a stone tree in the living forest–a forest of his imagination.
In other words, people like David Brooks easily turn non-religious persons into something called Secularism–the Secularists. Whatever our beliefs or lack of beliefs, we are human beings first and foremost. Our philosophies, our ideas, what drives our lives, truly matter. Yet the strive to drop the heavy backpack of past creeds is joyful living and fully liberating, though I agree with Brooks that this means carrying other weight forward. Of course it is, and should be. Heavy thought leads to heavier living with the complexities of communities consisting of secularists and non-secularists.
His piece ends with some mystifying jargon that I don’t really find helpful:
I suspect that over the next years secularism will change its face and become hotter and more consuming, less content with mere benevolence, and more responsive to the spiritual urge in each of us, the drive for purity, self-transcendence and sanctification.
In other words, I guess that he suggests secular-ism and secular-ists will need to become more “religious” and “responsive to the spiritual urge” to really contribute to the world. He apparently seeks a conversion of secularism to something more resembling faith. An odd conclusion, that once again deflects and deflates the true contribution of freethinking, free-choosing and free-living in a world struggling with the practical definition of “Freedom” itself.
Interesting that these other articles/videos directly relate to the very current Spiritual/Secular tensions as well:
France’s Ideals Face a Modern Test (this one really puts “freedom in a secular society” in stark relief)