Mr. Brooks and the "Quasi-Religious"
Frank Cocozzelli printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sat Jun 09, 2007 at 09:07:22 AM EST
Leave it to self-described "recovering secularist" neoconservative shill David Brooks to pretend that he is complimenting moderate and progressive Catholics when he is really denigrating them. His now trademark esoteric Straussian babble, ripples to the surface of a piece in which it seems that Mr. Brooks has come to praise loyally dissenting Catholics - but in fact, he has come to bury them.
Although David Brooks may be an atypical "cultural warrior" -- he is the real deal.  While t  he absence of the crudity and vulgarity (of say, Bill O'Reilly and Bill Donohue), may be disarming to some he his soft and soothing, but nevertheless condescending observations are dressed to kill.  But make no mistake about it (it could be fatal) twice a week in the New York Times op-ed pages, the war upon mainstream faith continues unabated.

On May 25, 2007, New York Times he wrote a piece with seemingly the innocuous title "The Catholic Boom":

Quasi-religious people attend services, but they're bored much of the time. They read the Bible, but find large parts of it odd and irrelevant. They find themselves inextricably bound to their faith, but think some of the people who define it are nuts.

Whatever the state of their ambivalent souls, quasi-religious people often drive history. Abraham Lincoln knew scripture line by line but never quite shared the faith that mesmerized him.

Quasi-religious Protestants, drifting anxiously from the certainties of their old religion, built Victorian England. Quasi-religious Jews, climbing up from ancestral orthodoxy, helped shape 20th-century American culture.

Then the former Weekly Standard editor began extolling the virtues of Catholics like me--well, sort of:

Well, they started from their traditional Catholic cultural base. That meant, in the 1950s and early '60s, a strong emphasis on neighborhood cohesion and family, and a strong preference for obedience and solidarity over autonomy and rebellion.

Then over the decades, the authority of the church weakened and young Catholics assimilated. Catholic values began to converge with Protestant values. Catholic adults were more likely to use contraceptives, and fertility rates plummeted. They raised their children to value autonomy more and obedience less.

The process created a crisis for the church, as it struggled to maintain authority over its flock. But the shift was an economic boon to Catholics themselves. They found themselves in a quasi-religious sweet spot.

Ah yes, David Brooks, master of the backhanded compliment!

At first glance, "The Catholic Boom" may seem complimentary towards the religious individual who does not buy into every single orthodox pronouncement, but in fact, it isn't. Just the labeling of moderate and progressive as "quasi-religious" betrays David Brooks' true feelings. The esoteric message in this piece is that those who dissent from orthodoxy are defined as truly religious, but quasi religious.

This is a man who has a particularly nasty habit of pigeon-holing into categories based upon ancient notions of inequality. His past writings have described American society as simplistically divided into Red and Blue halves. And it is not too difficult to discern where his sympathies lie:

Red America is traditional, religious, self-disciplined, and patriotic. Blue America is modern, secular, self-expressive, and discomfited by blatant displays of patriotism. Proponents of this hypothesis in its most radical form contend that America is in the midst of a culture war, with two opposing armies fighting on behalf of their views. The historian Gertrude Himmelfarb offered a more moderate picture in One Nation, Two Cultures (1999), in which she argued that although America is not fatally split, it is deeply divided, between a heartland conservative population that adheres to a strict morality and a liberal population that lives by a loose one. The political journalist Michael Barone put it this way in a recent essay in National Journal: "The two Americas apparent in the 48 percent to 48 percent 2000 election are two nations of different faiths. One is observant, tradition-minded, moralistic. The other is unobservant, liberation-minded, relativistic."

In a later piece, Brooks chastises the "quasi-religious," essentially telling them "you don't know how to be faithful." For example:

Fifth, the recovering secularist must acknowledge that he has been too easy on religion. Because he assumed that it was playing a diminishing role in public affairs, he patronized it. He condescendingly decided not to judge other creeds. They are all valid ways of approaching God, he told himself, and ultimately they fuse into one. After all, why stir up trouble by judging another's beliefs? It's not polite. The better option, when confronted by some nasty practice performed in the name of religion, is simply to avert one's eyes. Is Wahhabism a vicious sect that perverts Islam? Don't talk about it.

This is a serious mischaracterization of a liberally democratic secular society, falsely casting it as one that is to be deemed hostile towards religion unless it is intolerant and orthodox in nature. Contrary to David Brooks' dissemblings, a truly secular society maintains religious neutrality in order to maintain civil tranquility. Would Mr. Brooks prefer a society that has the occasional religious civil war?

Brooks' neoconservative hackery demonizes liberalism -- and leaves out a critical truth about secular societies. While liberal democracies such as ours' do "not judge other creeds" that does not mean that certain religious behavior -- that which tramples upon the rights of others -- is also not judged. Those of us who may not wish to judge the validity of a given creed do in fact enforce a just public order. We do not hesitate to punish any individual who, acting upon his creed, decides to crash an airliner into an office building or blow up a Planned Parenthood office. A just and religiously neutral society may not judge creed, but it does judge behavior contrary to the common good. (That said, individuals and groups may debate the merits of each other's creeds all they want -- because that is what free speech is all about. If Brooks has a critique of Wahabism, let's hear it.)

And just as he demonized secular society, Brooks has back-handedly besmirched those who question orthodoxy. While he says some nice things about dissenting Catholics such as yours truly, there is still the not-so-esoteric thread running through "The Catholic Boom" that those who do not accept authoritarian religious leaders and instutions -- are something less than the genuine article.

Leo Strauss, the philosophy guru to the neoconservatives, used to teach his students that in order to find the true message of the great philosophers their works had to be read in an esoteric manner. Code words and dual meanings had to be extrapolated. And while David Brooks is no Plato, the same can be said of him.

 




Display:
I don't understand why even some liberals believe this man to be so brilliant: he is not.

David Brooks is the personification of Fred Clarkson's belief to learn as much as you can about your opponents. Once you understand Leo Strauss and the methods of his neoconservative followers (Remember: not all Straussians are neocons, but most neocons are Straussians) you'll be able to truly understand what David Brooks is really getting at.

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sat Jun 09, 2007 at 09:17:18 AM EST


I don't consider him to be very bright, although there are enough people who don't know better. I think like most Straussians and the right in general, he's more interested in feuding with his fellow citizens and regarding people who disagree with him as "the enemy within." I'm not very orthodox internally, and I resent attempts to pigeonhole how I feel into some sort of category.

Brooks is a shill alright, but I rather doubt that enough people will see through him until it's too late.

Kathy

by khughes1963 on Sat Jun 09, 2007 at 09:35:23 AM EST


I read this man's columns regularly at first but gave up when I quickly discerned that he is a very clever writer who begins with his premise du jour, and proceeds to decorate it with "facts" that are difficult if not impossible to ascertain, assumptions that sound convincing but are ultimately proven false usually in his own telling, and a confidence bereft of humility. He, like others of his ilk, know they are 'right' and no amount of subsequent contrary evidence to the contrary stops them from going on their merry way from one phony prognostication to another. Worse even than Safire whom he replaced, the Times must have writers like this to avoid more criticism than they already get when they print annoying facts that are unwanted by close minded zealots that hurl ad hominems instead of countervailing facts at them. At best these are silly romantic dreamers that can only write in an (no fact checking please) opinion piece. They are best left unread. dci
off
by lackawack on Mon Jun 11, 2007 at 01:21:03 PM EST
Brooks sets the bar for lazy pundits. No fact checking, no reading, not much effort writing, harps on same old subjects that can be handled (badly) by a few anecdotes, refuses to take on subjects that might require a little study or a little interviewing (eg. economics, science)

by NancyP on Mon Jun 11, 2007 at 08:29:08 PM EST
Parent


Try this one: David Brooks bio

by Meek Zeke on Sun Jun 10, 2007 at 02:15:34 PM EST
Good heads up; correction made!

by Frank Cocozzelli on Sun Jun 10, 2007 at 08:10:22 PM EST
Parent



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