Thomas Paine, in The Age of Reason, pointed out that the problem with revealed religion (for those who are not already wedded to the idea that it is the solution to all problems) is that only the recipeint of the revelation has any basis on which to vouch for its authenticity. Hmm…there’s a problem. More recently, Richard Dawkins pointed out that religion based on revealed truth leads to young men hijacking airplanes and flying them into buildings, because, after all, there is only one truth, theirs! Take that you nattering nabobs of relativism!And now, we have the educated Mr. Brooks, guiding us through the thickets of revelation in his latest New York Times column about the evangelist, John Stott. I must say, I increasingly find Brooks to be bizarre in a fascinating way. What does he mean, and what planet does he come from?
We learn that politicians, mostly Democrats, and other liberal secularists don’t understand evangelicals because we take Jerry Falwell to be the exemplar of their ilk. Brooks then treats us to a mini-tour of evangelical thought as expounded by Mr. Stott, a world leader in the evangelical movement, who he says represents the real evangelicals, not the buffoons. Okay, he sounds thoughtful, but his ideas don’t seem much different than Falwell’s. Tellingly, Brooks cites Thomas Wolfe in his description of Stott’s tone – for these two pseudo-intellectuals (i.e. non-intellectuals who want to be seen as intellectuals) style always trumps substance. So, Mr. Stott has a spine of steel, and no doubt a fist of iron, albeit inside a velvet glove.Brooks tells us that Stott is quite “embracing” so that it is a shock, “especially to a Jew like me,” when it is clear that he won’t compromise on some things. Well! Is Brooks saying that he is the type of Jew that always compromises on everything, i.e., has no principles? Or is he implying that all Jews are without rock-solid principles? Neither makes for an appealing proposition. Or, to be more charitable, is he saying that as a Jew, he was shocked to find that there are evangelicals in the world who see him as a man sunk in sin and doomed to hell because he has not abandoned the false way of his Hebrew tribe…etc? Perhaps Mr. Brooks needs to watch Casa Blanca again, and pay special attention to the scene in which the local police chief announces that he is “shocked, shocked,” that gambling has been going on behind those doors. Where has he been, has he been listening while talking with those “hundreds of evangelicals,” he has met all over the USA? Those of us outside of the chattering classes know many religious people who vary from rock hard bigots to open minded spiritualists, and we are not shocked. Nor are we deceived.
Brooks goes on to discuss Stott’s dismissal of relativism. That’s an easy stance to take when all truth flows from (your interpretation of) the Bible. Stott is pro-death penalty and anti-abortion. Does Brooks mind that this is not only contrary to the position of the Pope – who at least has a morally consistent position, in a way – but that it is not based on anything but a preconceived notion? At least he believes in something, right? So did Hitler. And of course, we have, once again, the totally erroneous prejudice and smear that liberals, secularists, and rational people don’t believe in anything. Apparently, unless you are an anti-scientific born-again, you are awash in a sea of apathy, indifference, and anomie. Perhaps Brooks is, and perhaps that’s why he seems so drawn to these people.
Further on, he reveals that Stott is dead set against the “homosexual lifestyle.” How can anyone write that for a major newspaper? Does Brooks believe that being gay is a lifestyle choice? If he does, and if Stott does, shouldn’t they at least provide some evidence in support of that? Well, it’s in the Bible, they say, and I guess all those gay and lesbian people who say that they realized they were gay when they were in pre-teens are just making it up, or they were not sufficiently indoctrinated.
Mr. Brooks made his name as a “pop-sociologist” (his words) witing about self-indulgent yuppies. Perhaps he never did the work to learn real anthropology, sociology, or even history. Does he really feel that he is educating us with this fawning revelation of the nature of revealed faith? Has he not read any history? Even American history? These people have been with us always, and they were fulminating against the Bill of Rights and the Constitution in 1787 and they’re still at it. We don’t need Brooks to teach us the meaning and dynamics of faith and revealed religion – we have one of the best examples of what the worst of it can do in the destruction of the World Trade Center. These fundamentalist terrorists have ideas about truth, and how to find it, that are not much different than Stott’s – they just happen to have major political grievances against the USA as well.
When true believers meet and differ, they have no recourse but to fight to the death. Once we understand these people of faith (and I don’t make the mistake of assuming that all religious people are like this) what shall we do? The only thing they want is for us to give in, and be like them. They take no prisoners.
I have no gripe with people like Stott living in accord with their faith, but I do have two concerns about it:
- When they are part of a growing political movement, I fear for what they may wreak politically, on me. After a few years of increasing power, will they start passing laws to put crosses in classrooms, say the Lord’s prayer before council meetings, etc? Maybe Brooks won’t mind because I’m sure they’ll allow non-believers to stand by silently, for a while, anyway. How far will they go? Is there anything about their point of view that councils restraint? No, when you’re right, you’re right!
- It seems today that the only belief, the only values, the only principles that are respected as such are religious ones. What about the great intellectual/ethical traditions of the West that are not based on Christianity or Judaism (though they may be very influenced by them.) At the same time, nobody seems to have any notion of what science is, how it works, and what its value is. Intellectually, these people are deeply reactionary in the plain, objective, historical sense of it.
So, Mr. Brooks can waffle and maunder on about their faith, express his secret wish that he could be like them since they seem so strong and authentic, as opposed to the drippy people he has to work with, but let’s call a spade a spade. They have the right to be as they are, and if they get organized enough, they may well alter our constitution and jettison 225 years of our tradition of tolerance, pluralism, and secularism; and they have the right to dislike that tradition and to want to change it. But make no mistake about it, their aim is nothing less than to destroy democracy in the USA as we know it.