Religious treacle from David Brooks

March 23, 2021 • 10:45 am

And so we have another New York Times column to ponder, but one that won’t get its author, David Brooks, fired. For it’s just religion-coddling message: “if we want true social justice, the best way is to embrace the Christian religious view, which leads naturally to the healing of society”.

It’s dreck—dreck covered liberally with the maple syrup of feel-good words. It carries no weight, is dubious in its argument, and will lead to no results. I think part of Brooks’s job is to hold down the Be Nice to Religion desk at the paper. But this column is simply a waste of words—a bit of chest-thumping by Brooks about the wonder of faith.

Click on the screenshot to read. 

As reader Narendran pointed out, the column is slightly misleading, for Brooks describes his interviewee, Esau McCaulley, who is African-American, as “a New Testament professor at Wheaton College and a contributing writer for New York Times Opinion.” That’s true, but Brooks doesn’t mention that McCaulley is also an Anglican priest. And so he’s preaching in his piece, and Brooks eats it up.

I’ll be brief (or so I always think). The whole schmear rests on the supposition that Christianity is true (e.g., we were created by God). If that’s not the case, there’s no good reason to lean on the Bible and liberal Christianity to buttress genuine advances in social justice. Humanism will serve just as well. But let’s look at McCaulley’s narrative that Brooks found “riveting”.

This vision begins with respect for the equal dignity of each person. It is based on the idea that we are all made in the image of God. It abhors any attempt to dehumanize anybody on any front. We may be unjustly divided in a zillion ways, but a fundamental human solidarity in being part of the same creation.

But we weren’t made in the image of God! Doesn’t Brooks accept evolution? And if this God-given equality just a metaphor, then it’s meaningless. A metaphor for what?

One can better ground equal treatment of people on humanistic morality. Granted, that morality, like all morality, must in the end be subjective, but I’m a consequentialist and happen to believe that accepting equal dignity of each person is the notion that works best for society.

But wait! There’s more!

The Christian social justice vision also emphasizes the importance of memory. The Bible is filled with stories of marginalization and transformation, which we continue to live out. Exodus is the complicated history of how a fractious people comes together to form a nation.

Do we really need the Bible to remind us to remember history, especially because much of the history of the Bible, and its stories of “marginalization and transformation” (which include fig trees and pigs) are bogus. Humanism would also emphasize history, but true history.

And finally, this:

McCaulley doesn’t describe racism as a problem, but as a sin enmeshed with other sins, like greed and lust. Some people don’t like “sin” talk. But to cast racism as a sin is useful in many ways.

The concept of sin gives us an action plan to struggle against it: acknowledge the sin, confess the sin, ask forgiveness for the sin, turn away from the sin, restore the wrong done. If racism is America’s collective sin then the tasks are: tell the truth about racism, turn away from racism, offer reparations for racism.

Crikey! Why do we need “sin”? (This, by the way, feeds directly into John McWhorter’s view that Critical Social Justice is truly a religion.) You can do equally well with the concept of bad or harmful behavior, which racism is. And the tasks that stem from seeing racism as a “sin” are identical to the tasks broached by humanists, who of course differ (as do religious people) on the question of “reparations.”

It will have crossed your mind that #NotAllChristians are adherents to social justice in the same way as Brooks and pastor McCaulley. How many evangelical Christians marched under the banner of Trump?  Brooks mentions that good things have been done under the aegis of religion (e.g., the Civil Rights movement of the Sixties), and that’s true. But remember the words of Steven Weinberg:

“With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil—that takes religion.”

Humanism is enough, Mr. Brooks!

h/t: Narendran

21 thoughts on “Religious treacle from David Brooks

    1. You simply do not understand xianity and how wonderful it is. First, xianity is all about salvation. From who or what do we need salvation? Pretty sure it was something god did. So how were we to be saved? God would come to earth as his own son and die for a couple of days before heading back. Substitutionary atonement. Did it work? No – we need a second coming.

      So it is obvious how well xian values work. If only you would believe.

  1. “Crikey! Why do we need “sin”? (This, by the way, feeds directly into John McWhorter’s view that Critical Social Justice is truly a religion.) You can do equally well with the concept of bad or harmful behavior…”

    Challenge to Jerry and the gang: is there a single word that’s the antonym of “sin”, one that means a good or virtuous act? I’ve not been able to find one such that it would fit in the following: You can blame me for my sins, but please praise me for my ___. That there isn’t obviously such a word (at least in English) is perhaps testament to the punitive bent of monotheisms.

        1. I’m looking for a single English word that means altruistic act, good deed, or the like. The opposite of a sin, either in a religious or non-religious context. I don’t think it exists which is weird.

  2. Tripe, nonsense, balderdash, gibberish, blarney, claptrap, guff, blather, rubbish, baloney, hogwash, drivel, gobbledygook, bilge, bosh, crapola, bullshit…..and the list goes on.

  3. I am all for liberal Christians telling conservative Christians that they should support civil rights and seek to right past wrongs. As PCC says, the biblical bases of their arguments may not resonate with me. But I’m perfectly happy to work with religious allies in the fight against discrimination.

  4. I may need to re-read Brooks’ column, but as an atheist I understood him to be putting forward several ideas from the Christian religion that are socially useful. As I recall, he mentioned early in the piece that even secularists may want to ponder them not, obviously, as religious ideas, but for what their secular corollaries might be. It might be an interesting exercise.

  5. Yeah, Mr Robert Àaron Long, the alleged Atlanta massage parlour shooter ( He who was having ‘a bad day ‘ (I suppose like the hero of the song, ‘I don’t like Mondays’)) was heavily into religion. According to a deleted Instagram ac. he loved for ‘pizza, guns, drums, music, family and God’.

  6. “This vision begins with respect for the equal dignity of each person. It is based on the idea that we are all made in the image of God. It abhors any attempt to dehumanize anybody on any front.”

    Balderdash. If this is the “true” message of Christianity, why were Christians OK with the concept of slavery for 17 or 18 centuries following the supposed death of Jesus? Why does the bible expressly authorize the taking of slaves [Leviticus 25:44-46]? Why did god include in his 10 Commandments a prohibition against “coveting” someone else’s slaves, without ever suggesting that slavery itself was wrong? And please don’t give me that Old Testament vs. New Testament crap. Aren’t Jesus and the god of the Old Testament supposedly the same god (i.e., one of the “three persons in one god”)? Didn’t Jesus expressly state that the “old law” would not pass away until heaven and earth had passed away [Matthew 5:18], which doesn’t seem to have happened yet. And why did Jesus not only fail to ever mention that slavery was wrong, but instead suggested that a lazy slave deserved a beating [Luke 12:43-48]?

    The supposed inferiority of women is also a recurring theme in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

    Isn’t it interesting that it’s only in the last century or two that Christians have decided that women, gays, people of African descent and other foreigners have “equal dignity,” and that they have done so despite the EXPRESS provisions of the bible to the contrary? It almost makes you think that the “true” tenets of Christianity are whatever someone wants them to be. Hmmm.

    1. Some of the best humanitarians I’ve met or heard about were/are atheists or agnostics who’d make better examples of many of Christ’s teachings than too many (what I refer to as) institutional Christians. Conversely, some of the worst human(e) beings I’ve met or heard about are the most devout practitioners of institutional Christian theology.

  7. The story of Exodus is about some “chosen people” who God elected to hear His message only. He did not want to tell all humans equally, never contacted peoples in other regions of the planet, and did not repeat his revelation to newer generations. His clear preference introduced supremacism right into the foundation of all Abrahamitic faiths. God created inequality, there and then, and knew what would happen from this seed.

    This foundation let to centuries of oppression and exploitation, wars and genocides. The so-privileged, ostensibly equipped with God’s words and blessing, could go around and demand submission of all the non-chosen. Everyone else just had to take their word that these “revelations” were truthful, and that this superiority of some was God’s plan.

    Now we know the result of this peculiar architecture of faith. There is nothing even remotely unclear or controversial about any of this. Not historically, not individually. The parents in Italy lead their kid by their hand to the correct faith. It has to do nothing, just naturally believe their parents and never doubt them too much. The kid in Japan, however, has to do the impossible task to research and find the correct faith among thousands, and that against the currents of its own culture. There is really no way to twist this. Just the fact alone that some have to concern themselves with the “correct” faith, decide if they believe it, while others have no way of even knowing about it is fundamentally unfair.

    Religious apologists are both idiots and liars, for they know this and yet present a different picture.

  8. Those religious nuts must be a bad lot if the only thing making them behave well is the fear of eternal punishment…!

  9. “This vision begins with respect for the equal dignity of each person. It is based on the idea that we are all made in the image of God.”
    Imago Dei. So clearly, God is an irascibly territorial and xenophobic African great ape with iffy lumbar support, an inclination toward enforced social hierarchy, and forelimbs adapted to the manipulation of fire and the fashioning of projectiles. An ape so spectacularly weedy as to have caused the nightside continents to glow with the Cenozoic’s swift sad burning.
    I’ve never been much inclined to believe that such an organism is worthy of worship. It makes people want to kill.

  10. Oh brother am I sick of Brooks who, for some reason not only has a column in the New Woke Times and frequent speaking engagements but also a slot on PBS newshour every single Friday night to pontificate.

    I’m sick of his frequent religious pablum AND I’m not crazy about being lectured about morality by a man who left his wife of 25(?) years for his much younger research assistant.


  11. It seems that when a public person openly dreams about world peace and/or a clean, pristinely green global environment, theological fundamentalists immediately react with the presumption that he/she must therefore be Godless and, by extension, evil and/or (far worse) a socialist! Meanwhile, Christ’s teachings epitomize the primary component of socialism — do not hoard morbidly superfluous wealth when so very many people have little or nothing.

    Sometimes I wonder whether there are Christians — I mean the fans of the Old Testament angry-vengeful creator and followers of (what I term) institutional Christianity — who subconsciously wish that Jesus had not been so publicly contrary to contemporary conservative values thus politics. I can imagine institutional Christians generally finding inconvenient, if not annoying, having to reconcile the conspicuously contradictory fundamental nature, teachings and practices of the New Testament’s Jesus with those of the wrathful, vengeful and even jealous nature of the Old Testament’s God the Creator, Condemner and Executioner.

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