Monday, October 24, 2016

Old Devil Brooks

Spiritual Conception totebag, now only $14.95 from Cafe Press.
I don't generally watch when David Brooks is on television, which is easy for me, but on Sunday morning he invaded my radio space—because for all my nastiness I'm really a soft old Birkenstocker at heart and a sucker for the totebag spirituality of the Krista Tippett show, which I listen to, for my sins (literally!), as the old helpmeet sleeps in until the weekend Puzzle wakes her up, at least to the extent I can stay awake, which varies with the quality of the guest, and Brooks was on it—I knew this would happen sooner or later—for a public-broadcasting spiritual lovefest-duet, with Dionne, chatting about the spiritual state of our union.

He's very comfortable in the role, joking easily, recalling the beloved camp counselor he used to be when he was 19:
DR. BROOKS: ...I didn’t know E.J. went through a youthful liberal Republican phase. It’s pathetic in your 50s. In your 20s, it’s just tragic.
DR. DIONNE: That’s the second-worst thing David ever said about me. The worst thing David ever said about me is that I was the only person he ever met whose eyes light up at the words “panel discussion.”
Wait, Dr. Brooks? Doctor of what for fuck's sake?

E.J. has a D.Phil. from Balliol College, Oxford, 1982, in sociology, by the way, which is what I'd call not chopped liver, and maintains a fellowhood at the Brookings institution and various teaching gigs in addition to the Washington Post and the TV spots, and is so much the real thing in this sense in contrast to Brooks that it's not even funny. Brooks has a B.A. from Chicago.

He also has a substantial number of what are called honorary doctorates, because you didn't do any academic work to get them, from whoever offers him one in return for a speech, such as Hope College in Holland, Michigan, which doesn't even have a graduate program for students, so I don't see how they're entitled to award the Doctor of Humane Letters they gave Brooks when he addressed a gathering on "The Value and Relevance of a Faith-Based Liberal Arts Education in the 21st Century", September 30 2015. His classiest honorary doctorate may be the Doctor of Humane Letters from Penn, which I covered last June, where he told the graduands that "one of those fantastic moments with friends or family—when you look out at the laughing faces and you are overwhelmed by gratitude—when you feel called to be worthy of such undeserved happiness, joy and grace" resembles getting a visit from a leopard.

So if E.J. gets to be called "doctor" David does too, because both sides do it.

I was interested in his answer to the question about his own ongoing spiritual evolution, which began:
DR. BROOKS: I guess the reason I went into — when you write a column, one of the things you learn is to be narcissistic, and you learn to explore your stuff in public. So I think, since we met, I’ve become much more religiously inclined. And that’s, I think, for three things.
I almost read "explore your junk in public". That's kind of what it is, in fact, isn't it? Like a man in jacket and tie in a box up to his shoulders, and inside where nobody can see his pants are off, and he's studying his organs and telling the audience about them, but in terms too airy and metaphorical for us to be sure that's what it is.

The three things that have made him more religiously inclined are
  • "an awareness of one's moral mediocrity" which he experiences when he meets people who "radiate an inner light", "radiate patience and goodness", "radiated that light" (I love how he says "one's" rather than "my")
  • "the experience of grace"  (not "my experience"), of which "these are just exemplar stories, but I have a million of them" but in fact it's just the one story about how he pulled into his driveway once in 2005 or 2006 and saw his kids having fun and being joyous in the back yard, which he always tells, as referenced in that leopard thing at Penn.
  • "and then lately—one experience" (somebody's experience) "is love, deep love"
Yep, the theologically-minded much younger girlfriend. Cherchez la femme! She's in the box too, but completely concealed.
Christian Wiman, who is a poet I’ve quoted in your presence before says, “Love is always on the move. It’s never content to just love one thing.” So you want to love the person, you want to love — but then your flesh sort of gets opened up, exposing soft flesh below, and you realize your riches are not in yourself, and that sort of desire and even awareness of a fusion at that deep level sort of changes your view.
So when you go through these experiences, theology begins to make sense because it speaks spiritually, emotionally, and morally.
How can I even begin to write about this without being Jonathan Swift or D.H. Lawrence? How can I summon up enough anger or enough language? David Brooks's god is literally the Devil, bringing him through lust and sloth to an insanity of pride in which throwing away your old family and hooking up with a pretty young woman, hidden as she crouches around your knees inside your box of secrecy, gives you a claim to being a spiritual authority.

He's so proud in his own conceit of his humility, he's so moral in his opened-up flesh.  David Brooks can't make me believe in God, but he's made me believe in the Devil!

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