David Brooks' pomposity, if I may be permitted to paraphrase Mark Twain, covers the whole earth like a blanket, and there is hardly a hole in it anywhere. In today's column, His Opinionship takes a dim view of Jefferson Bethke, the 22-year-old whose video, "Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus," has garnered over 18 million views since being uploaded Jan. 10. Eat your heart out, David.
Confronted with learned criticism, young Bethke has modestly recanted his claim that the Temple-going Jesus hated religion too. But the gravamen of Brooksian opprobrium is that the video is symptomatic of a contemporary tendency to tell people to rely on their own lights when they set about advocating reform. As a result:
This seems to be a moment when many people — in religion, economics and politics — are disgusted by current institutions, but then they are vague about what sorts of institutions should replace them.
The proferred solution?
If I could offer advice to a young rebel, it would be to rummage the past for a body of thought that helps you understand and address the shortcomings you see.
Now it seems to me that Bethke's critique is actually a pretty fair channeling of a tradition that is as deeply embedded in Western religious thought as it is possible to be. Sure, prophets like Amos and Isaiah did not claim to be against "religion"--an abstract concept that was not really part of their mental furniture anyway. But they invented a prophetic style that runs forward through Jesus to St. Francis to Savonarola to Martin Luther to Martin Luther King, Jr. Not all of these folks have been very precise about what sorts of institutions should replace the ones that disgusted them.
Had David Brooks been writing for the Jerusalem Daily Crier in 30 CE or so, he doubtless would have judged the Sermon on the Mount an impractical program of institutional reform. What possible societal benefits could come from selling your worldly possessions and following one whose kingdom is not of this world? Better to rummage around in Aristotle and Ecclesiastes to understand and address the shortcomings in contemporary Judea.