New York Times columnist and author David Brooks visited Baylor University once more to talk about his new book, his older work, and a topic hes long avoided: himself.
Brooks returned to focus less on politics in favor of more personal questions about faith, vulnerability and what he sees as an epidemic of social isolation. Alan Jacobs, with the Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion, led the conversation on the eve of another local appearance with Mission Waco on Tuesday.
Jacobs said Brooks newest book, The Second Mountain, stands apart from his previous work.
There is, typically, in your writing, a gently ironic distance in your writing, Jacobs said. It is rather disconcerting to see you be so straightforward and so open.
The book discusses his Jewish upbringing, his experiences with Christianity and his own personal ambivalence toward belief as he grew up, and his admiration for Catholic activist Dorothy Day and Saint Augustine as well as a painful divorce.
In the other books, it was about stuff I was working on in my life, but it was through some sort of mask, Brooks said in reply. So I had to take off the mask.
He writes that after his divorce, which he describes as a painful ordeal, he came to a deeper understanding of God, describing himself as a wandering Jew and a very confused Christian.
The perverse thing is that I feel more Jewish now than ever before, because the covenant seems real, and its not just something we said on Passover, Brooks said.
Brooks spoke about his earlier work, Bobos in Paradise, The Social Animal and The Road to Character. He said each book is about reaching a deeper level of understanding whats missing in conventional politics, while The Second Mountain is primarily about spiritual understanding. During the discussion, Brooks spoke about what he sees as the heart and soul missing from politics.
Wokeness, is deeply spiritual, Brooks said. Its just as spiritual as the Great Awakening, its just that the sin is called privilege.
He described speaking at political conferences and finding people starved for spiritual conversation.
You get a sense of insane spiritual and emotional yearning, especially in the last five years, Brooks said. The only time I dont find that yearning is at a Christian school.
The book pulls from a wide variety of sources to make points about finding fulfillment in the face of a predominantly individualistic, meritocratic culture that Brooks sees as steering people away from deeper understanding.
The character model I had, control your passion it was too individualistic, it was too self-imposed, Brooks said, referring to his 2015 book The Road to Character.
The Second Mountain outlines what Brooks sees as a path to a more fulfilling life. The first mountain, as described by Brooks, represents the period in a persons life spent striving for success and achievement in their careers. Brooks writes that an individualistic mindset can only get a person so far, and the view from the top of the first mountain will likely be unsatisfying.
The book outlines four major commitments that define much of a persons life: a commitment to a vocation, a spouse, a philosophy or faith, and a community. He said the existential crisis between the two mountains as the valley, and advocates for letting go of self-interest in favor of digging deeper into those commitments.
He writes that dedication to those commitments and looking outward to others instead of inward to personal happiness defines second mountain mentality, which can lead to the fulfillment that is missing from the first.
He discusses the plight of graduating college students uncertain about their future and states that simply telling them to believe in themselves without providing more concrete direction will only make their 20s harder. He said the internet serves as a diversion from finding that meaning by taking up too much of our time and exacerbating feelings of inadequacy and isolation.
[Isolation] is, I think, the issue of our day, Brooks said.
He said he cofounded Weave: The Social Fabric Project, in response to what he sees as a chronic isolation, fragmentation and loss of community in the country. The project, which he created with The Aspen Institute, intends to shine a spotlight on people who work for a wide variety of causes within their communities.
There is a continuum between a life of selfish individualism and agape, Brooks said. I wanted to hold these people up as examples.
Jacobs then led the audience into a Q and A, during which people watching a live stream of the conversation could text questions.
John White, director of the Faith and Sports Institute, said hes been a fan of Brooks for years.
Hes definitely more conservative on many issues, White said. I think he has incredible nuance and he can address both sides when it comes to cultural and political matters.
Brooks frequently jokes that being a conservative New York Times Op-Ed columnist is a little like being a lone rabbi in Mecca.
Katherine Power said she came to Baylor to visit her granddaughter, a Baylor student. She said shes seen Brooks speak before in Dallas and enjoys the way he breaks down the topics in his work during live discussions.
Its been interesting to me to see how hes evolved over the years, Power said.
Brooks married Anne Snyder, a researcher he worked with closely on his previous book and current editor-in-chief of Comment Magazine, in 2017. Brooks and Snyder will speak at a Mission Waco fundraiser at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Waco Convention Center.
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