The moral conversation

David Brooks hits the moral conversation issue hard again. 

Where do we find the answers to the great questions we have, such as, “What is the purpose of my life?” We still ask those kinds of things, but where are the voices that can help guide the answers? Public conversation doesn’t want a moral voice any long. We want political voices. It’s so odd that as much as we say we hate politics and political voices, that’s really all that’s left.

For instance, we don’t really want someone helping us form a more full-voiced opinion on immigration. We only want to find the voices that fit our narrow bandwidth of opinion and camp on that. All other voices that may help nuance our position, or help us modulate our position, are simply “too left” or “too right.”

Public debate is now undermoralized and overpoliticized. We have many shows where people argue about fiscal policy but not so many on how to find a vocation or how to measure the worth of your life. In fact, we now hash out our moral disagreement indirectly, under the pretense that we’re talking about politics, which is why arguments about things like tax policy come to resemble holy wars.

We’re good at offering knowledge, or at least our slim view of it, but not much on wisdom. And we certainly don’t want a moral discussion in the public square any more. It’s about our political agendas, but not about what is wisdom in a situation, or how to attain an overarching wisdom that can help inform particular situations.

Baltimore. Ferguson. The shooting in Garland, Texas. All politicized powder kegs.

The Connecticut school shooting? The Aurora shooting? All politicized powder kegs. Have we had the needed conversation on mental health in this country? Nope.

Hopefully the conversation is shifting, and David Brooks is offering to help find a way to facilitate it. Read his column and join in on the conversation.

Where do you find your source of wisdom? Where have your found your purpose? Who has helped you on that journey? How does that inform your life?

Those are the big block questions we really need to put on the table and let people wade through in this volatile time.

Morning joe

Some fun humor to start the day.

Political humor:
If 67-year-old rural white men were the future of the electorate, the G.O.P. would be rolling. — David Brooks, New York Times 
(Of course, there is a group this will NOT find this funny…)

And some morning joe humor:

BC Cartoon for Mar/27/2015

Jews go away!

Jeffrey Goldberg asks the question, “Is it time for Jews to leave Europe?” Somehow that is seen as an “intelligent” question.

David Brooks has a more thoughtful response to the rising anti-Semitism brewing once again in Europe.

Thousands of Jews a year are just fleeing Europe. But the best response is quarantine and confrontation. European governments can demonstrate solidarity with their Jewish citizens by providing security, cracking down — broken-windows style — on even the smallest assaults. Meanwhile, brave and decent people can take a page from Gandhi and stage campaigns of confrontational nonviolence: marches, sit-ins and protests in the very neighborhoods where anti-Semitism breeds. Expose the evil of the perpetrators. Disturb the consciences of the good people in these communities who tolerate them. Confrontational nonviolence is the historically proven method to isolate and delegitimize social evil.

For our morally relativistic society in the U.S., it is past time to wake up and realize that real evil exists. For our “shoot first, ask questions later” subset, we need to realize there are more reasoned, peaceful, powerful ways to confront evil as well.

The moral voice

David Brooks continues to be one of my favorite columnists in a the dying industry of journalism. In the past few years he has done more to raise solid moral questions for the culture and he does it without a shrill voice. (Shrill would describe a lot of the comments he gets in the “comments” section below his columns.)

THIS COLUMN is a “coming out” for him. He makes it clear that, yes, he is trying to ask moral questions for a culture. And for him, yes, it is necessary.

People sometimes wonder why I’ve taken this column in a spiritual and moral direction of late. It’s in part because we won’t have social repair unless we are more morally articulate, unless we have clearer definitions of how we should be behaving at all levels.

There are tough questions that can be asked of anyone in a particular society. They don’t have to be yelled out, but it is wise if we would somehow get our cultural guts back and ask them. 

Next it will require holding people responsible. People born into the most chaotic situations can still be asked the same questions: Are you living for short-term pleasure or long-term good? Are you living for yourself or for your children? Do you have the freedom of self-control or are you in bondage to your desires?

Those are excellent question anywhere in the world. They are really necessary in our day and in our nation. We are rudderless at a very high speed and that isn’t a good situation. At some point, hard questions need to be gently asked… over and over.

We should start with the Church in America. And move from there.

Love your enemies… really

I have long been a fan of the columnist David Brooks and this piece may be one of his finest. I know it is refreshing to my thinking right now regarding ISIS.

When I read “conservative” Christians respond to ISIS and the beheadings, the first thing I often hear is how evil Islam is… and the corollary that goes unsaid is unsettling. All that is wanted is a harsh military response and let’s get on with life. The unspoken corollary is often, “And we know Muslims aren’t worth saving. All of Islam is ‘radical’ Islam.”  (We won’t say that first part because maybe Jesus COULD save a few… but that’s up to HIM… not us.)

We don’t respond well to criticism or people lashing back at us on the internet. We really don’t respond well to ISIS and their treatment of prisoners. We’ve gone back to an “eye for an eye” mentality. So many “conservative” Christians think Jordan’s respond of hanging two prisoners for the one pilot ISIS burned is the “right” response.

Brooks does NOT back away from the needed military response to ISIS. But he DOES offer tough thoughts on what it means to be “civilized.” I think he gives us the opportunity to understand once again that when Jesus said, “Love your enemies,” he just may have meant that.

These Islamic State guys burn hostages alive because it wins praise from their colleagues, because it earns attention and because it wins the sort of perverse respect that accompanies fear. We often say that terrorism is an act of war, but that’s wrong. Terrorism is an act of taunting. These murderous videos are attempts to make the rest of us feel powerless, at once undone by fear and addled by disgust.

We want to chest thump and match their barbarism. “You take a life, we’ll take out a village!” But that’s exactly the response they are looking for.

How should we respond?

The world is full of invisible young men yearning to feel significant, who’d love to shock the world and light folks on fire in an epic status contest with the reigning powers.

The best way to respond is to quiet our disgust and quiet our instincts. It is to step out of their game. It is to reassert the primacy of our game. The world’s mission in the Middle East is not to defeat ISIS, which is just a barbaric roadblock. It’s to reassert the primacy of pluralism, freedom and democracy. It’s to tamp down zeal and cultivate self-doubt. The world has to destroy the Islamic State with hard power, but only as a means to that higher moral end.

As citizens, we need to understand we can’t lose faith in a system we believe to be true: democracy.

As citizens of heaven, we need that understanding as well. While the “state” needs to deal with ISIS in a way that will deliver a fatal blow, that does not mean we need to live with this “eye for eye” mentality.

Psalm 23 is a constant reminder. He prepares a table for us in the presence of our enemies. 

This is a hard way. It is not soft to talk of “loving” your enemy. It is the Kingdom way… and that way demands much of our soul.

Love your enemies… really. 

How we view government

A column by David Brooks had a great quote on how partisans often view our government from the inside:

Right now there is bipartisan inconsistency over the effectiveness of government. Republicans think government is a bumbling tool at home but a magnificent instrument abroad. Democrats think government is a magnificent instrument at home but a bumbling tool abroad. In reality, government is best when it chooses the steady simple thing over the complex clever thing. When you don’t know the future and can’t control events, bet on people. Support the good, oppose the bad.

Then there’s that whole debate on who is “good” and who is “bad”…

But, one thing at a time.