Dogmatism or Narcissism?

Interesting Op-Ed from David Brooks in the New York Times today. Brooks contrasts what he sees as the dogmatism of Mel Gibson’s The Passion with the narcissism of much of today’s culture. Specifically he criticizes Mitch Albom’s recent The Five People You Meet in Heaven:

In Albom’s book, God, to the extent that he exists there, is sort of a genial Dr. Phil. When you go to his heaven, friends and helpers come and tell you how innately wonderful you are. They help you reach closure. In this heaven, God and his glory are not the center of attention. It’s all about you. Here, sins are not washed away. Instead, hurt is washed away. The language of good and evil is replaced by the language of trauma and recovery. There is no vice and virtue, no moral framework to locate the individual within the cosmic infinity of the universe. Instead there are just the right emotions — Do you feel good about yourself? — buttressed by an endless string of vague bromides about how special each person is, and how much we are all mystically connected in the flowing river of life.

While I haven’t read Albom, I must say I am on Brooks’ side. Despite all the talk of valuing diversity, the cultural arbiters of American life fear the true believer. Much of mainstream culture prefers spirituality as therapy; they reject religion with hard edges and clear lines as offensive and divisive. As Brooks notes, this is the real danger:

Reading “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” is a sad experience because it conjures up a mass of people who, like its hero, feel lonely and unimportant. But instead of offering them the rich moral framework of organized religion or rigorous philosophy, instead of reminding them of the tough-minded exemplars of the Bible and history, books like Albom’s throw the seekers remorselessly back upon themselves . . . Americans in the 21st century are more likely to be divorced from any sense of a creedal order, ignorant of the moral traditions that have come down to us through the ages and detached from the sense that we all owe obligations to a higher authority.

Call me a reactionary if you will, but I think a great many of our social ills can be traced to this disconnect from authority and tradition.

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season – oh, and watching golf too).

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