How David Brooks Meandered Toward God

The New York Times columnist hasn’t become a Christian of the “Protestant evangelical variety,” but his latest book offers a fine example of spiritual autobiography.

I am someone who follows the New York Times opinion pieces of David Brooks closely. His is an astute voice: wise, courageous, and careful. He is not alarmist or sensationalist, but he is more than prepared to speak his mind on issues of political and moral consequence.

In his latest book, The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life, Brooks makes the case that as a culture we need to grow up and move from narcissism to maturity, from individualism to community, and from a life “for self” to a life lived in service to others. Most people, to adopt Brooks’s main metaphor, are busy ascending the “first mountain:” pursuing money, career goals, and personal fulfillment. But the ones we admire most aren’t satisfied when (or if) they reach the summit. And so they begin climbing the second mountain, moving beyond preoccupation with self to a higher, more other-centered mission in life.

After reading through the book, I was reminded of what is surely the greatest—and perhaps briefest—of all book reviews, the striking assessment of Samuel Johnson: “Your manuscript is good and original; but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.” I hasten to add that this is not my assessment of The Second Mountain. In fact, I would suggest something like the inverse: What is original in Brooks’s book is superb, but what is not original is, while not all that weak, then at least not really all that good.

The Journey to Faith

What is original and worth the reading is the section beginning with “Intellectual Commitments,” which leads into a fine example of spiritual autobiography. Throughout these chapters, Brooks is in conversation …

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