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“A moment of fervent protest movements that are ultimately vague and ineffectual”

People don’t know how to effectively rebel against, and propose alternatives for, those institutions that they believe to be faulty and corrupt.

David Brooks sees Jeff Bethke’s ​“Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus” video — which I wrote about earlier — as symptomatic of a larger issue. Namely, that people don’t know how to effectively rebel against, and propose alternatives for, those institutions that they believe to be faulty and corrupt. Brooks writes:

Bethke’s passionate polemic and subsequent retreat are symptomatic of a lot of the protest cries we hear these days. 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.

[…]

My own theory revolves around a single bad idea. For generations people have been told: Think for yourself; come up with your own independent worldview. Unless your name is Nietzsche, that’s probably a bad idea. Very few people have the genius or time to come up with a comprehensive and rigorous worldview.

If you go out there armed only with your own observations and sentiments, you will surely find yourself on very weak ground. You’ll lack the arguments, convictions and the coherent view of reality that you’ll need when challenged by a self-confident opposition. This is more or less what happened to Jefferson Bethke.

I think it’s safe to say that many people these days, myself included, are incredibly myopic when it comes to the ideas, philosophies, and worldviews that have come before them. We live in the now, and we try to create a ​“coherent view of reality” that is based largely on our own individual and subjective experiences. Thing is, that leads to a diminished and anemic view of reality. But Brooks has a suggestion:

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. Give yourself a label. If your college hasn’t provided you with a good knowledge of countercultural viewpoints — ranging from Thoreau to Maritain — then your college has failed you and you should try to remedy that ignorance.

Effective rebellion isn’t just expressing your personal feelings. It means replacing one set of authorities and institutions with a better set of authorities and institutions. Authorities and institutions don’t repress the passions of the heart, the way some young people now suppose. They give them focus and a means to turn passion into change.


Read more about David Brooks and Jeff Bethke.

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