Q&A: David Brooks on Character, Sin, and Rumors About His Religious Journey

Photo courtesy of Random House / RNS

Author David Brooks at home, in Bethesda, Md. Photo courtesy of Random House / RNS

Brooks’ new book, The Road to Character, traces human virtue throughout the centuries, and then profiles a handful of “heroes of renunciation” who he believes serve as models of character. The book has sparked conversation about Brooks’ views on morality, theology, and even his own Jewish faith.

Brooks talked about society’s obsession with selfies, whether we’re too self-absorbed, and rumors about his own religious journey. Some answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Does Mormon Modesty Mantra Reduce Women to Sex Objects?

Karen Birdsall (L) and Kammi Bean sign at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – Lenexa Ward. RNS photo: Sally Morrow

When Mormon leaders sense a decline of moral standards in the world, they roll out sermons on modesty.

In the 1960s and early ’70s, they preached against miniskirts and hot pants; in today’s sex-drenched society, it’s spaghetti straps, bare midriffs, and skinny jeans.

The message remains largely the same: Cover up, lest you cause the males around you to sin.

It’s often couched in the rhetoric of “virtue” and usually aimed at young women, even girls.

I Am Not A Good Christian

Photo: Tripp Hudgins

Mandela can become a symbol of God for some. Photo: Tripp Hudgins

What makes one a good person? Additionally, what makes one a good Christian? I have been spending some time wondering about this as news of Mandela’s death has been making it’s way across the planet. Was he a good man? I think so, but how do we measure that? How do we know? And if, as some have claimed, his greatness stemmed from his willing embodiment of his Christian faith, I need to know if he was a good Christian.

Guy Sorman writes of Mandela:

“The Commission for Truth and Reconciliation, founded by President Mandela and led by Bishop Tutu, is perhaps the most concrete example of Mandela’s Christian faith. Instead of the vengeance and reprisals that were expected and feared after years of interracial violence, the commission focused on confession and forgiveness. Most of those who admitted misdeeds and even crimes — whether committed in the name of or in opposition to apartheid — received amnesty. Many returned to civil life, exonerated by their admission of guilt.”

Mandela is exemplary not because he was perfect, always kind to everyone he met, an ideal husband and father, but because of these larger virtues that he also attempted to live out. He lived into these virtues — all of them, large and small, and all of them incompletely.