When Sarah Pulliam Bailey writes a thoughtful, nuanced story on religion, it’s not exactly a man-bites-dog scenario.
That’s what she almost always does, after all.
But here at GetReligion, we like to highlight positive achievements in religion news coverage (as well as the negative). So I can’t resist noting Bailey’s very interesting Washington Post piece today on the complicated faith of New York Times op-ed columnist David Brooks.
Like a lot of the best religion stories, this one starts with a question.
“So what is David Brooks' faith?” Bailey commented in a public Facebook post. “I've heard that question over and over for the past few years. Here, I try to explain.”
Suffice it to say that Brooks’ faith is not an easy thing to explain, and that makes the former GetReligion contributor’s story all the more compelling.
The opening paragraphs:
In the world of national columnists, David Brooks is a star. But in the last few years, the New York Times writer and author has whipped up fascination among a certain subset of readers for a specific, gossipy reason: They wonder if the Jewish writer has become a Christian.
In his bestselling new book, “The Second Mountain: The Quest for the Moral Life,” Brooks, 57, one of the most prominent columnists in the country, traces his spiritual journey alongside his relationship with his second wife, his former assistant who is 23 years his junior and attended Wheaton College, an elite evangelical school.
“I really do feel more Jewish than ever before,” he said in a recent interview. “It felt like more deepening of faith, instead of switching from one thing to another.”
He has no plans to leave Judaism, he writes, calling himself “a wandering Jew and a very confused Christian.”
“If Jews don’t want me as a Jew, they’re going to have to kick me out. On the other hand, I can’t unread Matthew,” Brooks said, citing Jesus’s Beatitudes as the “ultimate road map for life” in the book.
Keep reading, and Bailey works hard to pin down specifics of Brooks’ religious beliefs and practices, based on what he writes in his book.
Brooks addresses “the crucial question” of whether he believes in the resurrection of Jesus, a core doctrine for most Christians where most Jews would draw the line. “The simple, brutally honest answer is, [the belief in it] comes and goes,” he writes.
“It's not like deciding which party to vote for, where you can sort of make up your mind. You sort of roll with the process and see where God leads you,” he said.
And the Post writer notes:
Did Brooks, who has not been baptized, experience a specific conversion moment, a common experience for many Christians?
“And that’s when it happened,” he writes in his new book. “I was sitting in my apartment one day when Jesus Christ floated through the wall, turned my water into wine, and commanded me to come follow him. No, I’m kidding. Nothing like that happened at all.”
Growing up in New York City, he cited the influence of Episcopalians during childhood, especially at a camp sponsored by the Church of the Incarnation on Madison Avenue.
His process to Christianity “was as boring and gradual and incremental a process as is possible to imagine,” he said. “There was never any blinding ‘Road to Damascus’ experience.”
I could copy and paste more big chunks of the story, but I’m afraid of violating copyright law.
But I’ll urge you — if you’re curious about Brooks’ faith — to go ahead and read the full story. Not only does Bailey summarize nicely what the columnist says in the book, but she also interviews Christian and Jewish leaders, who offer additional insight.