Since 2005, Washington’s movers and shakers have gathered in Aspen, Colorado, for the “Aspen Ideas Festival.” Co-sponsored by the Aspen Institute and Atlantic Monthly magazine, the purpose of the festival is to “engage in deep and inquisitive discussion of the ideas and issues that both shape our lives and challenge our times.”
At least one talk at the festival—delivered by New York Times columnist and Chuck Colson favorite David Brooks—lived up to the festival’s stated purpose.
As recounted in an Atlantic Monthly article by Uri Friedman, Brooks contrasted two sets of virtues: “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues.”
Resume virtues are oriented toward “accumulating power, wealth, and professional achievements.” Eulogy virtues are “the kinds of qualities that will be discussed at our funerals.”
Brooks’ goal is to create a “counterculture” to our resume culture. In his words, we should strive to become “deep.”
How? It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the language Brooks used was, as the Atlantic Monthly put it, “religiously inflected.” He told his audience that "the things that lead you astray,” such as lust, fear, vanity, [and] gluttony, are “fast,” they are the fulfillment of momentary and passing desires.
In contrast, “the things that we admire most—honesty, humility, self-control, courage—those things take some time and they accumulate slowly."
What Brooks is referring to, of course, are the virtues, both the classical and Christian ones.
And when Brooks spoke of the virtue of “love” he referred to its unconditional and transformational qualities. Love worthy of the name humbles us and “de-centers the self.”
A great deal of Brooks’ thinking about “going deep” focuses on suffering. He said, "When people look forward . . .they say, 'How can I plan . . . [to] make [myself] happy?’ . . . But when people look backward at the things that made them who they are, they usually don't talk about moments when they were happy. They usually talk about moments of suffering or healing. So we plan for happiness, but we're formed by suffering.”
I think Jesus would agree.
Other elements in the journey toward virtue Brooks cited were the “internal struggle” against our weaknesses, and “acceptance,” which he likens to the Christian idea of grace.
Against “the whole ethos of self-cultivation” with its relentless “scrambling, working, [and] climbing,” Brooks says a deep person seeks “unmerited, unearned admittance” to “some sort of human transcendent community.” The deep person accepts the fact that he’s accepted and is grateful for it.
Of course, the Christian would ask “accepted by whom?” Brooks’ example, the Catholic writer and activist Dorothy Day, would have answered “by Christ.”
Still, as the Atlantic put it, Brooks’ ideas “invert the reigning culture of self-help” in American culture. Instead of talking about taking control of our lives, Brooks is asking his listeners to surrender, at least in part, control over their lives to something bigger and better than themselves.
And that’s a message we should all hope the “movers and shakers” in Washington would take to heart.
It should also challenge us Christians to do a little self-examination. Are we busy building our resumes? Or are we building our character in Christ?
Because the journey to true depth is not complete until we completely surrender to the One who already knows us better than we know ourselves.
BreakPoint is a Christian worldview ministry that seeks to build and resource a movement of Christians committed to living and defending Christian worldview in all areas of life. Begun by Chuck Colson in 1991 as a daily radio broadcast, BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today’s news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print. Today BreakPoint commentaries, co-hosted by Eric Metaxas and John Stonestreet, air daily on more than 1,200 outlets with an estimated weekly listening audience of eight million people. Feel free to contact us at BreakPoint.org where you can read and search answers to common questions.
Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.
Publication date: July 15, 2014