David Brooks Nails the Implicit Contemporary Source of Identity and Moral Authority

In progressive American culture

If you were born at any time over the last sixty years, you were probably born into what the philosopher Charles Taylor has called “the culture of authenticity.” This mindset is based on the romantic idea that each of us has a Golden Figure in the core of our self. There is an innately good True Self, which can be trusted, consulted, and gotten in touch with. Your personal feelings are the best guide for what is right and wrong.

In this ethos, the self is to be trusted, not doubted. Your desires are like inner oracles for what is right and true. You know you are doing the right thing when you feel good inside. The valid rules of life are those you make or accept for yourself and that feel right to you.

“Our moral salvation,” Taylor writes, describing this culture, “comes from recovering authentic moral contact with ourselves.” It is important to stay true to that pure inner voice and not follow the conformities of a corrupting world. As Taylor puts it, “There is a certain way of being that is my way. I am called to live my life in this way and not in imitation of anyone else’s…. If I am not, I miss the point of my life. I miss what being human is for me.” 17

From an older tradition of self-combat we move to self-liberation and self-expression. Moral authority is no longer found in some external objective good; it is found in each person’s unique original self. Greater emphasis is put on personal feelings as a guide to what is right and wrong. I know I am doing right because I feel harmonious inside. Something is going wrong, on the other hand, when I feel my autonomy is being threatened, when I feel I am not being true to myself.

In this ethos, sin is not found in your individual self; it is found in the external structures of society— in racism, inequality, and oppression. To improve yourself, you have to be taught to love yourself, to be true to yourself, not to doubt yourself and struggle against yourself. As one of the characters in one of the High School Musical movies sings, “The answers are all inside of me / All I’ve got to do is believe.”

Brooks, David (2015-04-14). The Road to Character (pp. 249-250). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

About PaulVK

Husband, Father of 5, Pastor
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