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August 7, 2019 10:37 am

David Brooks Seizes on Mass Shootings to Disparage Jewish Particularism

avatar by Ira Stoll

Opinion

The New York Times logo. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Under the headline “The Ideology of Hate and How to Fight It,” New York Times columnist David Brooks blames the recent mass shootings on what he calls “a broader movement — antipluralism — that now comes in many shapes. Trumpian nationalists, authoritarian populists, and Islamic jihadists are different versions of antipluralism.”

Brooks writes, “These movements are reactions against the diversity, fluidity, and interdependent nature of modern life.”

He goes on, “Pluralists believe in integration, not separation. We treasure precisely the integration that sends the antipluralists into panic fits.”

And then he brings the Jews into the story: “Eighty years ago, Protestants, Catholics, and Jews did not get along, so a new category was created, Judeo-Christian, which brought formerly feuding people into a new ‘us.’”

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Brooks proceeds: “A pure culture is a dead culture while an amalgam culture is a creative culture. … The terrorists dream of a pure, static world. But the only thing that’s static is death, which is why they are so pathologically drawn to death. Pluralism is about movement, interdependence, and life.”

Sorry, but no. Jews who prefer to remain Jewish rather than becoming “Judeo-Christian” are not similar to white supremacists or Islamic jihadists who go into Walmart or a nightclub or an army base and open fire in hopes of committing mass murder. Judaism in the 1930s, before the creation of the “new category” of “Judeo-Christian,” wasn’t static or dead — it was full of vibrant Yiddish culture, Zionist innovation, and religious reform and reaction.

The claim that Judaism is a dead religion, moreover, has a long and less than entirely distinguished intellectual history. In an article in the Autumn 1993 issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, “The Death of Judaism in German Protestant Thought from Luther to Hegel,” Amy Newman writes, “Religious theorists of this period were well aware of the problem that the continued existence of Judaism represented for Protestant philosophical theology.” She concludes, ominously, “German philosophy … reconfigures this death event as a logical necessity awaiting empirical verification, requiring only the formulation of effective strategies to this end.”

What’s more, the term “Judeo-Christian,” though perhaps useful as a political, rhetorical formulation to label the Jewish and Christian alliance against Nazism and later Communism, never really became a practically meaningful “us.” Jews and Christians still feud, as can be seen in everything from the Christian left’s support for anti-Israel boycotts to the Jewish left’s opposition to Christian conservative legislative moves to restrict abortion. Jews and Christians still go to different synagogues and churches. When asked about religion, very few people voluntarily describe themselves as “Judeo-Christian.” The theological and ritual differences between the two different religions are just hard to blur without eliminating the force and meaning of the 2,000 or 4,000-year-old traditions. And because Christians far outnumber Jews, it’s not hard to predict that if Jews and Christians did merge into Judeo-Christians, Christianity would dominate. How that counts as “pluralism” rather than as a kind of anti-pluralism — the refusal to accept the continued existence of Judaism as a distinct religion — is a mystery to me, but it either doesn’t trouble Brooks or he doesn’t have room to get into it in his column.

Brooks has just published a bestselling book, The Second Mountain, in which he details his personal spiritual journey, including his view that the accounts of Jesus in the Christian Bible “do feel like a completion to me” and his description of himself as “a wandering Jew and a very confused Christian.” That’s his business. But for the second time in less than two months, Brooks now seems to be inflicting his personal spiritual confusion, or syncretism, on his New York Times readers, in a way that disparages Jewish particularism.

Who would have imagined that, of all the possible ways to react to the mass shootings, The New York Times would seize on them as an opportunity to lash out at those of us Jews who have, at least so far, failed to achieve the more enlightened state of becoming “Judeo-Christian”?

Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. More of his media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

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