Something is Still Missing- The Painful Realization of Pluralism

April 7, 2009

A few days ago I finished up reading David Brooks highly touted book Bobos in Paradise.  I had been meaning to get into it for awhile now, and when I finally did read it I was as excited by the content as the hype had me expecting to be.  For those of you who aren’t quite as trendy as I am (just kidding, this book has been out for 9 years already) Bobos is basically an anthropology of the new upper class elites in America, with the term ‘Bobo’ being a portmanteau of the words ‘bourgeois’ and ‘bohemian’.  The author’s main thesis is that today’s upper class elites are an educated meritocracy, not an inherited aristocracy, and they have adapted the bohemian lifestyle of arts and pleasure and such with the refinement and money of traditional bourgeois society.  My interest in reading this was from a missiological perspective, since aside from being utterly secular, this is basically a textbook for missiology within upper class urban/suburban settings.

One chapter from the book that I found particularly of note was Brooks analysis on spirituality in Bobo life.  He spends a decent amount of time discussing how the Bobos like to wax poetic about the Montana nature-scape, but he also takes a look at the Bobo opinion of traditional orthodox beliefs.  As in the rest of the book, he surveys the movements from the 1950′s through the 1990′s and then unveils where the Bobo culture falls in.  So it is with spirituality, where he starts with the early 1950′s limited life of religion, followed by the late 50′s liberated life, then into pluralism and the 70′s and early 80′s spiritual freedom (i.e. New Age), and then finally into the late 80′s and 90′s return to community spirituality.  In the end, while talking about the position of the Bobos among the smorgasboard of religious options, Brooks concludes that,

The generation that gave itself “unlimited choices” recoiled and found that it was still “searching for something.” In so many ways we seem to want to return to some lost age of (supposed) spiritual coherence and structure. We seem to sense the cost of our new-found freedom is a loss of connection to other people and true communities. We want to recreate those meaningful ligatures. And yet, more often than not, we’re not willing to actually go back to the age of limits, which would mean cutting off our options. (p.240)

I was really struck by this quote.  David Brooks offers such a self-aware analysis of the emptiness of most modern spirituality and religiousity.  The culture has convinced itself to be tolerant and accepting of whatever people may want to believe, and yet they are also well aware that this is not fulfilling to them in the way that the “primitive” beliefs of past generations seemed to be in those days.  This is such a telling confession of what is taught in Romans 1.18ff, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.”  Yet, them being aware of this, what will it as yet take to bring the gospel home to these people who, Brooks admits, still aren’t willing to return to the past beliefs, no matter how empty their current position is?