Thursday, 14 July 2011

Andy Crouch on David Brooks on The Social Animal

Andy Crouch, ‘Common Grace and Amazing Grace: A Review of David Brooks’s “The Social Animal”’, Christianity Today (11 July 2011).

I’m still in the early chapters, but am already enjoying the mix of narrative and neuroscience in David Brooks’ latest work, The Social Animal: A Story of How Success Happens (London: Short Books, 2011). It manages to be funny and informative at the same time.

So, I was interested to read this review in Christianity Today by Andy Crouch.

Crouch begins by noting how the centre of moral authority seems to have shifted from clergy to psychiatrists to neuroscientists, cognitive psychologists, and behavioural economists.

So far as Brooks is concerned, modernistic understandings of the good life have proven inadequate, and ‘the good human life is less about thinking than relating’ – not so much rational animal as social animal. We thrive when shaped by others, with emotion an essential ingredient in relationships, such that (as Crouch puts it) ‘a flourishing human being... is a relationally skilled, emotionally mature creature’.

All of which, of course, Christians ought happily to assent to: ‘It’s no surprise that image bearers of a relational God would be hardwired for deep connections, right down to the “mirror neurons” that allow us to experience viscerally and directly what we see others experiencing.’

And yet, Crouch says, while the narrative Brooks weaves with his fictional characters (Harold and Erica) tells a story of common grace – ‘of provisional, everyday blessings, the sun that rises on the just and the unjust... it is not a story of rescue. Indeed, the main characters, by dint of hard work and good luck, seem not to need any rescuing at all.’

The biblical vision of flourishing – of shalom – will not not be complete ‘without a broken cosmos rescued and redeemed’. As Crouch says, ‘we are no less than social animals, but to understand ourselves, let alone flourish, we must grasp that we were made to be far more’.

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