David Brooks On Everybody’s “2 Adams”

David Brooks On Everybody’s “2 Adams” October 20, 2014

This morning I saw Rod Dreher highlight this speech given this month by New York Times columnist David Brooks. As Dreher says, the entire speech is worth every second you’ll spend reading it.

Brooks gives something of a meditation on spirituality and the Christian story of humanity. As is true of his work at the Times, Brooks’ great gift is elevating the reader to moral and philosophical heights with plain but illuminating human insight. His perceptiveness of the spirit of the age and application of Christian truth to it is that best kind of writing: The kind that makes you think, “Well of course that’s obvious! Now why didn’t I think of that?”

His speech to The Gathering is quiet fire. Here’s a highlight, in which Brooks discusses what an 20th century rabbi meant by human nature’s “two Adams.”

Adam One is the external résumé. Career-oriented. Ambitious. External.

Adam Two is the internal Adam. Adam Two wants to embody certain moral qualities to have a serene, inner character, a quiet but solid sense of right and wrong, not only to do good but to be good, to sacrifice to others, to be obedient to a transcendent truth, to have an inner soul that honors God, creation and our possibilities

Adam One wants to conquer the world. Adam Two wants to obey a calling and serve the world. Adam One asks. “How things work?” Adam Two asks, “Why things exist and what we’re her for?”

Adam One wants to venture forth. Adam Two wants to return to roots.

Adam One’s motto is “Success.”

Adam Two’s motto is “Charity. Love. Redemption.”

So the secular world is a world that nurtures Adam One, and leaves Adam Two inarticulate.

The competition to succeed in the Adam One world is so intense, there’s often very little time for anything else. Noise and fast, shallow communication makes it harder to hear the quieter sounds that emanate from our depths.

We live in a culture that teaches us to be assertive, to brand ourselves to get likes on Facebook, and it’s hard to have that humility and inner confrontation which is necessary for a healthy Adam Two life.

And the problem is that I have learned over the course of my life that if you’re only Adam One, you turn into a shrewd animal whose adept at playing games and begins to treat life as a game.

You live with an unconscious boredom, not really loving, not really attached to a moral purpose that gives life worth. You settle into a sort-of self-satisfied moral mediocrity. You grade yourself on a forgiving curve. You follow your desires wherever they take you. You approve of yourself as long as people seem to like you. And you end up slowly turning the core piece of yourself into something less desirable than what you wanted. And you notice this humiliating gap between your actual self and your desired self.

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