It reminded me of Ralph Waldo Emerson who also took a lot of flak for his viewpoints about who Jesus was and when he helped found the Transcendental Club. It is not new that those in America who go against traditional religious (most especially Christian) teachings are regarded very suspiciously.
In 1991, I had reason (Farm Boss had work in Massachusetts that required a month there) to spend a week in Concord. I explored all around the town, walked around Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (New York isn't the only place with a Sleepy Hollow) where so many famous writers and intellectuals are buried, out to Walden Pond, the Alcott's home, and right in the center of town, Emerson's home where the Transcendentalists met.
Concord was a fascinating place to be able to spend time because for a time it was one of those centers for intellectual thought that seem to occur at various points in history and at different places. It was no more popular then to be an intellectual with the culture at large than it is today. People ridicule such and see them sometimes as even threats. Intellectuals are the first ones dictators and fundamentalist target if they gain sufficient power. You see this in any culture not that anybody targeted the Transcendentalists. They might not have pleased everyone, but it was a safe time to differ from authority.
I have not thought of myself as a Transcendentalist, nor have I read more than a smattering of Emerson; but this little quote from Wikipedia on what the movement taught is something I do believe-- "... the basis of Transcendentalism, suggested that God does not have to reveal the truth but that the truth could be intuitively experienced directly from nature." Despite how some accused him, Emerson did not consider himself to be an atheist and neither do I consider myself to be one. He simply was not a believer in religion as necessary to reveal god. I also believe that is true.
Today there are those who talk of our country being founded upon god given rights. They remind us the concept is in our Declaration of Independence.
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.But when you look at it more carefully you see it is about nature's laws and nature's god, not that of religion. This is what the group that David Brooks was writing about also was discussing. And frankly Jesus spoke of it when he said that if men didn't say who he was, the rocks would declare it.
Religion doesn't always go with nature in fact it can be very much against it. Religion too often follows political winds hence you have Manifest Destiny where it basically declares it is god's will that Americans subdue the wilderness and take its riches. You might ask what god but nobody did ask that. They just liked how it sounded. A lot still gets by today because it sounds good.
At any rate, I think Brooks article is worth reading especially people who believe we can only learn morality through religions. For those who think intellectuals are the evils and must be stamped out, well nothing I can say will change that. It's not an uncommon mantra today as it has been many times before-- usually by those who favor dictatorships, at least, as G. W. Bush said, IF they are the ones in power.