Monday, January 12, 2009

Richard John Neuhaus, RIP

So long to this non-Catholic's most beloved padre, Richard John Neuhaus. There's a brief notice up at First Things, though I trust fuller encomia will not be long forthcoming. For passersby who don't know, RJN was a Lutheran civil rights and anti-war activist in the 1960s, who landed in the conservative camp when the former two causes went over the falls into leftist radicalism.

I first encountered Father Neuhaus in the pages of The Wittenburg Door, sort of a Christian version of MAD Magazine, in the 1980s. Some years later I discovered First Things, the conservative Catholic journal he founded, and was taken with the many insightful offerings therein. In 2005 I started this blog as a running commentary on the journal. I quickly discovered that I didn't have the intellect nor temperment to keep up with Neuhaus or his editorial staff, but I still pen the occasional fan's piece. Like Paul Harvey says, someone will take his job, but no one will take his place. Have some quotes:

The problem, of course, is that neither [church nor state] is prepared to remain within its institutional boundaries. Government, if it is to be sustainable, engages beliefs and loyalties of an ultimate sort that can properly be called religious. As the impulse of the modern state is to define all public space as governmental space, so the consequence is a tendency toward "civil religion." Religion, on the other hand, if it represents a comprehensive belief system, speaks to the human condition in all its aspects, including the right ordering (the government) of public life....Thus each institution is, in the eyes of the other, constantly bursting its bounds. Therein is the foundation of the open-ended argument between church and state. Open-ended, that is, so long as a society professes to be democratic.

It is one of the less charming oddities of our time that, in many circles, atheism, or at least a declared agnosticism, is assumed to be the default position of disinterested ethical discourse. As though proceeding from the assumption that there is no God is less consequential than assuming that there is.

The socialist revisionists we will have always with us, for the desire becomes more demanding as the prospect of its satisfaction recedes. The idea, like a bird, escapes all the closing traps of historical fact. There must be, they insist, an alternative to this-to the paltry, striving, bourgeois, thus and so ness of democratic capitalism. There simply must be. And there is of course. But those who do not know the alternative of a new heaven and new earth of ultimate promise have no choice but to cling ever more desperately to socialism as the name of their desire.

Socialism is the religion people get when they lose their religion.


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