Neuhaus Dies

January 9, 2009 | 5 comments

Fr. Richard Neuhaus of First Things has died.

Links you might be interested in are First Things announcement, Ross Douthat, Alan Jacobs, Damon Linker, National Review, Peter Wehner, Commentary, Russell Fox, Rod Dreher, Hugo Schwyzer, and Ramesh Ponnuru. Add other links of interest in the comments.

I read The Naked Public Square in law school. The idea of the book was much more impressive than the book itself. I’ve read other things by Neuhaus and I read his monthly First Things column and my opinion of his writing didn’t change. Sometimes quite good, sometimes brilliantly controversial, usually worth reading, but usually falling short of being impressive. I might make an exception for the fascinating End of Democracy symposiums, in which he shone (I’ve linked to the bulk of it, but the complete discussion can be purchased here.)

His attacks on Mormonism are well known (see here, here, here). They were too ignorant to unsettle anyone or do us any real damage (possible exceptions here and here). On the other hand, his magazine recently published an illuminating debate on whether Mormons were Christians and has usually been friendly to Mormon contributors and participation. That’s the Neuhaus legacy in shorthand. His accomplishment was First Things, not his own writings. That’s accomplishment enough for any man.

Nothing he said about Mormons will have any real effect on us, but First Things might. It provides and has provided an alternative way for young Mormon intellectuals to acculturate. If strands of Mormonism are more interested in the Christian tradition and natural law than it used to be, more comfortable with Catholicism, less convinced that the medieval was mindless–blame Neuhaus. As a friend quipped, impressive new online Mormon webjournal Square Two could really be called Second Things.

Richard Neuhaus, God rest him.

Comment warning. De mortuus nil nisi bonum is a principle that has a lot of give in it, but your comments should be respectful.

Times and Seasons on Neuhaus: internal search/google search (includes comments, but more hit and miss).

Times and Seasons on First Things: internal search/google search (includes comments, but more hit and miss).

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5 Responses to Neuhaus Dies

  1. Adam Greenwood on January 9, 2009 at 11:02 am
  2. Russell Arben Fox on January 9, 2009 at 12:39 pm

    A fine recollection Adam; many thanks for it.

    In terms of his legacy, your distinguishing of his writings from First Things itself has some real force to it; Caleb Stegall, the wizard behind the late, great, New Pantagruel, told me that TNP wouldn’t have existed without Neuhaus’s editorial audaciousness and example. The same could be said, I would argue, for much of what FARMS has became, and as you note, what Square Two may become. He was a priest and a polemicist, but he also had a sense of what being a public intellectual really entailed, and he taught, by example, others how to do it.

  3. Ray on January 9, 2009 at 1:24 pm

    Above all else, he was a good, sincere, passionate man. For that alone he should be honored – even as I agree with your assessment of his impact on Mormonism. In many ways, he really was an uncle of modern Mormon apologetics.

  4. Kent G. Budge on January 9, 2009 at 6:48 pm

    I don’t have anything bad to say about Neuhaus. I enjoyed some of his writings while respectfully disagreeing with others.

    I wonder, though, if not speaking ill of the dead is such a great idea. Isn’t it the living who need the benefit of our doubts and whom we should be reluctant to jucge?

    We can’t hurt the dead by speaking candidly about them. And we might make an important point ot two about how to live.

    Again, Neuhaus is not particularly an example of someone I want to speak disrespectfully of after his death. I’d prefer to hope that, somehow, he’ll find his way into the celestial kingdom regardless of some ignorant comments in this life. I just hope I qualify to meet him there.

  5. Raymond Takashi Swenson on January 12, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    As a decade-long subscriber to First Things, who passes them along to my daughter, it is sad to hear of Reverend Neuhaus’ passing. His monthly columns were enlightening reviews of both the extremes to which catholic priests and bishops could go but still be considered part of that church. I often thought, and remarked in a couple of letters sent to him, that Mormons and our beliefs are actually far less heterodox than many of the nominally Catholic views and practices he deplored but still accepted as Catholic.

    One of his negative assessments of the Christianity of Mormonism was in his review of the book Mormon America. My own review of the book in the FARMS Review was in some ways a response to his. Someone, he noted, had sent him a copy of the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, apparently aware of his habit of reading old encyclopedias during vacations, but Neuhaus admitted that he did not bother opening that book, a strange admission for someone so determined to opine on the topic so regularly.

    At the same time, he made clear any number of times that he hoped for a means of salvation for those not within the Catholic Church and the Christian faith as he defined it. A former Lutheran pastor, he was very supportive of efforts to promote unity among Christians and with Jews. He thus distinguished himself from those intent on sending Mormons to hell.

    Regardless of his attitude towards Mormonism, First Things does a great service by upholding the value of religious views as a legitimate entry into the public marketplace of ideas. The openness of First Things to discussion of Mormonism by Mormons (as in Elder Porter’s article and my own much more modest recent letter) provides a valuable forum, one which I hope that more broadly educated Mormons than myself can use to our advantage to express the LDS viewpoint on issues of public import.


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