Human Exceptionalism

Father Richard John Neuhaus Has Died

Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, who started First Things magazine, has died from the complications of cancer. Like many Martin Luther King liberals, the Left left him, and he became identified as a conservative. From the story:

During the ferment of the 1960s, Neuhaus was identified with progressive causes. Alongside the Jesuit peace activist Fr. Daniel Berrigan and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Neuhaus co-founded “Clergy Concerned about Vietnam.” Even after his later turn to the right, Neuhaus continued to admire figures such as Berrigan, saying that although he found their activism misplaced, they shared a profound conviction that public life ought to be shaped by Gospel values.

Neuhaus would later recall that the trigger for his break with the left was the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, legalizing abortion in America. He became an outspoken voice for pro-life causes, helping craft the policy of the Bush administration, for example, on embryonic stem cell research.

I knew Fr. Neuhaus, but it would be an exaggeration to say we were friends. Friendly acquaintances would be more accurate. But he was beloved by those who knew him well. My good friend Jody Bottum, editor of First Things, put it this way in the immediate wake of Fr. Neuhaus’s death:

My tears are not for him–for he knew, all his life, that his Redeemer lives, and he has now been gathered by the Lord in whom he trusted.

I weep, rather for all the rest of us. As a priest, as a writer, as a public leader in so many struggles, and as a friend, no one can take his place. The fabric of life has been torn by his death, and it will not be repaired, for those of us who knew him, until that time when everything is mended and all our tears are wiped away.

I admired Neuhaus for his incisive writing style and the way he deconstructed nonsense arguments. He also saw the dark days in which we are entering and as his final illness struck, was preparing to pull more than his weight to strive against the flowing tide. Alas, those of us left behind will now have to pick up that burden, which, given Neuhaus’s prodigious intellect, will be a heavy weight indeed. He will be sorely missed.


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