Ross Douthat needs no help from me in taking on the illiberal dogma of so many contemporary atheists. But this post reminded me of a favorite passage from (yes, it's true) Leo Strauss on the true (and perhaps ineradicable) foundations of religious belief. God's revealing himself to man, his addressing man, is not merely known through traditions going back to the remote past and is therefore now 'merely believed' but is genuinely known through present experience which every human being can have if he does not refuse himself to it.
No, not Burger King: Bill Kristol. As several bloggers have noted, today is his last column for the New York Times. Interestingly, the column is pretty good, and certainly much better than what we've come to expect from his corner of real estate on the editorial page of the nation's greatest and most influential daily newspaper.
For those half-dozen or so readers who have bookmarked this blog, you should know that I'm taking what I hope will be a brief pause in blogging while I wait for the TNR home page to be updated with a permanent link. See you soon . . . .
Before moving on the second part of my examination of liberal neutrality, I feel the need to respond to my old colleague and friend Ralph Hancock, who objects rather passionately to my original post.
Readers looking to learn more about the ideas and influence of Richard John Neuhaus might be interested this essay, which ran as a TNR cover story back in the spring of 2006. Then there's my TNR Online debate with Ross Douthat (which Ross mentioned here), which has now been rescued from archive oblivion by the capable staff at the magazine. Many thanks.
John Rawls famously claimed that liberalism is a philosophy of politics, not a theory of metaphysics. This very much placed him within the liberal tradition extending back to early modern Europe. In contrast to ancient and medieval political thought, the first liberals sought to conceive of politics without reference to metaphysics or the soul.
In Ross' civil reply to my provocation about Richard John Neuhaus's "liberalism," he writes (among other things): a liberal tradition that cannot find, within its many mansions, room for Neuhaus (and, yes, for John Paul II as well), is a liberalism that any Christian worth his salt should think twice before subscribing to. The metaphor of the liberal tradition having a room for Neuhaus and John Paul II in its mansions reminds me a different metaphor -- one I often employ when I'm asked why, given my current views, I ever went to work for First Things in the first place.
The remembrances of Richard John Neuhaus are pouring in. Naturally, most of them, written by friends, admirers, and colleagues, praise his many talents and accomplishments while denying any blemishes. That's the American form of remembrance. Of these, I rather liked Alan Jacobs' appreciation (despite its swipe at my book) because it emphasized ideas instead of politics. I admired and respected that side of the man, too, as I indicated in my own remembrance.
In the three-and-a-half years I worked at First Things magazine, I came to know two Richard John Neuhauses. The first is the one I worked with in the journal's offices every day: personally generous and jovial, intellectually and theologically curious, alert to political and cultural complications, overflowing with energy and ideas. This is the Neuhaus readers encountered in his lengthy, erudite essays on philosophy, theology, and history, which frequently graced the pages of the magazine.
Ross Douthat is one of my favorite bloggers. He's an intelligent and thoughtful writer who nearly always teaches me something. Except when it comes to the issue of religion and politics. Case in point: In his obituary for Richard John Neuhaus, Douthat claims, in response to some nameless silly person (who just happens to be me), that Neuhaus was dedicated to reconciling Christianity with the liberal tradition. I suspect that will sound pretty odd to those familiar with Neuhaus' role in arming the conservative side of the culture war with arguments intended to decimate liberalism.