March 19, 2009
The Wisdom (and Wit) of Richard John Neuhaus
A couple days ago I received my copy of First Things (April 2009). The theme is “Richard John Neuhaus In Memoriam” (as most readers probably know, he died recently). There are twenty-five pieces from friends and colleagues of RJN (names like Berger, Elshtain, Gerson, Novak, Packer, Weigel and Wilken). It’s a must read for anyone who knew or followed this remarkable man. Plus there are some great photos! Ever since its inception I’ve been a devoted subscriber and reader of First Things. Which also means that for years, as soon as I’ve received my copy of FT, I’ve dropped everything to turn to RJN’s “While We’re At It” at the back of the mag. Agree or disagree with him, it was a wonderful read. Others I know have admitted the same habit. Who will fill that void in our lives?
Reading through the remembrances, I gleaned some great RJN sayings, several of them concentrated in Ramesh Ponnuru’s piece.
“Thousands of medical ethicists and bioethicists, as they are called, professionally guide the unthinkable on its passage through the debatable on the way to becoming the justifiable until it is finally established as unexceptionable.”
“In the Christian tradition, being true to yourself means being true to the self that you are called to be.”
“The culture of death is an idea before it is a deed.”
The prayer, “gift us with that lightheartedness of those who know that every cause of ours that is good is Yours before it is ours.”
To Jean Bethke Elshtain’s college-age son: “Your mother is one of my favorite people. I trust she’s one of yours as well.” (Do you have to be the parent of grown children to appreciate this?)
His words to an agitated R. R. Reno, “Relax, Rusty. The Republicans will betray us eventually anyway.”
To John Paul II, “But Holy Father, you can’t say that!” (After a moment of silence, we’re told, JP II burst into laughter.)
And finally, RJN, ever the optimist, joking that his epitaph should read “We’re gonna turn this around yet!”
I met Neuhaus only once, back in the late 1980s, at a dinner. He looked me straight in the eye, and he said, “Reid, may I trouble you for the salt?” I have never forgotten it.*
Read the current issue—there’s much more to be mined and enjoyed! Reading about RJN is an inspiration to make the most of the selves we are called to be.
I should mention that First Things readers will want to pick up a copy of Scott H. Moore’s The Limits of Liberal Democracy, which has just been released by IVP Academic. Neuhaus and the 1996 FT symposium on “The End of Democracy?” play an important role in this book.