Richard John Neuhaus, founder of First Things magazine, died nine years ago this week. Fr. Neuhaus was a Lutheran minister before becoming a Catholic priest, and a radical liberal activist before becoming a leading voice for religious and political conservatives.
In honor of this anniversary of his passing, here are six quotes by Fr. Neuhaus on politics and religion:
On politics, culture, and religion: “Politics is chiefly a function of culture, at the heart of culture is morality, and at the heart of morality is religion.”
On “Christian” politics: “[T]he great Protestant teacher Reinhold Niebuhr devoted his life to warning against the dangerous sentimentality of a ‘Christian politics.’ Love compels Christians to seek justice also through politics, Niebuhr insisted, but we must never equate our penultimate judgments about what might serve justice with the ultimate truth that impels us to seek and serve justice in the first place. In sum, we must never declare our politics to be ‘Christian politics,’ thereby implicitly excommunicating those Christians who disagree with us.”
On socialism: “Socialism is the religion people get when they lose their religion.”
On “God and country”: “When the disillusioned despair of achieving a Christian politics in a Christian America, ‘God and country’ might very quickly become ‘God or country.’ Most will choose for God, no doubt, but we should not be surprised if there are others for whom the ‘Christian’ in the Christian Coalition is subservient to the political goals of the enterprise. The more seriously Christian, on the other hand, may think it necessary to choose for God against further political engagement. The result could be a return to the political passivity that marked evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity during most of this century. Not inconceivably, profound disillusionment could also produce a much more radicalized ‘Christian politics’ on the right, a politics aimed at dismantling what is believed to be an incorrigibly evil constitutional order.”
On faith in political leaders: “Psalm 146 warns, ‘Put not your trust in princes.’ Even when they are your princes and you think you put them on their little thrones. Especially when they are your princes, because that is when the temptation arises to invest your soul and your highest allegiance in their rule.”
On political engagement: “Christian political engagement is an endlessly difficult subject. Our Lord said to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s, but he did not accommodate us by spelling out the details. Over two thousand years, Christians have again and again thought they got the mix just right, only to have it blow up in their faces—and, not so incidentally, in the faces of others. We’re always having to go back to the drawing board, which is to say, to first things. Even when, especially when, we are most intensely engaged in the battle, first things must be kept first in mind. It is not easy but it is imperative. It profits us nothing if we win all the political battles while losing our own souls.”