The recently deceased neoconservative intellectual offers a philosophical blueprint for his Catholicism and his stranger-in-a-strange-land relationship with America.
Catholic priest and George W. Bush confidante Neuhaus (Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy and the Splendor of Truth, 2006, etc.) says that American Christians are exiles in this imperfect life and country as they await the End Time and the promised City of God. He explains how he reconciles this world with his religious aspirations, disputing the outlook of liberal Christians and secularists along the way. Those familiar with his work might expect some culture-war bomb-throwing, and Neuhaus lobs a few at abortion rights and stem-cell research, but the book is primarily a theological summation. Indeed, the author’s lengthy musings may seem pedantic to those without a strong interest in philosophy. One chapter takes more than 30 pages to answer the question, “Can an Atheist Be a Good Citizen?” Neuhaus, who founded and edited the ecumenical journal First Things, is generous in granting the objections to his case, and readers who don’t share his premises might nonetheless be persuaded by his arguments. On the atheist question, for example, he admits that Christians have committed crimes as grievous as those of nonbelievers. He insists nonetheless that atheists can’t be good citizens, because citizenship requires “a morally compelling” defense of democracy that “draw[s] authority from that which is higher than ourselves.” He doesn’t mention Alan Dershowitz’s secular defense, which notes that undemocratic, rights-denying societies inevitably disintegrate—and that our God-fearing founders, who tolerated certain injustices, weren’t always compelling exemplars of democracy. Neuhaus argues, correctly, that America is “an incorrigibly and pervasively religious society.” It is also pervasively uninterested in worrying about things like the worthiness of atheists to be citizens, which may have contributed to the author’s sense of alienation.
A manifesto for Christians who share Neuhaus’ theology, and for opponents with an academic bent who enjoy an intellectual dust-up.