Faith & Social Justice: In the spirit of Richard Overton and the 17th C. Levellers

Passing of Richard John Neuhaus

Former conservative Lutheran minister turned conservative Catholic priest, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, has died.  Neuhaus’ book, The Naked Public Square, was the major ammunition of the Religious Right’s claim that church-state separation amounts to the marginalization (or even “persecution”) of Christians.  Not surprisingly, Bruce Prescott, champion of religious liberty and church-state separation, has a different reaction to this news than the conservative Catholic journal First Things

I am somewhere in the middle. While I share Bruce’s opinions about both the Theocons (theocratic conservatives) and Christian Nationalists (Neuhaus was more in this group) and the way they used Neuhaus’ book to claim that all attempts to defend religious pluralism and to prevent creeping religious establishmentarianism (de jure or de facto) were, instead, attempts to silence religious voices in public affairs, I did appreciate the tone and nuance of Neuhaus. You could debate him and dialogue with him. He was of a different character than the shrill voices of intolerance who used his book to advance their extremism–and he actually became more reasonable after his conversion to Catholicism.  Nonetheless, I hope that Fr. Neuhaus’ passing is also the passing of an era–and one I won’t miss.

I hope that even in U.S. Catholicism we see a return to defense of religious liberty for all and church-state separation–Catholic voices like that of the late Fr. John Courtney Murray, S.J.

January 8, 2009 - Posted by | church-state separation, Obituaries, progressive faith, religious liberty


  1. wow, first Avery Dulles, then William Placher, now Richard John Neuhaus. I guess they come in threes.

    Comment by Jonathan Marlowe | January 8, 2009

  2. I have to admit that I will miss both Dulles and Placher more than Neuhaus.

    Comment by Michael Westmoreland-White | January 8, 2009

  3. Maybe in his books and essays he had the tone and nuance you describe, but I could never get past the shrill and sneering asides/riffs that he for some reason published in the back of First Things every month. To me, it seemed like that was the real Neuhaus coming out, how he looked in the morning before he combed his rhetorical hair. Why he ever put such commentary in his journal I could never figure out; maybe he was doing a poor job of trying to be like Harper’s’ first twenty pages.

    Comment by Kyle | January 9, 2009

  4. Michael,

    You need to read Damon Linker’s book The Theocons. The whole book is about Neuhaus and his cronies.

    Comment by Bruce Prescott | January 9, 2009

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