Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Neuhaus and The New Republic

The former editor of First Things, Damon Linker, has written a scathing article about Fr. Richard Neuhaus in The New Republic. The article, which is nominally a review of Neuhaus' latest book, relentlessly depicts Neuhaus as a sinister reactionary hell-bent on establishing a Catholic theocracy in America. Needless to say, Linker overstates his case, although I share some of his concerns. Indeed, I disagree with Neuhaus on a wide range of political and theological issues, but it's hard for me to believe that he's as dangerous and influential as Linker makes him out to be. I also know from reading First Things that Neuhaus, while often a jerk, can be quite charming and gracious, even to opponents. Thus, in my opinion, Linker's portrayal lacks the nuance required to understand a person like Neuhaus, and TNR's attempt to demonize him as "theocon-in-chief" is unwarranted and beneath its dignity.

Interestingly, Linker never provides an account in the article of his own journey from First Things editor to "theocon" assassin. Apparently, he left FT on good terms, but has since written a book entitled The Theocons: Secular America Under Siege. So what gives? If anyone has the inside story, please let me know.

Regardless, Neuhaus has started to fire back at TNR on FT's website. I thought his most recent response was fair and even-tempered, but I almost choked on my sandwich when I read the following lines:
Unlike the authors of TNR, I really have no interest in capturing Catholicism for partisan political purposes. More than that, I find the very idea repugnant. Which, I am well aware, does not mean that others will not keep on trying.

Can he be serious? Does he really believe that his brand of Catholicism is non-partisan, or that his opinions on current events are not shaped by partisan (i.e., Republican) allegiances? For goodness sakes, the man serves as an advisor to President Bush, who chumily calls him "Father Richard". Indeed, one of Neuhaus' real "triumphs" (one that I thought he openly acknowledged) has been the mobilization of a Catholic right that marches in lock-step with the Republican party, even when the Vatican opposes Republican policies (such as the war in Iraq, which Neuhaus continues to support, although his enthusiasm has dimmed considerably). Father Richard might not be scheming to create an American theocracy, but he shouldn't pretend that he hasn't tried to harness the power of Catholicism for political purposes.

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