Richard John Neuhaus In Defense of Death

Quite by accident yesterday I came across a reprint of New York Times columnist David Brooks’ editorial “In Defense of Death” in the Columbus Dispatch. It’s a tribute of sorts to Richard John Neuhaus, a theologian and Catholic priest who died on January 8. Neuhaus was the editor of First Things, “The Journal of Religion, Culture and Public Life.” I was a regular reader of that journal for the first several years of its publication and came to value the unique and intelligent, if often controversial, perspective of its writers on the role of religion in public life. Neuhaus book, The Naked Public Square, though somewhat of a rambling and disorganized read, was very important to me in my early thinking on the relationship between religious belief and public political discourse. It helped me realize that there can and must be a defensible and sustainable middle ground between the extreme positions that would favor either theocracy or an entirely secular state and that most of the freedoms we take for granted in this country depend upon maintaining that balance. In the last several years my primary concerns have been drawn to other things but I have been glad to be able to browse back issues of First Things occasionally on their web site. One of those other concerns of mine has been how people of faith come to terms with, and conquer their fear of, the inevitability of their own death. Brooks’ editorial is an awe inspiring account of how this happened in the life of Fr. Neuhaus. It’s well worth reading. So is Neuhaus’ essay, mentioned by Brooks, “Born Toward Dying.”

[Edit: 22 March 2009] Christianity Today recently published a remembrance of Neuhaus’ life in the March 2009 issue. You can find it online here.

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One Response to Richard John Neuhaus In Defense of Death

  1. David Henne says:

    Neuhaus’ account of his experience is captivating. The message delivered to him that everything was ready seemed to be so mysterious and assuring at the same time, that he was completely pliable and ready for whatever would come. That struck a chord in me, that it isn’t necessarily the best thing to “fight for life” in a crisis. There comes a time when a person can’t be in control of his next step—especially when it’s such a big one as life and death. Thanks for sharing this.

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