Richard John Neuhaus died today. This comes as a shock, since I hadn't known he was ill. I met him a few times when I lived in New York. I credit his magazine, First Things, with encouraging to believe that faith and reason are not incompatible at a time of serious doubt. His essay “Kierkegaard for Grownups” is a good example: though I might have my quibbles with it now, there's no doubt in my mind that reading Neuhaus's take on Kierkegaard pulled me back from what would have been a very individualistic, despairing, futile attempt at Christianity against the church.
First Things, under Neuhaus's direction, introduced me to many theological debates, and to new levels in political ones. It's the magazine that introduced me to the writing of Stanley Hauerwas, R.R. Reno, David Bentley Hart, Joseph Bottum, Alan Jacobs, Matthew Milliner, and many of my other favorite essayists. Even though I now disagree with some of Neuhaus's positions, part of that is due to his willingness to publish and engage with dissenting points of view, even if he attacked them later. For that I am thankful.
Finally, I hope that Neuhaus's legacy will be his intelligent ecumenism and his consistent advocacy of the culture of life. For an example of the latter, see this speech he gave last summer.
EDIT: Here's Alan Jacobs:
“So when I think of Father Neuhaus I think primarily of two things. First, I think of his personal encouragement and support of me when I was a young and unknown writer. And second, I think of the major role he played in creating a new space for serious and thoughtful reflection on the place of religion in the public square; for informed and critical cultural commentary; for appreciation of the role of art in shaping and interpreting religious faith and practice. In that way First Things has been, and continues to be, a gift to me as a reader as well as a writer.”
EDIT II: Ross Douthat:
“…few of us can match the things that Richard John Neuhaus did right: The depth and skill in argument, the breadth of subjects covered, and the skill with which he wrote. And above all, the spirit of urgency that permeated his work - the sense that the controversies with which he concerned himself really mattered, in an everyday sense but in a cosmic one as well. At its best, his essays and arguments achieved a grace to which that all religious authors should aspire: They not only conveyed the sense that Richard John Neuhaus, priest and author, cared about the issues of the age, but that God Himself cared about them as well.”