Richard John Neuhaus

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Richard John Neuhaus (1936-2009) was the editor of the conservative monthly magazine First Things, which was founded in 1990. He became a Catholic priest in 1991 and was an important spokesman for mainstream religious conservatism.


In 1990 he also converted to Catholicism. Before then he was Lutheran pastor for some 30 years. He has written several books.[1] His book The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America (1984) was widely reviewed. On January 8, 2009 he died, having struggled with cancer.[2]


Natural law

Neuhaus emphasized the central importance of "natural law". The concept originated with Aristotle and shaped Scholastic philosophy during the Middle Ages; it remains the mainstay of Catholic moral teaching. The basis of natural-law models is that the "oughts" come from "out there," that is, from God. Thomas Jefferson captured it well: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal."


  • America v. 151 (Oct. 13 1984).

"{Neuhaus} here displays wide knowledge and incisive criticism regarding contemporary religious currents in the United States. . . . I learned a great deal from the book about the Protestant churches and their role in American society over the past two decades. . . . At the beginning of the book, Neuhaus had located himself politically in the 'vital center' of liberal democracy. However, because of his vagueness on specific issues, he might well give further reflection to his own perceptive comment: 'The center is usually not a viewpoint but an expedient place to be in the absence of viewpoints.'"

  • The American Enterprise v. 14 no. 6 (Sept. 2003).
  • Choice v. 22 (Nov. 1984).
  • Christianity Today v. 28 (Sept. 7 1984).
  • Commentary v. 79 (Jan. 1985).
  • Commonweal v. 111 (Aug. 10 1984).

"{This} is an important book, coming onto the scene at a moment when the problems of democracy, public life, and religion are receiving a great deal of searching scrutiny. Neuhaus's argument deserves to be taken seriously, although the book does not present a sustained argument so much as a series of interconnected analyses, some of great import, such as the linkage of fundamentalists with secularists and the liberal churches. Yet the book is also flawed by too many fringe issues. It is not always logically consistent, especially in the section discussing some form of Communism as a likely candidate for filling the empty square, and certainly the extreme closeness of fit between religion and public philosophy in American history can and will be challenged. But, overall, this is a book worth reading, and more, worth thinking about."

  • National Review v. 36 (July 27, 1984).

"{This book} is a model of taking-everything-into-account. Neuhaus has read Cuddihy and John Courtney Murray, among many others, and he has conversed with both Jerry Falwell and Norman Lear. He is fair to everyone even as he is decisive. And his decisions are, as far as I can see, right. If this book is read as widely as it deserves to be, secular humanists (or whatever they're calling themselves these days) will henceforth have a hard time imposing their values while pretending they're morally neutral. The book's only fault is a sort of excess of fairness. . . . Neuhaus takes pains not to identify himself with the Right, but--intending no disrespect--I say he belongs with us. He certainly deserves our attention."

  • The Christian Century v. 102 (Mar. 13 1985).
  • The New Republic v. 192 (June 10, 1985).
  • The New York Review of Books v. 31 (Oct. 11 1984).
  • The New York Times Book Review (Aug. 26 1984).

"Mr. Neuhaus is a Lutheran pastor, a gifted theologian and an experienced activist. His was a leading voice in the religious community's opposition to the Vietnam War. He also knows politics at first hand. . . . {This} is a substantial book. It should be read by anyone concerned with the current debates over the emergence of the 'new Christian right,' which Mr. Neuhaus believes may help restore genuine democracy in America--albeit inadvertently--by including more people, more interests and more modes of discourse. I strongly agree with what I take to be the book's main thesis. . . . I sometimes find Mr. Neuhaus's applications of this thesis so questionable as to mar a case that desperately needs to be heard."

  • Christianity and Crisis v. 44 (Oct. 29 1984).
  • Commonweal v. 115 (Mar. 11 1988).
  • Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review v. 21 (Wint 1986).
  • Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion v. 24 (Sept. 1985).
  • Journal of Law and Religion v. 8 (1990).
  • Missouri Law Review v. 50 (Wint 1985).
  • Society v. 23 (Nov./Dec. 1985).
  • The Humanist v. 45 (May/June 1985).
  • The Review of Politics v. 47 (Jan. 1985).
  • The Western Political Quarterly v. 41 (Dec. 1988).
  • Theology Today v. 42 (July 1985).
  • Zygon v. 20 (June 1985). and has been influential.

Books by Neuhaus

  • American Babylon: Notes of a Christian Exile (2009) 270 pp.
  • Catholic Matters: Confusion, Controversy, And the Splendor of Truth (2007)
  • The Best of "The Public Square" Book 3 (2007), collected columns
    • The Best of the Public Square: Book 2 (2001)
    • The Best of The Public square: Selections from Richard John Neuhaus' celebrated column in First Things (1997)
  • As I Lay Dying: Meditations Upon Returning (2003)
  • To Empower People: From State to Civil Society (1996) - Co-authored with Peter Berger.
  • America Against Itself: Moral Vision and the Public Order (1992)
  • The Catholic Moment: The Paradox of the Church in the Postmodern World (1987)
  • The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America (1986)

External links