At the time I came to First Things in mid-2014, I was just a couple of years free of a secular, atheist adulthood. If anyone had said to me in 2005 that a decade later I would be saying prayers every night and working at a religious magazine during the day, I would have laughed. I was so sure of my materialist truths that the whole idea of a spiritual reality wasn’t just inconceivable. It was quaint.
Readers of First Things know how much that has changed. I now regard my thirty-five years of atheism as a dreadful error. I don’t experience my present faith as firmly and indubitably as I did my past anti-faith—but I take that as a sign of improvement, a loss of hubris.
When I first arrived at the magazine, though, I did not fully appreciate what it means to be a believer in America. For me, it was all personal—what I believe, and how that changes me. But after many months among Rusty and the others in the office, along with conversations and correspondence with First Things writers and readers, our web columnists and the attendees at seminars and retreats, the horizon has expanded. Christian mission isn’t only individual. It’s social and cultural and political, too. The course of human events flows erratically; these days it seems that there are, indeed, new things under the sun. I won’t speak for everyone, but I sure feel a duty to bring my consciousness of the divine to the issues of our time, because without God in our individual and collective lives, our culture decays and human beings suffer. I have absorbed well the lessons of Rusty’s book, Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society.
I thank First Things for this. It has given me confidence to speak forthrightly for what Emerson termed with a sneer “the dear old doctrines of the church.” The cynicism doesn’t bother me anymore, no matter how much it persists among my academic colleagues in the humanities. There is a great joy in knowing that you have stronger arguments and sounder evidence and wider experience than do the people who challenge you, though you must always beware of condescension and pride.
It is part of my job to help readers of First Things and participants in First Things events develop the same assurance. We inhabit a culture that is sometimes hostile to what we believe. Our positions are caricatured, our intentions misconstrued. There is confusion out there, and we can’t let it seep into our heads.
It is my hope that readers share in the gratitude I feel for the magazine because it has assisted them in the labor of understanding. We ask for your donation. It will help us all in the considerable work we have to do in our country in the coming years.
Mark Bauerlein is Senior Editor of First Things.