Nobody can complain that we’re living in a time of tedious predictability. A great deal seems to be up for grabs, far more than I imagined possible only a year or two ago. We’re all feeling the rumbling beneath our feet.
At a time like this, First Things proves its indispensability. Which is why I want to ask for your support. We are launching our on-line donation campaign. First Things is only as strong as our community of readers and supporters. Please donate.
Lots of smart writers are trying to peer through the fog to discern our situation. We read about economic and political changes. These analyses are useful, but limited, because they too often remain bound to purely material or worldly frames of reference. By contrast, First Things recognizes that we’re animated by spiritual hopes and fears that are interwoven with economic, cultural, and political concerns.
The drama of our time—that drama of every historical era or epoch—takes place against a horizon of transcendence. If we fail to think and reason theologically, then we fail to see the human condition in its fullness. And if we adopt a partial view, we’re less than our best as citizens.
First Things was launched in 1990. Back in those days, we had a pretty good idea of what we were up against. As mainline Protestantism declined, the dominant liberal consensus became aggressively secular. Our founder, Richard John Neuhaus, recognized that a society committed to the best achievements of the liberal tradition—individual rights, a free economy, and a capacious pluralism—requires a strong religious basis. America is not a theological nation, but we’re at our best when our political secularism finds inspiration and grounding in a culture deeply informed by religious belief.
Thus our job: to speak boldly and confidently and religiously. First Things was founded to renew the role and influence of faith in public life.
Today it continues in that tradition, but with an important twist. To be frank, I no longer know what we’re up against. I have some ideas. A few issues ago, I wrote about the corrosive effects of disenchantment and analyzed today’s populism as a desire for restored metaphysical density (“Return of the Strong Gods”). But I’m groping my way forward. We all are.
In this environment, we need sober analysis—which, given our uncertain times, paradoxically requires new and bold thinking. Russell Hittinger’s “The Three Necessary Societies” provides a good example. Hittinger recounts the achievement of modern Catholic social doctrine, but continues with a frank acknowledgement that we are facing “revolutions from below.” It’s not clear how we should respond. There’s work to be done, both in the trenches of activism and in colloquia discussions.
Help First Things lead in this enterprise. Washington think tanks do good work, but they lack our theological orientation. Your donation will help maintain the high quality of what we publish. First Things also hosts lectures and seminars that are unique—because they are religiously informed. Again, your support is crucial.
And we all need encouragement. I’m particularly proud of a recent article, John Burgess’s “Spiritual Freedom.” Burgess reminds us that our faith provides a firm place to stand against worldly powers. We need to do more than think theologically. We need to live in God’s truth, for in him there is no shadow of darkness, and against him no adversary will prevail.
I’ve been in the Editor’s chair for six years. I continue to be struck by the remarkable intelligence and commitment of First Things readers. You number in the tens of thousands. And you are consistently generous in your support. I consider myself a very lucky man. Thank you for your donation.
R. R. Reno is editor of First Things.