It’s been a good year, a very good one. Subscriptions are up. We’re closing in on 30,000 subscribers to First Things. FirstThings.com sees a great deal of traffic. That’s because we’re publishing first-rate material. It’s timely and unscripted by old secular orthodoxies. At First Things, the only orthodoxies that command our obedience are religious ones.
John Henry Newman wrote, “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” We are in a season of change. Donald Trump’s shocking victory in November 2016 dramatized that fact. A lot of the things I took for granted only a few years ago are now up for grabs. We’ve got to think in new and fresh ways.
This means recognizing hard realities. Christopher Caldwell detailed the devastating epidemic of heroin overdose deaths in “American Carnage.” For too long, our mainstream press has remained unaware of the severe demoralization of life for many. But here at First Things we’ve known for a long time that cultural progressivism makes a mess of things. It argues for a deregulated morality. Even today, many continue to press for drug legalization—and this in the face of a horrible reality. Thus reasons the culture of death.
The same cruel blindness is behind the collapse of marriage among working-class and middle-class Americans. This fall, the New York Times published “How Did Marriage Become a Mark of Privilege?” The author cites economists who blame the bad economy. We know better. For decades, Hollywood, the universities, and elite media like the New York Times have kept up a steady drumbeat demanding ever-greater sexual liberation. As I wrote a half-dozen years ago, “Gay marriage is a luxury good for the rich that will be paid for by the poor.”
First Things is the only major conservative publication that has the courage to say these sorts of things—which is why we’re gaining readers. Sane people know that things have gotten very bad. I recently spoke to a priest who serves in a rural area one hour outside Philadelphia. I asked him what his greatest pastoral challenge is. His reply: ministering to grandparents running on empty as they try raising their grandchildren after the children have made wrecks of their lives. This is the difference faith makes. Our solidarity with others in faith prevents us from living in our privileged enclaves, insulated from the suffering of our fellow citizens.
I often travel to speak, which gives me a chance to meet with readers. It’s one of the blessings of my job, because it inspires me. Religious folks like you enjoy a remarkable freedom. We honor the authority of God, and our obedience to His Word liberates us from the false authority of ideology. Today, our country—like other societies throughout the West—is being convulsed by rancorous elections. These are symptoms of a frayed social contract.
Our political leaders seem unmanned, stuck in old patterns of thought that are failing. Read the editorial page of the New York Times, and the shrill denunciations give the impression that we are living in the 1960s, when George Wallace stood in a schoolhouse door and promised “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Read the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, and you are transported back to the 1980s, and days when Reaganism was a breath of fresh air.
In this environment—one of decadence, paralysis, and blind armies clashing by night—First Things matters more than ever. And our readers matter more than ever. The West desperately needs the voices of religious people like you to ring loudly and clearly in the public square. Our faith prevents us from retreating from our civic responsibilities. Our faith encourages us to reach out to others in solidarity. And most of all, our faith provides us with a precious freedom—the freedom to break with the world’s orthodoxies when they fail, the freedom to stand up to the principalities and powers that claim to rule the world, the freedom to entertain new, challenging, and even unsettling analyses from thinkers and writers of integrity.
It’s my pledge that First Things will serve that freedom. We will not kowtow to “history.” We will not carry water for secular orthodoxies. We will not abandon the weak, the vulnerable, the unborn, and those facing the end of their natural lives. We will make mistakes, but that is the price of leadership. We will stumble, but to speak boldly always brings risk. I cannot promise perfection. But I can promise that in all of our efforts we will seek to remain true to freedom for which Christ has set us free.
Please join me in that pledge. And if you can, please support our efforts with a year-end contribution.
R. R. Reno is editor of First Things.