Here in the offices of First Things, we have to admit to an inconsistency. Many tracts against the therapeutic culture of twenty-first-century America have appeared in our pages—but we have something of a therapeutic mission of our own.
When Western Civilization is judged by leading intellectuals and academics to be a pernicious social construct, it’s time to reread articles in First Things about sexuality in ancient Rome (Kyle Harper in our January 2018 issue), Michelangelo (Catesby Leigh in our December 2017 issue), Machiavelli (Carson Holloway in our July 2017 issue), and other episodes in the tradition.
When a baker declines to custom-design a cake for a same-sex wedding, but willingly offers the couple a cake from his shelf, and still ends up in legal-bureaucratic hell once the State of Colorado hears of his decision, it’s time to reread Patrick Deneen’s “The Power Elite” (June 2015) and Charlotte Allen’s “Punching Down” (June 2016). When a campus speaker outlines standard Christian doctrine on sexuality and is denounced as a purveyor of hate speech, it’s time to review statements by Evangelicals and Catholics Together, which have been published in the magazine for more than twenty years now.
When progressive voices in America speak of religious faith as a dying superstition, go back to the late Peter Berger’s reflections on the secularization hypothesis (February 2008 and April 2016), and to novelist Mark Helprin’s reflections on eternity (March 2017) and American nature (November 2017).
These essays describe and evaluate deeper conflicts and longstanding truths. At First Things, we sit somewhere between current events as reported by weekly magazines, and ideas and arguments as expounded in scholarly journals. No hasty news coverage and no footnotes. It’s a delicate position—but a necessary one for some organs to occupy, if we want intellectual life in America to rise above the rush of daily affairs but not burrow into professional enclaves. We aim to bring the best of both sides into our pages: the press’s nose for what really counts in contemporary matters, plus the scholar’s patient analysis of present realities in historical, moral, and religious contexts.
We have many indications of effectiveness. Circulation is up, and so is our prominence in intellectual debates, even in ones that take place among people distant from our religious outlook. Our authors may be seen in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the New York Post, the Weekly Standard and the Claremont Review, on Fox News and on CNN. We believe we’re having an impact. We even have faith—in less guarded moments, such as when one of our authors comes through with a sparkling manuscript—that something extraordinary is happening: We may, on some issues, be winning.
But ours is not a commercial strategy. We need the support of our readers. Your contributions ensure that the mission proceeds. We want to cultivate great writers and astute thinkers who have the moral authority to improve our condition. And we appreciate our readers and donors more than we can say. The project of First Things is, after all, dedicated to the audience. Please support our efforts with a contribution.
Mark Bauerlein is senior editor of First Things.