The following essay is from our thirtieth anniversary brochure. Look back at the last thirty years of First Things by reading the brochure here.
More than thirty years ago, I was having lunch with Matthew Berke, a friend at Yale who was completing his graduate degree in political philosophy. “How’s the job search going?” I asked. “I’ve decided not to pursue an academic career,” he replied. “I took a job at a new magazine that’s getting started by Richard John Neuhaus. It’s going to be called First Things. You should subscribe.”
I did, and for the next three decades First Things played a central role in my life, as it has for so many of our readers.
First Things is written, edited, and read by religious people speaking religiously, not just about religion, but about whatever they think is important. This is natural and fitting. As St. Thomas teaches, theology is the queen of the sciences, which means our faith illuminates everything. But today’s secularism says otherwise, which means First Things offers a countercultural voice of dissent from today’s dogmas. That’s a thrilling expression of intellectual freedom—or at least it has been for me, from the very first issue I received in the mail in March 1990.
This seems like a paradox to non-believers. How can the authority of God’s revelation be the foundation of intellectual freedom? But it’s not so hard to understand. Truth liberates us from falsehood and empowers us to be truth-tellers, even as our mainstream culture falls under the sway of a hectoring political correctness that in recent months has become ruthlessly punitive. God’s truth overcomes fear, the tool of the Adversary.
Over the last thirty years we’ve gotten many things right—and some wrong. We’ve published vital, engaging articles—and perhaps a few that are dry and dusty. There is a great deal to be proud of, even as not everything in our pages has been exemplary. Such are the ways of fallen men. But of this I am confident: First Things remains true to the indomitable spirit of our founder, Richard John Neuhaus, who was not one to hide his light under a bushel.
“Though he fall, he shall not be cast down: for the Lord upholdeth his hand.” Over the last thirty years we have published First Things in the confidence that the truths of our faith carry us forward, even if we are but earthen vessels. We will continue for the next thirty years with the same confidence!
Yes, there are important battles to be waged in the public square—for the sanctity of life, the dignity of marriage, the fruitful difference between men and women, the proper piety of patriotic loyalty, and more. But in these struggles let us remember to keep first things first. In the words of the Psalmist: “Take delight in the Lord, for he will give you the desires of your heart.”
R. R. Reno is editor of First Things.
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