Fr. Richard Neuhaus On Slate

Reed Signature
neuhaushttp://www.slate.com/id/2208326/

The always open-minded yet stubbornly liberal Slate Magazine did a pretty good feature on the life of Richard Neuhas who died last week. Despite obvious reservations with his pro-life writings, the author is quite complementary of conservative Catholicism’s modern ethical champion.

An interesting quote:

After his conversion to Catholicism in 1990, Neuhaus tried to forge an alliance with evangelicals to address shared areas of moral concern. The effort caught the attention of, among others, Karl Rove, and the GOP improved its share of the Catholic vote in both 2000 and 2004. That effort was misguided from the start, and Neuhaus should have known better. He once wrote, “Where orthodoxy is optional, orthodoxy will sooner or later be proscribed.” But to Catholics, evangelicals are not orthodox and vice-versa, and the differences are not small. Catholic social doctrine, including opposition to abortion, is rooted in a dogmatic belief in human dignity. Evangelical political theology is rooted in Calvin’s belief in human depravity. Both groups may oppose abortion, but their approaches to the role of religion in society are vastly different.

When religion is reduced to ethics, the church is permitted to enter the public square under the guise of a moral authority. But once you sever the link between the central animating dogmas of faith and the moral teachings that flow from there, you invite a cheap moralism, a religion of external conformity to prescribed norms rather than an internal assent of faith.

In case you’re worried the media is pretending to be an expert again in telling us all about ourselves, here’s the author’s bio.

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6 Comments

  1. Reed,

    Winters wrote: “When religion is reduced to ethics, the church is permitted to enter the public square under the guise of a moral authority. But once you sever the link between the central animating dogmas of faith and the moral teachings that flow from there, you invite a cheap moralism, a religion of external conformity to prescribed norms rather than an internal assent of faith.”

    I think he needs to clarify between “cheap moralism” and true “Christian ethics.” Morality is concerned with or adhering to the code of interpersonal behavior that is considered right or acceptable in a particular society. Basically morality is the attempt of humanity to justify itself before God and others.

    But a Christian ethic is an ethic of the cross. It is an ethic about death – the end of striving to be moral and the beginning of righteousness. Christian ethics begin with relationship, not keeping moral codes. Loving God and neighbor is Christian ethics. This is what God designed and created us to do. In the fall we lost our ability to be human – to do what we were created to do. Sin at its essence is separation – from God and others.

    In being separate from God, we now know good and evil; in knowing good and evil we are compelled to make moral decisions in order to justify ourselves.

    That is why the cross tells us that humanity must die. This is primarily and first the act of Jesus Christ, but it is important to view Christian ethics as a response to that act. To follow Christ, take up our cross, deny ourselves and to offer our bodies as living sacrifices to Him. Death with Christ is the way to life with Christ; apart from death there is no righteousness.

    So the goal of the church is not to produce moral people. Following Christ is about relationship not about rules and regulations. It is not about adhering to lists or following certain formulas or simply trying to convince people to stop drinking, smoking or gambling. However, we are called proclaim and live out a radically counter-cultural ethic that involves living and dying like Christ, modeling our lives so closely after his that we have the mind of Christ and live life together in such a way that we are literally divine representatives to our world.

    We are called to embody a clear social alternative that the world cannot on its own terms know.

    In Resident Aliens, Hauerwas & Willimon argue that many pastors, conservative and liberal, feel their task is to motivate their people to get involved in politics – which the authors argue is a Constantinian approach to the issue of the church and world. This is the assumption that there is no way for the gospel to be present in our world without asking the world to support our convictions through its own social and political institutionalization.

    This reduces the radical message of Jesus Christ and his call to follow “the Way” to mere social activism. The authors argue that the true political task of Christians is to be the church, rather than to transform the world. He illustrates this using the work of John Howard Yoder in A People in the World: Theological Interpretation” who distinguishes between the activist church, the conversionist church, and the confessing church.

    The activist church is more concerned with the building of a better society than with the reformation of the church. The conversionist church, on the other hand, argues that no amount of tinkering with the structures of society will counter the effects of human sin. The sphere of political action is moved from society to the individual soul.

    The confessing church is not a synthesis of the other two approaches but a radical alternative to both. The confessing church finds its main political task in the congregation’s determination to worship Christ in all things. The confessing church, according to the authors, is determined to worship God alone and to trust him to bring about the results he intends.

    The confessing church also calls people to conversion, but it depicts conversion as a long process of being baptismally engrafted into a new people – a countercultural social structure called the church. A people who are visible in the world as people who are faithful to their promises, love their enemies, tell the truth, honor the poor, suffer for righteousness, and thereby testify to the amazing community-creating power of God.
    The church can participate in secular movements against war and poverty but it sees it as only a part of its proclamatory action. But it is not surprised when its witness evokes hostility from the world. Ultimately, the church knows that its most credible form of witness is the actual creation of a living, breathing, visible community of faith.

    Reply

  2. Paul

    This is a great post. For a while I was considering copying and pasting it into it’s own post on the blog as as “guest article” to draw more attention to it.

    I have “The Politics of Jesus” on my Amazon wish list. Do you suggest any other Yoder?

    I feel you capture a lot of the sentiments I’ll try to echo in my final post about nonviolence–that is that The Church is called to a radical pro-peace stance but that we cannot always expect secular or political tools to be our best means to achieving it.

    I agree in part with the author that one cannot view Christian Ethics apart from Christian Faith because the two wont always make sense without each other. However, I cringe whenever western secularists attempt to reduce religion into “something a person chooses to do in his or her private time that they shouldn’t allow to bother anyone too much.”

    I feel that internal faith can’t help but inspire external action. However, this action was meant to be ennacted by Christian community and not from a political party.

    Reply

  3. “So the goal of the church is not to produce moral people. Following Christ is about relationship not about rules and regulations. It is not about adhering to lists or following certain formulas or simply trying to convince people to stop drinking, smoking or gambling. However, we are called proclaim and live out a radically counter-cultural ethic that involves living and dying like Christ, modeling our lives so closely after his that we have the mind of Christ and live life together in such a way that we are literally divine representatives to our world.”

    This sound like Rick Warren Purpose-Driven Life. I don’t buy into it. Not that pastor Warren doesn’t accomplish good things, I simply don’t care for how he frames the discussion.

    The purpose of your life

    “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind’ – this is the great and foremost commandment, and there is a second like it, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’. The whole Law and Prophets hang on these two commands.”

    “Faith, hope and love, these three, but the greatest of these is love” (1Co 13:13)

    As a cradle catholic I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the Baltimore Catechism which posed the issue this way:

    Q. Why did God create YOU?
    A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.

    Since Love is the greatest, how is it that we may love God?
    John 14:15-If you love me, keep my commandments.

    “Anybody who receives my commandments and keeps them
    will be one who loves me; and anybody who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I shall love him and show myself to him.’ (John 14:21)

    So I do think following the commandments is essential, however it has to be done with love of God, not just obligation too God.

    Those who believe but do not love don’t appear to be on the correct path.

    Reply

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