21 June, 2010

"From the Wonderful People Who Brought You New York City...."

It was said by Fr. Raymond deSouza at Fr. Richard John Neuhaus' funeral, that one of RJN's favorite expressions was, come the day of the great prolepsis, he would see inscribed over the gates of the Messianic eternal city of God... "From the Wonderful People Who Brought You New York City: The New Jerusalem". (American Babylon p.2)  The wry wit and wisdom of this quote is typical of RJN's many contributions in arguing for the place of religion within  culture. His predictions of the despair that results from post-modernist secularism's inability to answer the great existential questions, is obvious today with the attendant collapse of one's individual sense of well-being as a citizen of western culture, in the shifting mores of 21st century life.

Put simply, RJN believed that he would meet his God on that day as an American. That the understanding of the 'first principles' spoken of in the Declaration of Independence which launched and sustained the American experiment for its first 200 years, was lived out by him as a citizen of both the New Jerusalem and the secular city that was Manhattan and surrounding boroughs.   It is a 'particular faith' in that it is rooted in the particular historic events of the Jewish people and their promised Messiah; and 'particular' to his time and experience. His primary responsibility was was he said to the city to come, but he never diminished his duty and obligations to the community & land in which he lived. For him, it will be impossible to approach God on the day of Judgment from any perspective other than as the person you were in life. That the truth of 'who' we were/are will be made clear on the day  all truth is revealed. This relationship of 'cult' and 'culture' is too intimate in RJN's opinion for one to exist without the other. Impossible that is until now... if the opinions and expositions of modern-day atheists like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins are to be considered.

Rarely in my life have I encountered anyone of RJN's character, wisdom and holiness. With a language that was a delight to believers and a bane to their opponents, he regularly expressed the truth as to the  impotence of the modern secularist project to answer the questions of life. In its most basic expression, it is an allegation that the proponents of rendering religion to the solitary confines of personal reflection, state without reservation, that there is NO absolute truth... and that this fact is ABSOLUTELY TRUE! Given this obvious flaw within the foundation of the defence of secularists and 'moral progressives', it does not present much of a challenge to present a convincing counter argument  - so long as one stays within the 'civilizational circle' of culture! Whether it is John Ralston-Saul's 'common sense' or Alasdair MacIntyre's 'Tao' of "After Virtue," recent philosophers are pointing out the failings of secularism to complete the 'progress' of history by incarnating a reign of peace, success or self-fulfillment. RJN as a Roman Catholic, an American, and as a theist offers the answers of classical Catholicism; answers which have sufficed to bring humanity to this point of personal 'evolution' we enjoy today.  There were no mythical utopias within the 'natural' cultures of aboriginal communities. In other words, in the 'Eden' was not 'spoiled' with the arrival of Christianity in the 'new world'. His wisdom thus transcends the national boundaries of his experience as an American and is relevant to all.

I will begin to offer a series of reflections on the challenges posed by post-modern secularism seen through the lens of RJN's writings and from the many conversations we shared during 20 years of spending our summer vacations as cottage neighbors. When possible, if I make reference to specific quotes I will provide the appropriate notations. The very prodigious nature of his written works offers ample source material to draw from.  I will augment this with recollections drawn from our time shared  together over the years. These have left me with a certain 'canon' of his opinion, that may not be so easily academically referenced, yet guides too my analysis and understanding of today's events. I take it as a happy coincide that I am fortunate enough to be able to compose these reflections along the banks of the same Ottawa River which was such an important part of RJN's life.

It is my intention to  develop further these reflections and collect them together into a book for publication. Your input and comments will help me to improve my conclusions; testing them so as to clarify the essence of his vision of sustaining the expression of religion in the 'public square'. 

Thanks... and watch for weekly new postings from the 'Wonderful People of New York' series!

1 comment:

  1. thank you Father Tim...we will all be richer for those postings:)


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