I should admit at the outset, I’ve never been a fan of First Things. As far as literary-theological magazines on political issues go, I’ve always found Commonweal to be far more stimulating, and, well Christian. But, there was a time when, even if I pretty much always disagreed with Neuhaus’s “The Public Square” and most of the other political pieces in First Things, I could still find much to appreciate therein. There were substantive articles and exchanges with erudite theological reflection and debate. First Things even used to be something of a forum within which Christian scholars and activists could meaningfully disagree and argue with one another in print. Even Stanley Hauerwas had a seat at the table with Neuhaus and his neocon crowd at that time.
No longer. Over the last couple years First Things has made clear that it is no longer a literary entity capable of providing critical distance, balance, or bipartisanship in any meaningful sense of the word. First Things has jumped gleefully into bed with unabashed neoconservatism and American exceptionalism without any inhibition whatsoever. First Things now features articles by the pseudonymous “Spengler“, a regular writer for Asian Times Online, whose blatant racism and idolatrous theology of American exceptionalism should not be allowed to see the light of day in any reputable publication. The dregs of First Things these days offers little that deviates from calls for constitutional amendments banning gay marriage, anti-abortion polemics, and even tired apologias for the war in Iraq (which as William Cavanaugh has handily pointed out simply puts Neuhaus, Novak, Weigel, and their ilk at odds with the Pope).
Most recently, it seems that everyone at First Things has felt a desperate need to trash N.T. Wright over his opposition to Iraq war, insisting that a bishop such as he is unqualified to engage in “speaking out on international affairs, the war against jihadism, and Iraq.” (A post written by Peter Wehner, Bush’s speechwriter up through 2007, by the way.)
I fear that First Things has taken its place alongside all the other conservative rags out there and, as such, has confined itself to a position of total irrelevance, pedantic jingosim, and, from a theological perspective, nationalistic idolatry. First Things has decided that it is better to grow fat off of our culture of barbarism than to confront it prophetically (unless, of course the issue happens to be homosexuality or abortion). They live now only in the time called America; Messianic time can, for them, do nothing other than serve America’s imperial ends. This I consider a sad thing indeed. While neocons nationwide may rejoice that First Things can now take its place as their bathroom reading alongside The Weekly Standard and American Vision, I can do nothing more than try to figure out a way to get the bad taste out of my mouth. You could have been more, First Things. Alas.