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Buried in the middle of this interview with William F. Buckley, Jr., is an extraordinary statement. Buckley, who has given hundreds of addresses on college and university campuses, remarks that "I've never been invited in my life to give a college speech or a seminar about which the subject of religion was discussed. It's like a subtle sequestration that religion is something that you do on your own, and it's disruptive to bring it up."
That datum, which at first strikes the reader as incredible, confirms the diagnosis offered in George Marsden's The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief and Stephen Carter's The Culture of Disbelief: How American Law and Politics Trivialize Religious Devotion. But it also says something about Buckley himself. As an editor, columnist, tv host, novelist, and the pre-eminent spokesman for conservatism in his generation, Buckley has never made a secret of his strong Christian faith, yet he confesses to a temperamental reticence. "I am not trained in the devotional mode, nor disposed to it," he writes—nor, one might add, the evangelical mode.
That is precisely what makes his new book, Nearer, My God: An Autobiography of Faith (Doubleday, 313 pp.; $24.95), unique: Here, for the first time, Buckley writes at length about his faith, about some of the principal obstacles to Christian belief (despite self-deprecating comments concerning his lack of theological training, he displays considerable powers as an apologist), and about the distinctive experience of a Roman Catholic in the twentieth century.
In September, Michael Cromartie met with Buckley in New York at the offices of National Review to talk about his book and to get his sense of the state of Christendom at the end of the millennium.
Many years ago Garry Wills said this of you: "Being Catholic always mattered more to him than being conservative." Is he right?
If he meant he has a higher loyalty to God than to civil society, then the ...