Buckley on his faith

Is it me, or is it hard to believe that William F. Buckley has died?

I mean, it seemed that he could just talk forever. What could stop him?

tjndc5-5iwznk4kx11vrn6mcb5_layout.jpgBuckley, the conservative kingpin, wrote and spoke often about his faith, about being a Roman Catholic. I came across a 1997 interview that another omnipresent fellow, David Gergen, did with Buckley. Buckley’s autobiography, Nearer, My God, had just come out.

Here are some highlights:

DAVID GERGEN: Much of your book, it’s quite striking because it’s so unlike what’s out there about religion today, it is a serious struggle to understand and to come to grips with Catholic and Christian doctrine. Have you come to believe in both, Jesus, the historical figure, and in the resurrection, itself?

WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY, JR.: Well, yes, I do. I think that’s absolutely central to Christianity. St. Paul thought so, and so does everybody. If Christ has not risen, then everything is in vain. But the circumstances of His resurrection were quite widely reported, and we know that his apostles devoted their entire lives in ways that would not be thinkable, except on the absolute certainty that this had happened. So yes, I think it is central, and I devote a certain amount of time to that. It is, I think you’re correct in suggesting that it is often thought of as simply a myth, sort of a happy thought. I don’t think it’s happy thought. If it were, as Russell Kirk — I quote here — then Christianity would be something — nothing more than simply conjurings of social observations. It’s the startling fact, Christ rose.


DAVID GERGEN: Yes. There was one question you put to them that I’d like to put to you, just to paraphrase it a bit. Was there one feature of the Catholic Church distinguishing it from other Christian sects that, in particular, kept you a Catholic, kept you in the Church, and, if so, what was it?

WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY, JR.: I think it is the centrality of the assumption that the Catholic Church is the Church that was founded by Christ. But they all have polisticity, for sure. A lot of people do think that. And if it’s so, then you’d want to say, well, give me a good reason for not joining it? Now, I know there are an awful lot of reasons, awful lot of subtle, theological questions here, but that is the point that is most — that, plus also its general record and the constancy of its performance are morally — I find that pretty impressive. Two thousand years is a long time.


DAVID GERGEN: We have only a short time left, but I wanted to ask you, as a devout Catholic, and as a conservative, how do you then square your conservatism with views of the Catholic Church on social responsibility, the more modern views that have been promulgated by the Church?

WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY, JR.: There’s always a tendency in churches, as far as I can see, to say we’ve got to build one more gymnasium for the homeless. And I think we should build one more gymnasium — don’t get me wrong — but the attempt to suck spiritual energy into activity of that kind, in my judgment, doesn’t really pay off. There’s a spiritual hunger in the world, and that hunger is appeased by the worship of God and by an attempt to follow his commandments. Now, there is nothing in the social doctrines of the Church that can be said to be crystallized, that contradicts any position I’ve ever taken, unless you can come up with one.

DAVID GERGEN: I haven’t yet, but I’m sure others will now try. Bill Buckley, thank you very much.

(Photo: AP/Frank Franklin I)