Peter Steinfels bids farewell to his NYT Beliefs column today, 20 years and out. He expresses some regret at feeling bound by Times style to maintain an Olympian distance and dispassion even as other Timesfolk began promiscuously inserting first-person-singular pronouns and attitudes into their copy. I’m not sure what it would have been like for him to cut loose in Beliefs, but I suspect the results would not have been all that different from what we got.
The column had something of the Father Mulcahy about it–a diffident voice of faith, self-conscious amidst the secular hurley-burley, but able to rise to the occasion when needed. It was always decent, humane, free of cheap shots, prepared to give the devil his due. And laced with a wit so dry that it took a double-take to register.
While Steinfels’ inner contemplative led him to resist the pressure to comment on the important religion news of the moment, sooner or later he’d get around to it–especially when it concerned his fellow Catholics. You always wanted to know what he had to say. As an arbiter of the passing religious scene, Beliefs was without peer. I’ll miss it.