I regretted to see in the January 2 New York Times that Peter Steinfels was writing his final “Beliefs” column. I’ve rarely missed a Steinfels column over the years. They were consistently respectful and totally devoid of either simplistic advocacy or simplistic criticism. Steinfels attempted to understand and analyze the complexity of religion in contemporary America. In years when religion generally made it into the news pages only when someone did or said something outrageous, Steinfels’s column was an oasis of thoughtful, theologically informed analysis. In a very brief conversation with him years ago I found him to be cordial but crisp and to the point, without hinting at all about his personal feelings on the subject we discussed—in other words, a consummate journalist.
In his last column Steinfels wrote that his choice of topics did reveal a personal perspective, but he tried to be detached. “I never wrote in the first person singular,” he explained.