Nearer, My God: An Autobiography of Faith


This is the story of one man's faith, told with unrivaled reflection and candor. William F. Buckley, Jr., was raised a Catholic. As the world plunged into war, and as social mores changed dramatically around him, Buckley's faith—a most essential part of his make-up—sustained him. In Nearer, My God, Buckley examines in searching detail the meaning of his faith, and how his life has been shaped and sustained by religious conviction.

In highly personal terms, and with the wit and ...

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This is the story of one man's faith, told with unrivaled reflection and candor. William F. Buckley, Jr., was raised a Catholic. As the world plunged into war, and as social mores changed dramatically around him, Buckley's faith—a most essential part of his make-up—sustained him. In Nearer, My God, Buckley examines in searching detail the meaning of his faith, and how his life has been shaped and sustained by religious conviction.

In highly personal terms, and with the wit and acuity for which he is justly renowned, Buckley discusses vital issues of Catholic doctrine and practice, and in so doing outlines for the reader both the nature of CathoLic faith and the essential role of religious belief in everyday life. In powerfully felt prose, he contributes provocatively and intelligently to the national interest in the nature of religion, the Church, and spiritual development. Nearer, My God is sure to appeal to all readers who have felt the stirrings of their own religious faith, and who want confirmation of their beliefs or who are seeking a guide to understanding their own souls.

The renowned social and political commentator, William F. Buckley Jr., turns to a highly personal subject—his faith. And he tells us the story of his life as a Catholic Christian. "Nearer, My God" is the most reflective, poignant, and searching of Bill Buckley's many books. In the opening chapters he relives his childhood, a loving, funny, nostalgic glimpse into pre-World War II America and England. He speaks about his religious experiences to a world that has changed dramatically. He is unafraid of revealing the most personal side of his faith. He describes, in his distinctive style, the intimacy of a trip to Lourdes, the impact on him of the searing account by Maria Valtorta of the Crucifixion, the ordination of his nephew into the priesthood, and gives a moving account of his mother's death. And there is humor, as Buckley gives a unique, hilarious view of a visit to the Vatican with Malcolm Muggeridge, Charlton Heston, Grace Kelly, and David Niven. Personal though this book is, Buckley has gone to others to examine new perspectives, putting together his own distinguished 'Forum' and leaning on the great literature of the past to illustrate his thinking on contemporary Catholic and Christian issues.

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Editorial Reviews

Michael Wright
. . .[A]n appealing, straightforward account of a life marked, as many are, by unexpected successes and crushing failures.
New York Times Book Review
Wall Street Journal
The story of the abiding, sustaining faith of a true believer. . . As always, his thoughts are invigorating. . . . His doctrinal investigations reveal a religious temperament that is respectfully questioning but not doubtful. In this Mr. Buckley, despite his formidable intellect, is probably not so different from the average American churchgoer.
Baltimore Sun
You can rage and rail at his politics. People have been doing that since he wrote his first book after his graduation from Yale in 1950. You can find his manner insufferably mid-Atlantic. . . But it would be extraordinarily hard to cite anyone writing today in English who more prodigiously combines civility, prolificness and versatility than William F. Buckley, Jr . . . Breathtakingly powerful. . . The core of the book is a rollicking adventure story of the spirit, an elaborate trek around and about the lofty peaks of belief and conviction. . . . It is compelling, and profoundly informative. . . . It presents a fascinating, intelligent and deeply humane demonstration of belief in the face of the most rigorous intellectual tests and challenges. . . Buckley's book is wonderfully exciting -- whether you are a believer or a skeptic.
Robert Sirico
This is the most respectful and serious treatment of the sweep of Catholic theology coming from a lay person -- and published by a mainstream house -- that I have seen in many years. -- Detroit News
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Buckley's account of a 1930s and '40s Catholic childhood spent at English boarding school and of a family life spent traveling Europe, living in huge homes peopled with butlers and beloved tutors will not whistle up similar memories for most Catholics of his, or any other, generation. Though the book includes autobiographical sections, this is less an autobiography than a collection of the author's opinions about things Catholic. Buckley and several prominent Catholic converts he consulted give the reader an informative and entertaining earful on everything from post-Vatican II liturgy, which Buckley finds aesthetically and theologically inferior, to the old Latin Massto and such current Catholic hot-button issues as the ordination of women and the use of contraceptives. An appendix presents a summary of the status of religious observances at a number of exclusive private secondary schools. This is a book by an author who eschews the merely trendy and speaks his own mind.
Michael Wright
. . .[A]n appealing, straightforward account of a life marked, as many are, by unexpected successes and crushing failures. -- The New York Times Book Review
New York Times Book Review
The author may be an imposing public intellectual but he's also a debout Christian, and this unusually personal essay is both a celebration of his lifelong Roman Catholicism and a doctrinal apologia for the church. "It is certain to provide many insights into the mind of a polished writer...and it will do much to explain how the hopefully changesless faith of a Catholic jubes with the politics of a late-20th-century American political conservative," William R. Everdell wrote here in 1997. - The New York Times Book Review, October 12, 1998 END
Kirkus Reviews
This eloquent spiritual 'autobiography' is, disappointingly, almost entirely about people other than Buckley, and about theology rather than faith. Buckley, erstwhile leader of the political right (founder and editor of the National Review) has departed from his usual subjects here. (Refreshingly, he humbly admits that this book took five years to write and that he was dissatisfied with the finished product, feeling that it lacked the fervor and narrative vigor usually associated with spiritual memoirs.) The book begins wonderfully: Buckley recounts his Catholic childhood in England and America, describing his devout parents, his privileged life of tutors, travels, and boarding schools. With his customary humor, he offers a teenager's view of Jesuit education; he also reveals a tender side, recounting his early prayers for his beloved mother's health (somewhat precarious after bearing 11 children). Yet the tenor of this chapter is in no way sustained throughout the book, which becomes an argumentative debate about the great issues of the Catholic Church. Even here, Buckley does not reveal much of himself, choosing instead to recount the intellectual struggles of adult friends who converted to Catholicism, among them Malcolm Muggeridge, Clare Boothe Luce, and Richard John Neuhaus. Buckley calls these pundits "the forum,' and he solicits their advice about many of the great theological debates: theodicy, the meaning of the crucifixion, papal infallibility ('the forum is divided on the issue of contraception," he tells us). Even the chapter entitled 'Experiencing Lourdes' is primarily a detached observer's discussion of the site's history and the Church's lengthy process forauthenticating miracles. One of the few hints we get about Buckley's own position is his restrained comment that 'the spiritual tonic is felt' by pilgrims at Lourdes. But despite the aloofness, Buckley remains, as ever, a witty and controversial commentator. Readers looking for meaty discussions of Catholic doctrine could do a lot worse.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780156006187
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
  • Publication date: 10/28/1998
  • Series: Harvest Book Series
  • Edition description: 1 HARVEST
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.08 (h) x 0.81 (d)

Meet the Author

William F. Buckley Jr. is the founder of National Review and was the host of what was television's longest-running program, Firing Line. He was recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The author of thirteen other novels, including Spytime and Nuremberg: The Reckoning, he lives in Connecticut.

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Interviews & Essays

On Friday, November 28th, on AOL welcomed William F. Buckley Jr. to discuss NEARER, MY GOD.

JainBN: Good evening, Mr. Buckley, and thank you for joining us.

William F Buckley Jr: Thank you.

JainBN: The audience is brimming with questions, so let's dive in.

Question: Creativity and spirituality seem to be difficult to sustain in an economy like ours. We aren't "thrown into" faith anymore. We're sucked into working more hours. How can we do better at balancing our lives?

William F Buckley Jr: It seems to me a balanced life begins by acknowledging the insufficiency of purely materialistic considerations, and therefore instinctively looks out for the other dimension that religion supplies you with.

Question: Mr. Buckley, what person in your life has had the most influence on you, and why? Thank you.

William F Buckley Jr: I don't know how to answer that question except to give the instinctive reply my mother.

Question: Mr. Buckley, do you believe all the tenets of the Catholic Church, and if not, which do you not believe, and why?

William F Buckley Jr: I believe that the Catholic Church speaks with authority initiated by Christ. Those of its tenets with which I disagree I tend to forget or ignore.

Question: As the creator of National Review, what's your opinion of TheWeekly Standard as a voice for neoconservatism? What about The New Republic as the neoliberal journal?

William F Buckley Jr: I think that The Weekly Standard is doing a splendid job. It's lively, it's on base, and it's very thorough and distinctive on Washington issues, and I'm very pleased that most of the people working on it grew out of the Review tradition. The New Republic is a pleasingly hectic journal, and although the thrust of its policies is liberal, conservatives can get from it a lot that is instructive or even gratifying.

Question: Do we have a prayer of getting a person who you have faith in elected as president in 2000? Briefly, what are your thoughts about the individuals who will be running for that office Gore, etc.?

William F Buckley Jr: You have no prayer about getting someone elected if you are fussy about your specifications as I tend to be.

Question: Does a distinction between public life and private life exist in modern America? Is that a good thing?

William F Buckley Jr: Yes, that distinction exists, and the interesting question at this point is where one draws the line.

Question: What are your hopes for the Freedom from Religious Persecution Act?

William F Buckley Jr: The act, in my judgment, doesn't sufficiently take into account geopolitical and economic requirements. I hope that it will only have an important symbolic victory.

Question: I know you support the legalization of drugs. Could you explain why? Have there been any studies which support your position?

William F Buckley Jr: I can't answer this satisfactorily in the amount of time allowed. But if the inquirer wants to investigate, they should write to the National Review and ask for the specialty issue on drug policy.

Question: How did the disruptions and achievements of Vatican II affect your own experience as a Catholic?

William F Buckley Jr: Vatican II attempted a great many things. Some of these were instantly apparent. For instance, the alterations in the liturgy and the transfer to vernacular language. These particular changes I have found unrewarding and distracting. Other changes that are designed to encourage the incorporation of the laity in religious life have been welcomed and may move themselves out, but I think it is too early to tell.

Question: What do you find most disturbing about how Hollywood depicts religion -- in both film and television? I'm curious as to whether or not you have an opinion about the surge of inspirational television programs being aired these days.

William F Buckley Jr: A chapter in my book deals with the Hollywood phenomenon and deals with its possible derivations. Hollywood features tend to suffer most from the presumptive objectionality of men and women or members of religious orders. As such it tends to demean the religious calling the way it wasn't done in such classical films of years gone by, like what one associates with Bing Crosby.

Question: I noticed in perusing your book recently that you spend quite a bit of time on works by Maria Valtorta. How do these writings inspire your own belief system and Catholicism?

William F Buckley Jr: Maria Valtorta was a visionary who thought that she had received special insights into the life of Christ. These were never acknowledged by the Church as authentic. This doesn't mean that she made them up, but it does mean that they may be products of her imagination. I did find a chapter on the crucifixion meaningful enough to include in my book. Yale is no different from comparable universities, of which I mean that the role of religion is much less important than it was 50 years ago. That doesn't make it a Godless place. They give God a seat at the back of the bus.

Question: How does it make you feel to see religion all but completely removed from the public school system?

William F Buckley Jr: I think removal of religious lore is a result of a fanaticization of the clause in the first amendment that guards against the establishment of religion. I think it's preposterous to deny students access to religious commandments.

Question: Can you tell us about your visit to the Vatican, back in the '80s? How incredible it must have been to be a man so well-grounded in his Catholicism in the private presence of the Pope.

William F Buckley Jr: What happened was that I was asked by a producer who had access to the Vatican; for the first time in history, he filmed a program using its facilities. He enlisted Malcolm Muggeridge, David Niven, Princess Grace, and Charlton Heston. Their assignment was to take two parables, "The Prodigal Son" and a second parable, and to give examples of how, in their experience, contemporary examples of those parables were reenacted. It was an exciting experience, though the documentary itself was never aired because there were too many distractions to make it viewable.

Question: Do you find multiculturalism objectionable? Don't you think God would embrace having his people embrace one another?

William F Buckley Jr: Multiculturalism is only objectionable if it denies a primacy of the regnant culture. The entire point of America is to accept foreigners and transform them into Americans.

Question: Can you tell us about your father's faith? Did you inherit it?

William F Buckley Jr: My father was a devout Christian, as was my mother, and there is no doubt that I "inherited" their faith.

Question: I'm curious as to what your position on celibacy for clergy is.

William F Buckley Jr: My position on celibacy for clergy is to respect the judgment of 2000 years that, in the case of Catholics, celibacy is encouraged, to focus the energies of the clergy on the spiritual aspects of life.

Question: What's your favorite kind of boat to skipper?

William F Buckley Jr: A sailboat. Sloops, cutters, yawls, and schooners.

Question: What's your favorite piano concerto?

William F Buckley Jr: Beethoven's fourth.

Question: Is there a poet who exemplifies your own spiritual beliefs?

William F Buckley Jr: No, not any single poet, though there are many I honor who were practicing Christians.

Question: How do you see the Catholic Church's position on birth control evolving, if at all?

William F Buckley Jr: There is considerable sentiment in favor of omitting birth control through the use of mechanistic devices. The Vatican has been adamant on the subject since 1968. And there is no evidence of any change in official opinion. However there is much evidence that the Vatican's position is widely discountenanced. And in my book I speculate how there can be a reconciliation between teaching and practice and its effect.

Question: I noticed that you wrote about Evelyn Waugh in your new book. What about this author intrigued you? I always found him very irreverent.

William F Buckley Jr: The irreverence of Evelyn Waugh was primarily a literary device by which he managed to make his point. This device is most evident in his remarkable book BRIDESHEAD REVISITED.

Question: Do you think your son got his sense of humor from your side of the family?

William F Buckley Jr: Not necessarily. My wife has a superb sense of humor -- he could have gotten it from either one of us, or both.

JainBN: This will be our last question for Mr. Buckley.

Question: Do you believe in miracles? And what was the last miracle you actually felt close to?

William F Buckley Jr: Never felt close to any miracle. I do believe in them, and I do feel that there is overwhelming evidence that they have occurred.

JainBN: Mr. Buckley, thanks so much for joining us. Please come again.

William F Buckley Jr: A very good night to you all.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2008

    Buckley is in Heaven Now

    Nearer, My God, is densely written and salted with such words as: animadversion, antimony, minence grise, funicular, *objurgations, piquant (a favorite), *proleptically, solipsism and *zucchetto. The asterisked words were not even listed in my 180,000 word Oxford Pocket American Dictionary. That fact makes me believe that many of the people who bought this book did not finish it, which is a loss for them. Speaking of 'people' there are not many who, like William F. Buckley, Jr., can work the word funicular into everyday conversation and experience. p For this baby-boomer born in the fertile fifties, and growing up watching Bill Buckley on his Firing Line program and making special appearances elsewhere on television, it really was something to get a prolonged look into bits of his personal life. p Nine brothers and sisters, fluent in three languages, a father richer than Croesus raised in multiple family homes in both America and Europe, with nine full time servants could explain his trademark relaxed pose as during interviews or discussions, he seems almost like a wet towel carefully draped over the chair to dry. p And as an adult he filmed a never-seen documentary inside the Sistine Chapel, met with two Popes and beginning in 1959 was able to 'take off' two months each year, to 'write and ski' in Switzerland calling as neighbors, actor David Niven and Princess Grace, who were also friends. In addition to being recruited by the CIA, when the words 'world traveler' are looked up in the encyclopedia, or these days Google, there is a photo of William F. Buckley Jr. looking out at you. p Nearer, My God was one of the very few non-fiction books in which I read every single word, from the tear-page's, 'Praise for William F. Buckley, Jr.'s Nearer My God', squinting at the microdot-sized footnotes, and all the way through Appendix A and B located prior to the twelve pages of the Index. p This is a fascinating, personal and explicit book about why this vastly accomplished man believes as he does. Having been raised in the Lutheran Church (broken away from the Catholic Church in the 1500s) I had a little more insight into Catholicism than another non-Catholic reader might have. p He steps through church history and along the way provides concrete evidence for Man's creation by a loving God. He visits most arguments for and against God and also why, other than being raised in it, he continues to abide with the Catholic magisterium, even after and its major manipulations of various facets of the faith. p While he answers many questions a non-Catholic, or as in my own case, being a lapsed Lutheran, an 'anti'-Catholic might have, he still hasn't convinced me that the Catholic church is the 'One Church'. On many of his points, the answers hinge on the belief that the Pope in Rome is the voice of God, and what that Pope states is gospel truth. To which he himself, might respond in another discussion by citing, 'That that is circular reasoning.' Of course, in actuality, he would use six and seven syllable words, not heard outside of a national spelling bee, to say the same thing. p The last chapter is a tribute to his mother Alois Steiner Buckley, which I loved since so many accomplished and successful men fail to recognize the almost absolute necessity of having a loving mother during childhood. p Nearer, My God An Autobiography of Faith should be read by any well-educated person who is questioning the existence of God, for this book has many answers. All non-Catholic practicing believers should also read it. And it certainly must be read by all Catholics, and as the National Catholic Reporter stated, 'Read it and wince, read it and weep, read it and smile, but read it.'

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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