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Tony Snow, Catholic, Dead at 53


Tony Snow, journalist and aide to two presidents, died on Saturday at the age of 53.

Tony Snow

As with the death last month of beloved journalist Tim Russert, friends and fans are grieving the loss. Like Russert, Snow was a devoted family man with a strong Christian faith. I thought most obituaries of Russert did a good job of including religion in their tributes. Let's look at some of the accounts of Snow's death.

For context, here's a bit from an essay Snow wrote for Christianity Today last year. The magazine asked Snow what spiritual lessons he has been learning through his ordeal with colon cancer. His lengthy piece explains a great deal about how his faith has guided him in life:

I don't know why I have cancer, and I don't much care. It is what it is -- a plain and indisputable fact. Yet even while staring into a mirror darkly, great and stunning truths begin to take shape. Our maladies define a central feature of our existence: We are fallen. We are imperfect. Our bodies give out.

But despite this -- because of it -- God offers the possibility of salvation and grace. We don't know how the narrative of our lives will end, but we get to choose how to use the interval between now and the moment we meet our Creator face-to-face.

Second, we need to get past the anxiety. The mere thought of dying can send adrenaline flooding through your system. A dizzy, unfocused panic seizes you. Your heart thumps; your head swims. You think of nothingness and swoon. You fear partings; you worry about the impact on family and friends. You fidget and get nowhere.

To regain footing, remember that we were born not into death, but into life -- and that the journey continues after we have finished our days on this earth. We accept this on faith, but that faith is nourished by a conviction that stirs even within many nonbelieving hearts -- an intuition that the gift of life, once given, cannot be taken away. Those who have been stricken enjoy the special privilege of being able to fight with their might, main, and faith to live -- fully, richly, exuberantly -- no matter how their days may be numbered.

Snow was, I believe, a convert to Roman Catholicism and he gave a notable commencement address at Catholic University of America last year about love.

While the New York Times and the Washington Post found room to include Snow's salary at his White House job, neither of them mentioned his strong religious views that were so integral to his outlook on life. The New York Times, along with the Associated Press and Washington Post, made somewhat odd digs in their obituaries about Snow's supposed problem with facts during his press secretary stint. (He was known for his expertise at explaining the big picture rather than specific policy details.) So I found it particularly funny that the Times story had its own problem with facts:

During Mr. Bush's 2006 re-election campaign . . .

Howard Kurtz's piece in the Washington Post described how Snow won the respect of journalists while serving as press secretary. It's a nice piece that shows much more personality than much of what has been written but it's completely silent about Snow's faith.

People interested in that element should be sure to read William Kristol's touching and provocative tribute to his friend on the New York Times editorial page:

His deep Christian faith combined with his natural exuberance to give him an upbeat world view. Watching him, and so admiring his remarkable strength of character in the last phase of his life, I came to wonder: Could it be that a stance of faith-grounded optimism is in fact superior to one of worldly pessimism or sophisticated fatalism?

Catholic Online also did a fantastic piece about Snow's religious views. But mainstream media coverage, as noted above, was somewhat lacking. Mike Allen at Politico nailed it, mentioning early in his story that Snow "spoke subtly but convincingly about his Christian faith."

The Washington Times did a much better job than their across town competition by quoting people familiar with Snow's commitment to faith and family. Reporter Jon Ward also dug up that Christianity Today piece from last year:

One year ago, Mr. Snow wrote a column about his bout with cancer for Christianity Today magazine, titled "Cancer's Unexpected Blessings." Staring death in the face, he said, had "swept away everything trivial and tinny, and placed before us the challenge of important questions."

"The moment you enter the Valley of the Shadow of Death, things change. You discover that Christianity is not something doughy, passive, pious and soft. Faith may be the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. But it also draws you into a world shorn of fearful caution. The life of belief teems with thrills, boldness, danger, shocks, reversals, triumphs and epiphanies," wrote Mr. Snow, a Roman Catholic.

"We get repeated chances to learn that life is not about us -- that we acquire purpose and satisfaction by sharing in God's love for others. Sickness gets us partway there."

Considering all of the material that could be drawn on, it is somewhat surprising that most major coverage failed to mention Snow's Christian faith.

Remembering Tony Snow



Mollie Hemingway. "Tony Snow, Catholic, dead at 53." Get (July 14, 2008).

Reprinted by permission of and Mollie Hemingway. The original posting of this article is here.

The Author

Mollie Hemingway is a Washington writer who writes for Get Religion. She is the author of Losing Our Religion.

Copyright © 2008 Get Religion
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