Monday, September 01, 2008

Reinhold Niebuhr

In an earlier entry to this blog I bemoaned the lack of great American Protestant theologians. Clearly I was ignorant of prominence of Reinhold Niebuhr, I name I'd heard of without fully understanding the importance of. Niebuhr was a fascinating and complex man of Missouri-German extraction who spent time in boom-era Detroit and post World War One Europe among other places, gleaning profound lessons on social injustice from the ravages of the Great Depression and the Great War. His was an activist Christianity that sought to address the ills of a fast-changing modern world, hybridizing the Gospel with the humanitarian aims of democracy, socialism, communism and Marxism. The Cold War gave the latter three a bad name, but let's not forget the Cold War is over.

Niebuhr is also credited with penning the famous "serenity prayer" -- give me the serenity to accept those things I cannot change, the strength to change those I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. I always thought this prayer, which has been adopted by Alcoholics Anonymous, was a Catholic or Jesuit thing. Another case of my ignorance.

Niebuhr has been very influential in our times -- among those who have cited him as an influence are Martin Luther King, Jr., Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama.


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