Reinhold Niebuhr

Theologian, Author

1892 – 1971

51

Who was Reinhold Niebuhr?

Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr was an American theologian, ethicist, public intellectual, commentator on politics and public affairs, and professor at Union Theological Seminary for more than 30 years. The brother of another prominent theological ethicist, H. Richard Niebuhr, he is also known for authoring the Serenity Prayer, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1964. Among his most influential books are Moral Man and Immoral Society and The Nature and Destiny of Man. Starting as a minister with working-class and labor class sympathies in the 1920s oriented to theological pacifism, he shifted to neo-orthodox realist theology in the 1930s and developed the theo-philosophical perspective known as Christian realism. He attacked utopianism as ineffectual for dealing with reality, writing in The Children of Light and the Children of Darkness:

Niebuhr's realism deepened after 1945 and led him to support American efforts to confront Soviet communism around the world. A powerful speaker, he was one of the most influential thinkers of the 1940s and 1950s in public affairs. Niebuhr battled with religious liberals over what he called their naïve views of the contradictions of human nature and the optimism of the Social Gospel, and battled with the religious conservatives over what he viewed as their naïve view of scripture and their narrow definition of "true religion". During this time he was viewed by many as the intellectual rival of John Dewey. Niebuhr was also one of the founders of Americans for Democratic Action and spent time at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.

Famous Quotes:

  • God give me the serenity to accept things which cannot be changed;Give me courage to change things which must be changed;And the wisdom to distinguish one from the other.
  • Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.
  • I think there ought to be a club in which preachers and journalists could come together and have the sentimentalism of the one matched with the cynicism of the other. That ought to bring them pretty close to the truth.
  • If we survive danger it steels our courage more than anything else.
  • Family life is too intimate to be preserved by the spirit of justice. It can be sustained by a spirit of love which goes beyond justice.
  • The mastery of nature is vainly believed to be an adequate substitute for self mastery.
  • Life is a battle between faith and reason in which each feeds upon the other, drawing sustenance from it and destroying it.
  • The sad duty of politics is to establish justice in a sinful world.
  • There is no cure for the pride of a virtuous nation but pure religion.
  • A wise architect observed that you could break the laws of architectural art provided you had mastered them first. That would apply to religion as well as to art. Ignorance of the past does not guarantee freedom from its imperfections.

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Born
Jun 21, 1892
Wright City
Siblings
Spouses
Religion
  • Protestantism
  • United Church of Christ
Nationality
  • United States of America
  • Germany
Profession
Education
  • Yale Divinity School
  • Eden Theological Seminary
  • Elmhurst College
  • Yale University
Died
Jun 1, 1971
Stockbridge

Submitted
on July 23, 2013

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