Fred Clark: Obama and Niebuhr

Current Affairs / Religion

One of my favorite bloggers has a post up tonight on the influence that Reinhold Niebuhr has had on Senator Obama:

“In comments, Chris M. points us to a fascinating discussion of ‘Obama and Niebuhr’ from Casey Blake of The New Republic. Times Select columnist David Brooks apparently asked the Illinois senator about theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. ‘What Do you take away from him?’ Brooks asked:

‘I take away,’ Obama answered in a rush of words, ‘the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away … the sense we have to make these efforts knowing they are hard, and not swinging from naïve idealism to bitter realism.’
Without even considering the substance of Obama’s comment, it’s easy to see from this why his campaign has generated so much excitement. Here is a man who speaks off the cuff in complete sentences and complete paragraphs. The contrast with our current president couldn’t be more stark.

I share Obama’s admiration for Niebuhr, who was probably the greatest 20th-century theologian, particularly on the subject of human nature. The overall gist of his perspective could be summed up in one of my favorite lines from Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett’s Good Omens:

It may help to understand human affairs to be clear that most of the great triumphs and tragedies of history are caused, not by people being fundamentally good or fundamentally bad, but by people being fundamentally people.”

Read the rest here: Obama and Niebuhr

(Via slacktivist.)

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...