Niebuhr Part One
I've been reading Reinhold Niebuhr for an independent reading course. Below are some preliminary impressions. Also there will be subsequent posts with further thoughts on his work.
Gordon Kaufman argues that theology has two tasks: to relativize us and to humanize us. I take that to be Niebuhr's project. These two tasks are connected up because much of the injustices that are committed against others occur when one claims more than we can claim, whether that is power, or knowledge, etc.
If religion can instill a sense of humility by highlighting our limits, of our own partialities, and the way our own interests can make us not aware of a wider set of needs, interests, considerations, then we will be less likely to act roughshod over others.
Religion can do this in two respects: by widening our sense of who we are responsible for. And it can present to us ideals, which are sufficiently high that anything that we actually have created, believe, or act out of is reduced to little in light of this ideal.
In terms of strategies, I get the impression that H.Richard Niebuhr focused much of his energies with the first one, with his language of radical monotheism. Reinhold Niebuhr the latter, especially with his discussion of the impossible ideal and his attacks on the pretensions that the most well meaning of us may have.
But I wonder if Reinhold Niebuhr provides a sufficient basis for constructing an alternative vision of a better world? He is able to poke holes at the limited visions of his day and by extension ours. But what vision does he have that could move folks? I suspect you would want the visionaries and the cautionary word of a Niebuhr in the mix.