May 11, 2010

Seriously but not literally

I guess one mark of a great theologian is that they have something to say even to people outside of their religious tradition. Several names come to mind in this context: Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Kierkegaard, Paul Tillich. And Reinhold Niebuhr would certainly be on many people's short list.

Niebuhr was born in Missouri in 1892, the son of a pastor in the German Evangelical tradition. He followed in his father's footsteps and served as a pastor in industrial Detroit for several years, where he criticized the brutality of the factory system.

From 1928 until 1960 he taught theology at Union Theological Seminary and for most of those years was very active in political life. In the 1930s he supported the Socialist Party but later became something of a New Deal pragmatist and political realist. He has been claimed by people across the political spectrum, from progressives to neo-cons.

His theology is sometimes described as neo-orthodox, which takes the Biblical and Christian theological tradition seriously if not literally. Above all, Niebuhr takes the idea of sin very seriously indeed and applies it broadly to human social life.

I think one reason I like him so much is that this is one of the few areas in which El Cabrero is in the orthodox camp.

One of his most famous books is the 1932 Moral Man and Immoral Society, parts of which holds up remarkably well. More on that tomorrow.

GOING LOCAL. This item looks at the importance of local economies.

HARD SCIENCE. Here's some research on marital felicity.

ARCHAEOLOGY MADE EASY. New technology makes it possible to map ancient civilizations in a fraction of the time required by traditional methods.

IT PASSED. NOW WHAT? Now that health care reform is the law of the land, it will take a lot of education and outreach to help people understand what it is and isn't. Here's what local groups in WV are planning to do.


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