Thursday, November 20, 2008

Fleshler on Niebuhr

Dan Fleshler on Reinhold Niebuhr. Niebuhr was a Christian theologian, an major influence on Martin Luther King Jr., and the author of the serenity prayer.
God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
A pacifist until the Nazis made him change his stance, but unlike many others, he understood the Nazis from early on. Today, the Serenity Prayer is probably best known for being popular with Alcoholics Anonymous, but many WWII soldiers carried copies into battle. Fleshler writes:
It is also true, as Basevich points out, that “Niebuhr specialized in precise distinctions. He supported US intervention in World War II - and condemned the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended that war. After 1945, Niebuhr believed it just and necessary to contain the Soviet Union. Yet he forcefully opposed US intervention in Vietnam.”

In other words, he was…a realistic dove. A passionate moderate. I choose to believe that he would have seen that the only rational, and moral way out of the Israeli-Palestinian nightmare was a two-state solution. And, just as he called for governmental activism on a host of issues –including the civil rights of black Americans–, surely Niebuhr would have called upon the Obama Administration to DO SOMETHING about the Israeli-Palestinian question, even though he might have been skeptical of its ability to succeed. The establishment of a Jewish state was a bold idea when he endorsed it. But there were times when he insisted upon boldness that was tempered with realism.
More about Niebuhr from this episode of Speaking of Faith, from NPR.

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