Unfamiliar with Niebuhr? We talk to documentary film-maker Martin Doblmeier in episode 19 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast. The recent release of Doblmeier’s An American Conscience: The Reinhold Niebuhr Story seems to have inspired Zubovich’s essay.
Here is a taste:
Niebuhr’s popularity began to wane in the 1960s and 1970s. Liberation theology overtook Niebuhr’s Christian realism in seminaries, while popular commentators became suspicious of endorsements of America’s military muscle at a moment when it was being flexed in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Millions of mainline Protestants stopped going to church while evangelicals cared little for Niebuhr’s liberal theology. Niebuhr was losing his audience.
By the 1980s, academics—who had never taken Niebuhr seriously—deconstructed the very foundations of Niebuhrian thought. Niebuhr spoke of the sinful nature of man. But academics showed that “human nature” was a fiction. The world is radically pluralistic. There is no singular, universal person but a variety of people divided by culture, nationality, and gender. And what seems natural to us is usually “constructed” through historical and political forces, often times for nefarious ends. Niebuhr’s ideas started to seem misguided at best.
It took the tragic events of September 11, 2001, to revive Niebuhr. Sin, irony, and tragedy had returned to the American vocabulary. Those fighting the war on terror—Obama the most famous among them—turned to Niebuhr. But Niebuhr’s revival begs the question: Why does a theologian who reached the height of his popularity in the atomic age speak clearly to so many in the age of terror?
Read the rest here.