Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Who said this? When? About What?

The following quote could well be a commentary against US involvement in Iraq:
“The inactivity of radical Christianity is not the inactivity of those who call evil good; it is the inaction of those who do not judge their neighbors because they cannot fool themselves into a sense of superior righteousness. It is not the inactivity of a resigned patience, but of a patience that is full of hope and is based on faith. It is not the inactivity of the noncombatant, for it knows that there is no noncombatants, that everyone is involved … it is not the inactivity of the merciless, for works of mercy must be performed though they are only palliatives to ease present pain while the process of healing depends on deeper, more actual and urgent forces.”

Who said this? When? About What? See comment 1.


Blogger Mark Moore said...

This was written by Richard Niebuhr, professor of Ethics at Yale University in the March 23, 1932 issue of the Christian Century concerning the US military intervention in the Sino-Japanese conflict. Interestingly, one week later his brother, Reinholt Niebuhr, professor of Ethics at Union, wrote a rebuttal that severely wounded Richard. Both pieces are worth reading for two reasons. First, each has a well-argued position of pacifism and intervention (respectively). Second, the issue is mirrored in our involvement in Iraq. Can we trust God alone to direct the affairs of nations, allowing our pacifism to be our action? Or do we participate with God in militaristic intervention, carrying out his justice and even vengeance

November 15, 2006 at 9:52 AM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...


There was also a reply from Richard to Reinhold's rebuttal, the following week. All three articles can be read in their entirety at

Just copy and paste the above address into the address bar of your browser.

In response to Mark's question, a quick word about Reinhold Niebuhr's ethics. Reinhold is the first to admit that his ethics are not the ethics of Jesus. For Reinhold, the ethic of Jesus is a transcendent love that stands above all our attempts at justice. Christ's love is the goal toward which we strive, and it is the critic of our efforts to obtain justice, but it is not a realistic way to deal with evil in this world. For Reinhold, the cross event is one that stands on the edges of history. In other words, for Reinhold, Christian love is not a real world solution. Any time it comes into the world, the world immediately and definitively expels it. The cross is a kind of warning. It tells us we had better look elsewhere than Jesus if we are going to preserve the world from self-destruction. In Reinhold's theology, the resurrection is virtually incidental to the crucifixion, and, by holding Christ's love above this-worldly justice, Reinhold effectively makes love incidental to the problem of evil. For Reinhold, American democracy became the light of the world, since anyone who wanted to make Christian love normative for Christians was considered politically irrelevant.

Reinhold Niebuhr did more than any other theologian in the 20th century to shape American Christians' view of Christianity and political responsibility.


December 12, 2006 at 1:59 AM  
Blogger Eric Pagan said...

thanks for your strong commendation and propogation of Reinhold Niebuhr's thought on intervention, I think that clear thinking readers will be inspired to vote Republican and pray that America will do the job in the world that the church can't do. I know I will.

March 6, 2007 at 5:26 PM  
Blogger Thom Stark said...


My work here is clearly done.


March 8, 2007 at 5:30 PM  

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