Monday, September 19, 2005

Reinhold Niebuhr

Arthur Schlesinger's essay in Sunday's NYTimes is entitled, "Forgetting Reinhold Niebuhr." In the interest of keeping alive the ideas that Mr. Niebuhr espoused, I am dedicating today to this article.

The idea of liberal Christianity, a Christianity that supports labor unions and sympathizes with the Socialist Party seems exotic today. But I was raised on this theology, and it comes straight from the New Testament. I never really needed Paul Tillich or Reinhold Niebuhr to tell me that Jesus cares about the poor, the sick, the imprisoned--and that He commands us to do the same. It's in the Bible. When Jesus was asked, what is the greatest commandment, He said,
"The first is, 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.' The second is this, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these." And the scribe said to him, "You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that he is one, and there is no other but he; and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices." And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."

It is my opinion that this is the heart of the New Testament, and that anyone who wants to be a Christian should start here.

Niebuhr had an objection to the "individualistic" gospel of Billy Graham. The emphasis on sin and salvation leaves out the social obligations that Jesus emphasized. ("Do you love me? Feed my lambs.")

We haven't all forgotten Reinhold Niebuhr.


CagedRabbit said...

I agree with you on this. Last year during the presidential campaign I wanted someone to ask Bush about helping the poor, since he professes to be so religious. Or about starting a war - what would Jesus do?

Haven't thought about Niebuhr for awhile...

Jeremy said...

Hi Karen! Thanks for stopping by!

I think it's one of the great ironies of our time that Christianity has be co-opted by the political right, to whom the ideas of charity, compassion, forgiveness, and acceptance are so foreign. But they sure do feel strongly about abortion.