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Reinhold NiebuhrOn Politics, Religion, and Christian Faith$
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Richard Crouter

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780195379679

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195379679.001.0001

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Living with Niebuhr’s Legacy

Living with Niebuhr’s Legacy

(p.116) 7 Living with Niebuhr’s Legacy
Reinhold Niebuhr

Richard Crouter (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This book’s final chapter inquires into the consequences of living in the light of Niebuhr’s complex teaching. The illusions of naive optimism reign today just as in his lifetime. Niebuhr’s legacy of critical Christian thought invites us to reflect on the need for self-knowledge, doubt, and toleration in today’s world. Niebuhr’s Christian social ethics appreciates the advances of the natural and social sciences without placing supreme confidence in their authority and certitude. His hard-edged realism is badly needed in a world full of wishful thinking; self-critical Niebuhrianism is the best response to the new atheistic critics, such as Christopher Hitchens. Niebuhr agrees with contemporary novelist Marilynne Robinson and literary critic Terry Eagleton that supreme certitude yields an attitude that makes “Christianity un-Christian.” His sense of human limits does not negate human achievement so much as it puts human hope into a grander, more complex way of understanding.

Keywords:   illusions of naïve optimism, self-knowledge, doubt, toleration, supreme certitude, Christopher Hitchens, Marilynne Robinson, Terry Eagleton, wishful thinking, self-critical Niebuhrianism, Christianity as un-Christian

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