How Obama's Faith Guide's His Politics
From Niebuhr, Obama said, "I take away the compelling idea that there's serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief that we can eliminate these things. But we shouldn't use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away the sense that we have to make these efforts knowing they are hard and not swinging from naive idealism to bitter realism."
In deftly summarizing Niebuhr's thought, Illinois's junior senator provides insight into his own. Unlike some religious liberals, Obama understands that there's real evil in the world and that saying "peace" will not bring it about.
But unlike many contemporary religious conservatives, Obama believes that we must be humble and modest in our ambitions as well as in our claims for our own virtue. In contrast to the evangelical fervor of President Bush and his grand idea of bringing freedom and planting democracy, Obama appears to be a man of more modest hopes. Modest hopes, hope tempered by realism, and awareness of our own fallibility are themes Niebuhr brought to American life and theology.