Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Living in an Age of Change -- Niebuhr's thoughts

I was looking at my copy of the book Reinhold Niebuhr: Theologian of Public Life, (Harper Collins, 1989), a book that is part of "The Making of Modern Theology" series. I was looking for something he might have to say about the Afghanistan debate -- not Afghanistan in particular -- but the issue of engaging in the use of force (war). He had, as many know, moved from pacifism to a more "realistic" view in the 1930s. I didn't find here, what I was looking for, but I ran across a quote that speaks directly to the current sensibilities about the age. This comes from Moral Man, Immoral Society (1932).

Our age is, for good or ill, immersed in the social problem. A technological civilization makes stability impossible. It changes the circumstances of life too rapidly to incline any one to a reversed acceptance of an ancestral order. Its rapid developments and its almost daily changes in the physical circumstances of life destroy the physical symbols of stability and therefore make for restlessness, even if these movements were not in a direction which imperil the whole human enterprise. But the tendencies of an industrial era are in a definite direction. They tend to unite the whole of humanity in a system of economic interdependence. They make us more conscious of the relations of human communities. They obsess us therefore with the brutal aspects of man's collective behavior. They, furthermore, cumulate the evil consequences of these brutalities so rapidly that we feel under a tremendous urgency to solve our social problem before it is too late. As a generation we are therefore bound to feel harassed as well as disillusioned. (P. 80).

Does this statement, coming at the beginning of FDR's first term, and right in the midst of the Depression, sound prescient of the current age? Does it not also suggest that the 1950s really were an aberration? Change is part of life, and it makes stability, something we do grasp for, an almost impossible dream?


Anonymous said...

Of course, our biology obviously clashes with our technology and institutions. David Mc

"The roots of human cooperation may lie in human aggression. We are selfish by nature, yet also follow rules requiring us to be nice to others."

"One can only shudder at the thought that the humaneness of our societies would depend on the whims of politics, culture or religion.”

Tom Van Dyke said...

Change is part of life, and it makes stability,

Preserves stability, as in Edmund Burke, "A state without the means of change is without the means of its conservation."

However Burke is a bit imprecise here, as is his great flaw. Elsewhere he writes, "Change and reform are not identical," and we know that this reflects his true sentiment, that the French Revolution represented change, not reform.

Hi, Bob. You probably don't remember me from the American Creation blog, but I'm using you to argue [contra Dr. Gregg Frazer] that the unitarianism of the American Founding was still socio-historically Christian, since I would not call you anything but. Many in the Founding era accepted Jesus as Messiah or at least on a unique and divine mission, and embraced the Bible as Holy Writ [even if there were some adulterations].

That's my arguable definition of Christianity, and if I've read your blog correctly, that fits your theology to a "T."

You personally appear around comment #60, but I think the entire discussion is worthy.

Cheers, Pastor Bob. Hope this finds you well.