Thursday, September 04, 2014

Unethical Nature of the Conventional Life -- Reinhold Niebuhr

I live a pretty conventional and respectable life.  I'm comfortably middle class and live in a comfortable upwardly mobile middle class/upper middle class community.  This is my neighborhood, for which I am trying to invest myself in ways that might diverge from comfortable respectability.  At least that's my desire.  

Thinking about what I might want to share today I starting paging through Reinhold Niebuhr's Leaves from the Note Book of a Tamed Cynic.  In this entry from 1926, Niebuhr the pastor comments on how we sometimes lose focus as church and as preachers on what is important.  Though the issues of the 1920s might be a bit different from today, I think you'll see some parallels.  Take a read, offer your thoughts.



Here is a preacher whom I have suspected of cowardice for years because he never deviated by a hair’s breadth from the economic prejudices of his wealthy congregation. I thought he knew better but was simply afraid to speak out and seek to qualify the arch-conservatism of his complacent crowd with a little Christian idealism. But I was mistaken.. I have just heard that he recently included in his sermon a tirade against women who smoke cigarettes and lost almost a hundred of his fashionable parishioners. He is evidently not lacking courage in matters upon which he has deep convictions. Nobody, for that matter, lacks courage when convictions are strong. Courage is simply the rigorous devotion to one set of values against other values and interests. 
Protestantism’s present impotence in qualifying the economic and social life of the nation is due not so much to the pusillanimity of the clerical leaders as to its individualistic traditions. The church honestly regards it of greater moment to prevent women from smoking cigarettes than to establish more Christian standards in industrial enterprise . A minister who tries to prevent fashionable women from smoking cigarettes is simply trying to enforce a code of personal habit established in the middle classes of the nineteenth century upon the plutocratic classes of the twentieth century. The effort is not only vain but has little to do with essential Christianity. 
I would not deny that some real values may be at stake in such questions of personal habits. But they affect the dominant motives which determine the spirituality or sensuality of character but slightly. The church does not seem to realize how unethical a conventionally respectable life may be. [Niebuhr,, Reinhold (2013-04-16). Leaves From The Note Book Of A Tamed Cynic (Kindle Locations 766-779). Read Books Ltd.. Kindle Edition.] 

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