Christian Realist Reinhold Niebuhr retains a very active presence in U.S. political culture almost 37 years after his death. For example, Obama claims to be influenced by Niebuhr. (A topic already broached at this blog.) Journalist E.J. Dionne writes, “On the few occasions I have spoken with Obama about his faith, he has evinced an understanding of the spiritual lives of Americans and familiarity with Reinhold Niebuhr’s theology of skepticism and humility.” In a favorable evaluation of Obama’s recent celebrated speech on race, historian Leo P. Ribuffo concludes that Obama is indeed Niebuhrian, the “hope” mantra notwithstanding.
The question I pose to the reader: Why is Niebuhr sill so relevant? Is it because he expounded on Christian ethics in a way that appeals to Christians not of the Christian Right? Is it because he tempered the utopian and millennialist desires so common to American thought with a healthy dose of skepticism? Is it because he offers a rationale for the necessity of political involvement that navigates the terrain between fanaticism and nihilism? Your thoughts?