Reinhold Niebuhr

I have been reading Leaves from the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic lately. The following is his journal entry from 1925.

When I sit through a church conference I begin to see a little more clearly why religion is on the whole so impotent ethically, why the achievements of the church are so meager compared to its moral pretensions. Sermon after sermon, speech after speech is based upon the assumption that the people of the church are committed to the ethical ideals of Jesus and that they are the sole or at least chief agents of redemptive energy in society.
It is very difficult to persuade people who are committed to a general ideal to consider the meaning of that ideal in specific situations. It is even more difficult to prompt them to consider specific ends of social and individual conduct and to evaluate them in the light of experience.
The church conference begins and ends by attempting to arouse an emotion of the ideal, usually in terms of personal loyalty to the person of Jesus, but very little is done to attach the emotion to specific tasks and projects. Is the industrial life of our day unethical? Are nations imperialistic? Is the family disintegrating? Are young people losing their sense of values? If so, we are told over and over again that nothing will help but “a new baptism of the spirit,” a “new revival of religion,” a “great awakening of the religious consciousness.”
But why not be specific? Why doesn’t the church offer specific suggestions for the application of a Christian ethic to the difficulties of our day? If that suggestion is made, the answer is that such a policy would breed contention. It certainly would. No moral project can be presented and no adventure made without resistance from the traditionalist and debate among experimentalists. But besides being more effective, such a course would be more interesting than this constant bathing in sentimentalities. If the church could only achieve schisms on ethical issues! they would represent life and reality. Its present schisms are not immoral as such. They are immoral only in the sense that they perpetuate issues which have no relevancy in our day.

Funny, I seem to remember a number of times in Ecclesiasties that Solomon points out that there is nothing new under the sun. Has our Southern Baptist religion relay progressed beyond what we were 100 years ago, or are we still fighting the same battles with different titles? Are we still ignoring the needs of the people in the name of a faith we don’t even truly practice?


~ by bchatcher on May 28, 2008.

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