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Why Niebuhr Now? Hardcover – 19 Aug 2011


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Review

"John Patrick Diggins was the most philosophical-minded of the American historians. He was always trying to get at the big questions, about heroism, virtue, and the conflict between utopian aspirations and the disappointments of life. His work was a kind of ongoing meditation." (Paul Berman, New York Times)"

About the Author

John Patrick Diggins (1935-2009) was distinguished professor at the City University of New York and the author of many books, including Eugene O'Neill's America and The Promise of Pragmatism, both published by the University of Chicago Press.


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Amazon.com: HASH(0x94a6bd08) out of 5 stars 1 review
7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x94a76294) out of 5 stars NIEBUHR A NIHILIST? 24 May 2012
By Thomas J. Bieter - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having read Professor Diggins' masterful study of pragmatism, The Promise of Pragmatism: Modernism and the Crisis of Knowledge and Authority
I was delighted when I discovered the publication of Why Niebuhr Now ? Why Niebuhr Now?

I was unfamiliar with Niebuhr when I read in Professor Kloppenberg's excellent book Reading Obama Reading Obama: Dreams, Hope, and the American Political Tradition [New in Paper]
that: "The columnist David Brooks in particular has written extensively about Obama's sustained engagement with the writings of Niebuhr, and Obama himself has often cited Niebuhr as an important influence on his thought." p. 120 Kloppenberg also describes Obama as a philosophical pragmatist. Intrigued by the apparent contradiction between Obama's Christianity and philosophical pragmatism, and interested in President Obama's intellectual worldview, I decided that I would investigate the life and thought of Reinhold Niebuhr.

Diggins (April 1, 1935 - January 28, 2009) was a first-rate historian. Thus, this is a brief history of Niebuhr. The author skillfully situates Niebuhr (June 21st, 1892 - June 1st, 1971) in relation to many significant people, ideas, and events of his time, often in fascinating but brief detail. For me, the work was an informative and enjoyable read.

Finally, when I began my investigation of Niebuhr, I came upon The Pragmatic God - On the Nihilism of Reinhold Niebuhr, by Professor Harry J. Ausmus. The Pragmatic God (American University Studies. Series VII. Theology and Religion)
Curious, I got the book from the library and read it quickly. Strangely, I was unable to find a review of the book. The author's thesis is that the logical consequence of Niebuhr's thought is nihilism, certainly a rather serious charge to make against a prominent theologian/preacher! In my opinion, the neglect of the challenge of the book's thesis by scholars in history, philosophy, and religion is culpable. One must speculate that perhaps many intellectuals avoid thinking about nihilism due to a fear that they may confront some nihilism in their thought.

I thought about the nihilism thesis when I read the following surprising paragraphs in WHY NIEBUHR NOW?:

"Whether a supreme being exists was of less importance to Reinhold Niebuhr than the message Christianity holds out to humankind. The theologian would describe God as the center of meaning, the source of love, and "the ground of existence and the essence which transcends existence:'2 But these formulations were for him a "mythical paradox." Niebuhr treated as symbolic many of the claims made about God, which he took seriously but not literally. The biblical tale's depiction of the human condition had no inevitability of death.

Niebuhr felt God as more an absence than a presence, and he attempted to describe what God's absence meant for the self, which is the core of human existence. For Niebuhr the self is finite and in a state of constant anxiety, susceptible to self-seeking and self-deceit. Niebuhr's quarrel was not with God but with God's fallen creatures, especially men and women who refuse to face the limits of their own human nature and strut high and mighty through life, victims of pride and blind to sin." (Underlining added)
John Patrick Diggins. Why Niebuhr Now? (Kindle Location 1252-1261). Kindle Edition.

And I wondered: Did Niebuhr actually believe that the historical person, Jesus Christ, was a Supreme Being?
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