Reinhold Niebuhr Quotes

Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr, 1892 – 1971

Born: 21 June 1892, Wright City, Missouri
Died: 1 June 1971, Stockbridge, Massachusetts

Born to German immigrants, his father was a pastor in a Calvinist tradition associated with the Prussian Church Union in Germany. He graduated from Elmhurst College in Illinois in 1910, went on to Eden Theological Seminary at Webster Groves, Missouri, and then earned a Bachelor of Divinity (1914) and a Master of Arts (1915) from Yale Divinity. He was ordained that year and sent to Bethel Evangelical Church at Detroit, Michigan. He served that church until 1928, the congregation grew from 65 to almost 700 during his tenure. During World War I he called on his German-speaking flock to be loyal to the US and gained national attention for his patriotic appeals. Seeing the effects of unbridled capitalism in the car industry he became a socialist but by the end of World War II had become a liberal Democrat and co-founder of Americans for Democratic Action. In 1928 he became a professor of theology at Union Theological Seminary at New York City where he taught until his retirement in 1960. He became strongly anti-Communist after Stalin signed his pact with Hitler and spoke out in favor of the War, breaking with many of his fellow liberals. There has been much research into the origin of the “Serenity Prayer”, we think Niebuhr is the original source.

Reinhold Niebuhr quotes:

A church has the right to set its own standards within its community. I don’t think it has a right to prohibit birth control or to enforce upon a secular society its conception of divorce and the indissolubility of the marriage tie.
    Reinhold Niebuhr – The Mike Wallace Interview on ABC (27 April 1958)

All social cooperation on a larger scale than the most intimate social group requires a measure of coercion.
    Reinhold Niebuhr – Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932)

Democracies are indeed slow to make war, but once embarked upon a martial venture are equally slow to make peace and reluctant to make a tolerable, rather than a vindictive, peace.
    Reinhold Niebuhr

Democracy is finding proximate solutions to insoluble problems.
    Reinhold Niebuhr

Democracy means not ‘I am as good as you are,’ but ‘You are as good as I am.’
    Reinhold Niebuhr

Despotism, which we regard with abhorrence, is rather too plausible in decaying feudal, agrarian, pastoral societies. That’s why we must expect to have many a defeat before we’ll have an ultimate victory in this contest with Communism.
    Reinhold Niebuhr – The Mike Wallace Interview on ABC (27 April 1958)

Even as rigorous a determinist as Karl Marx, who at times described the social behaviour of the bourgeoisie in terms which suggested a problem in social physics, could subject it at other times to a withering scorn which only the presupposition of moral responsibility could justify.
    Reinhold Niebuhr – An Interpretation Of Christian Ethics (1935)

Family life is too intimate to be preserved by the spirit of justice. It can be sustained by a spirit of love which goes beyond justice.
    Reinhold Niebuhr

Fanatic orthodoxy is never rooted in faith but in doubt. It is when we are not sure that we are doubly sure.
    Reinhold Niebuhr

For man as an historical creature has desires of indeterminate dimensions.
    Reinhold Niebuhr – The Irony of American History (1952)

Forgiveness is the final form of love.
    Reinhold Niebuhr

Freedom is necessary for two reasons. It’s necessary for the individual, because the individual, no matter how good the society is, every individual has hopes, fears, ambitions, creative urges, that transcend the purposes of his society. Therefore we have a long history of freedom, where people try to extricate themselves from tyranny for the sake of art, for the sake of science, for the sake of religion, for the sake of the conscience of the individual — this freedom is necessary for the individual.
    Reinhold Niebuhr – The Mike Wallace Interview on ABC (27 April 1958)

God give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.
    Reinhold Niebuhr – Version from 1942

Goodness, armed with power, is corrupted; and pure love without power is destroyed.
    Reinhold Niebuhr

Human beings are endowed by nature with both selfish and unselfish impulses.
    Reinhold Niebuhr – Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932)

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