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Monday, May 07, 2007

Barack Obama and Reinhold Niebuhr

I came across this post today, courtesy of Jesus Politics. In my research on T.B. Maston, I discovered that many Southern Baptist progressives especially those from Texas claimed to be heavily influenced by the thought of the Niebuhr brothers. Maston earned his Ph.D. under Richard Niebuhr at Yale while both JimmyAllen and James Dunn studied the writings of both Richard and Reinhold. Anyways, a snippet below from the article.
David Brooks was delighted by the response he received when he popped the Reinhold Niebuhr question to Barack Obama a week or so ago. "I love him." Obama said. "He's one of my favorite philosophers." Needless to say, Brooks was impressed. "So I asked, What do you take away from him?"

"I take away," Obama answered in a rush of words, "the compelling idea that there's serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn't use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away ... the sense we have to make these efforts knowing they are hard, and not swinging from naïve idealism to bitter realism."

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Blogger Dan Trabue said...

Impressive. At a guess, none of the remaining candidates - Dem or Republican - could spell Reinhold Niebuhr, much less have read him. Kucinich, maybe.

And, of course, our current prez likely couldn't pronounce his name, much less spell or have read him.

Bad Dan...

5:33 AM

Blogger Bart Barber said...


Bush: Yale graduate, accomplished businessman, twice-elected President of the United States.

Bart Barber: Measures up pretty poorly against that list.

Dan Trabue: ???

5:53 PM

Anonymous Michael Westmoreland-White said...

The fact that Bush graduated (or was even admitted to) Yale and Harvard Business School shows that money trumps brains. It's very sad.

As for "accomplished businessman," Bush's business ventures were failures. "Twice elected" President? Really? He flunked the popular vote in '00 and if the Supreme Court hadn't weighed in, he would have also lost the electoral college. In '04 he did win the popular vote, but there are so many questions about Ohio that it is possible that this election was also stolen."

Obama seems to have learned many of the right things from Niebuhr. One CAN read Reinie in a very hawkish way, but Jimmy Carter (the last theologically-informed president we've had) did not and it looks like Obama doesn't either. Obama's denomination, the United Church of Christ, is a 1957 fusion of the Evangelical and Reformed Church (which gave us the Niebuhr brothers) and the Congregationalists.

I wonder what other theologians, if any, Obama has read.

Dan, I would not be surprised to find several other candidates have read some theologians. Although I dislike her, several articles have shown that Hillary Clinton is deeply rooted in United Methodism and has kept in touch with significant portions of her heritage. Bill Richardson seems to be a very well informed Catholic. John Edwards was raised Southern Baptist and became United Methodist, but I am not sure how much theology he has read.

8:25 AM

Blogger Dan Trabue said...

Dan Trabue: Just a good ol' boy from Kentucky. No education to speak of, but then, I do wear shoes most of the time, at least...

In my defense, though, I can play a pretty mean game of disc golf and have a passing familiarity with the Bible and a few other books.

I'm with Michael, Bush's scraping through Yale was due to money and name. Bush's businesses were largely handed to him and largely ran down by him.

Further, I don't know that "accomplished businessman" is in any way an especially noble title. Ken Lay was an accomplished businessman. The Vanderbilt's were accomplished businessmen. Some would say that Dillinger was an accomplished businessman or that our friends in the mafia were accomplished businessmen.

The people that the prophets railed against in the Bible were often accomplished businessmen...

Well, you get the point.

6:18 AM


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