Reinhold Niebuhr - Philosophy, Work and Change
Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)
American theologian and Lutheran pastor (pictured right).
Who did he influence?
Barack Obama, pictured right (Niebuhr is his
Martin Luther King (pictured right below),
leader of the American civil rights movement.
His most famous book
Moral Man and Immoral Society (1932).
What did he say about work and change?
1. Fate v. free will
Your life depends on a mixture of:
- necessity (fate, or events forced upon you).
- human spirit (the free will to make the most of your life).
2. Know yourself
3. Accept change
Niebuhr is best known for his Serenity Prayer that has been adopted by Alcoholics
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference”
4. Conflict is inevitable
Conflict arises because the powerful (e.g. managers) exploit the weak (e.g. workers and
oppressed minorities like African Americans).
As a young Lutheran pastor in Detroit (1915-8), Niebuhr witnessed the exploitation of Henry Ford’s (pictured right) factory workers.
“Their sweat and their dull pain are part of the price paid for all the fine cars we all run”, he said.
5. Empower the oppressed
Political action is the only way to:
Education and individual moral action can’t do it, because of people’s selfish desire to
protect their privileged position.
6. Anxiety is part of life
Anxiety comes from:
- not knowing your limitations.
- lack of control over your life.
- dissatisfaction and despair from life's unfulfilled possibilities .
Life is like a sailor climbing a mask who is anxious about getting to the crow’s nest at the top, or falling
into the sea (“the abyss of nothingness”).
7. Faith with a social conscience
Christian faith will give your life meaning and purpose
But you mustn’t use your faith as an excuse for:
- exploitation of the weak.
True morality requires political and social action as well as
Key quote on politics and
Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy
Key quote on workers and
Conflict is inevitable and in this conflict power must be challenged by power.
Key quotes on
We can no longer buy the highest satisfactions of the individual life at the expense of social injustice.
Key quote on
The greater the vitality of religion, the more it may either support or endanger morality.
Key quote on peace of
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the
wisdom to know the difference.
Key quote on
Our gadget filled paradise suspended in a hell of international insecurity.