Reinhold Niebuhr: His Religious, Social, and Political Thought - Vol. 2

By Charles W. Kegley; Robert W. Bretall | Go to book overview

PREFACE

THE dominant motif of our age, as Alfred North Whitehead has pointed out, is science, and two characteristics associated with the scientific mentality are change and specialization. Such an age demands, of anyone who would interpret and criticize its methods and goals, discernment and comprehensiveness.

Reinhold Niebuhr, writing and speaking from the religious point of view and as an American, has exhibited these qualities and has performed this service for almost half a century. There are very few parallel personalities who have at once interpreted and influenced the thought of a variety of fields in this era. The fact that in the sphere of religion one can count, throughout the world, such men on the fingers of one hand is itself worth pondering.

Such considerations render superfluous any defense for including Reinhold Niebuhr in this series; the essays in this volume, by world scholars of different faiths and fields of study, eloquently document the point. Clearly, Niebuhr himself demands to be interpreted and evaluated. The interpretation is the more appropriate because the mass and variety of his writings make it unlikely that the general reader, even if he is intelligent and conscientious, can take the time and effort to study all or even most of the contributions cited in the bibliography at the close of this volume. Were he to make this his goal, he soon would be liable to think that Niebuhr's mind, like Stephen Leacock's hero, mounts his horse and rides off in all directions at once — speaking with insight here on the arts, there on social and political issues, in still another place on perennial theological questions. Hoping, of course, that readers will be led directly to Niebuhr's own writing, one has a right to ask how the abler minds of our age understand and evaluate his thought. This is precisely the service that the present volume attempts to perform.

The diversity of writing referred to above is in part responsible for the divergence in the title of this volume from the form set by

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