|H. Richard Niebuhr|
Here is a taste of Bass's piece:
Reinhold Niebuhr, whose
When it comes to Syria, President Obama seems to be channeling Reinhold Niebuhr as he presses for U.S. military action to punish the atrocity of a nation gassing its own citizens. Syrian violence must be met with forceful coercion from moral nations, and America must use its military power toward the ethical goal of eliminating chemical weapons. This echoes Niebuhr's assertion, "As long as the world of man remains a place where nature and God, the real and the ideal, meet, human progress will depend upon the judicious use of the forces of nature in the service of the ideal." Thus, violence is justified to end violence.
If President Obama had fully followed Reinhold Niebuhr, the strike would have surely commenced by now. However, something odd happened on the way to retaliation -- a pause. To talk, argue, reflect, and vote? Our politics-obsessed culture depicts this as waffling or weakness or presidential second thoughts based on bad polling numbers.
But what if something else is at work?
There was another Niebuhr, Reinhold's younger brother H. Richard, who taught at Yale. In 1932, the year Moral Man was published, the two brothers held a debate in the pages of the Christian Century on an important political question of the day -- whether or not the United States should intervene on behalf of China in light of atrocities inflicted on them by a Japanese invasion.
The elder Niebuhr argued to "dissuade Japan from her military venture" by whatever means necessary. Contra his brother, H. Richard Niebuhr suggested that doing nothing was the way toward peace. H. Richard outlined a theology of moral "inactivity." Against the rush of events, an ethical nation must reflect upon the causes of the problem, form potential