Re: [xmca] Don Quixote meets Reinhold Niebuhr

From: Steve Gabosch (
Date: Sun Oct 09 2005 - 16:00:19 PDT

On that Niebuhr quote, I found myself substituting the more neutral
terms "spiritual" for "religious" and "spirituality" for "religion"
to try to see what Niebuhr was saying about creating a just society
in the passage Mike provided. He does seem to be saying that it is
all about belief, vision, faith and illusion. I think Ana is
perfectly correct to point out that conditions must also be changed.

A little googling of Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) reveals that this
popular Protestant theologian had considerable influence and respect
in the 1930's from his 1932 book Moral Man and Immoral Society, where
he advocated a social justice movement based on political activity.
He championed autoworkers and criticized capitalism based on his
knowledge of factory life and his community experiences in
Detroit. He was a socialist and a pacifist, and was a leader in
Friends of Reconciliation, but renounced these ideas and associations
and shifted to a more traditional bourgeois liberal welfare state
political philosophy by WWII, and became an outspoken opponent of
pacifism, of Marxism, became an advocate of nuclear weapons, the cold
war, etc. He termed this approach "Christian realism." He
apparently was well respected in mainstream circles and widely read
in the postwar years. The Wikepedia article says that Martin Luther
King read him. He is credited with writing the Serenity Prayer for
Alcoholics Anonymous.

If there is an analogy between Quixote and Niebahr, it seems it would
be drawn from Niebahr's views and activities in the 1930's, and not
so much later. The term "utopian socialism" comes to mind as a
possible parallel with quixotism.

- Steve

At 03:29 PM 10/9/2005 -0400, Ana wrote:
>I fully agree with the quotation in its "moral" -- however, I would
>question the use of the term "religious". For something to be a
>vision, am maybe even an impossible vision, it does not to be
>religious. At least not the way I understand to term religious. I
>cannot believe that the ideal society and the ideal levels of
>individual development can be achieved only through a divine
>intervention. In fact, I think quite the opposite: that unless the
>humanity learns how to create conditions for a just society and
>conditions in which every individual can realize her/his potentials
>to the fullest possible degree, such a society or people will never
>become true.

Mike's copy of a passage From Moral Man and Immoral Society by Niebuhr:
"Furthermore there must always be a religious element in the hope of
a just society. Without the ultrarational hopes and passions of
religion no society will ever have the courage to conquer despair and
attempt the impossible; for the vision of a just society is an
impossible one, which can be approximated only by those who do not
regard it as impossible. The truest visions of religion are
illusions, which may be partially realized by being resolutely
believed. For what religion believes to be true is not wholly true
but ought to be true; and may become true if its faith is not doubted" (p. 81)

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