Re: [xmca] Don Quixote meets Reinhold Niebuhr

From: Mike Cole (
Date: Sun Oct 09 2005 - 17:16:04 PDT

Steve-- I encountered the Niebuhr quote in an article about how social
justice issues were brought into negotiations between the San Diego
Union-Tribune and its printers. The paper had been trying for years to
break the Union and was close to succeeeding when an alliance between
local religious groups interested in social justice issues and the union was
forged that led to a settlement that the workers could live with. It appears
that alliances between the union movement and religious organizations
interested in social justice issues is not isolated to this case.


PS. Spiritual gets us closer to the Russian notion of culture which includes
"dushevniya" (spiritual/sould derived) dimension. In English we might speak
of the value dimension of culture.

On 10/9/05, Steve Gabosch <> wrote:
> 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:
> >Mike,
> >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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