The Essentialism of Reinhold Niebuhr: Negotiating Transcendence in Reality

The Obsolescent Man


True pessimists are often vindicated by history and seldom have to endure the sting of disappointment in the basic failings of humanity. This understanding is what makes Reinhold Niebuhr’s brand of Christian realism so appealing. Assuming the essential fallenness of humanity as an overarching narrative, Niebuhr recontextualizes the mission of Social Justice to complement the foundational ideology of an America solidifying its position as a dominant world power. Niebuhr’s dialectical framework surrounding the essential nature of humanity imposes a false dichotomy on morality and distorts the project of American religious liberalism.

Most of Niebuhr’s understanding of the Christian religion was in line with the liberal Protestant position of the Social Gospelers of his time. Gary Dorrien writes that Niebuhr “took for granted that religion is a humanly constructed power for social good; that a passionate commitment to social justice is the heart of good politics; that religion is made possible…

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