Saturday, September 04, 2010

Obama & Niebuhr?

In a recent article appearing in EthicsDaily.com, Colin Harris, a professor of religious studies in Mercer University, said this: “Reinhold Niebuhr is regarded by many as the most influential American theologian and ethicist of the 20th century. … In 1976, the citizens of the United States elected a president who claimed Niebuhr as a significant influence in his theological and political pilgrimage.” That was Jimmy Carter.

This statement has been attributed to Niebuhr: “Evil is not to be traced back to the individual but to the collective behavior of humanity.” It would be hard to imagine a more wrong-headed claim.

Ironically, Glenn Beck mentioned in his speech at the Lincoln Memorial during his “Restoring Honor” rally on 28 August the fact that part of his effort, actually the most important part, was to insist that salvation is not a collective thing, as is the case with “liberation theology,” but a personal, individual thing. Niebuhr had it backwards.

Without Hitler, the individual, there would have been no Nazism/Holocaust; without Lenin, no communism; without Mao, no great leap forward; without Pol Pot, no killing fields; without Saddam, no WMD-use on the Kurds, Shiites and Iranians; without Stalin, no gulag; without Khamenei/Ahmadinejad, no threat to obliterate Israel. There’s no chicken-egg argument in this matter. The individual comes first, then the carnage…or in some cases, just the opposite – good. Think of Lincoln and slavery and perhaps the most profound cultural change in U.S. history.

Collectivism eventuates from the actions of an individual, not the other way around. Jesus dealt with the individual, as did God in the OT, with the “nation,” the collective, taking form/action after the fact. Obama believes in the “collective,” another term for class-ism – us against them, which remarks victimization as the governing element in any enterprise. This is the “liberation theology” espoused by Jeremiah Wright and preached to Obama for 20 years.

In practical terms in the black community, “black liberation theology” amounts to reparations, the oppressor paying the oppressed account of slavery, even though for 147 years no white American has owned a slave. One might as well insist that all citizens in northern states make reparations to all citizens in southern states. Obama knows reparations won’t go down with the American people, at least now, so he alluded to it in his campaign by suggesting that the Constitution be adjusted in order to allow for the proper redistribution of wealth.

Obama, then, has become the individual through which the attempt at socialism – the collective – is being made. It remains to be seen if American citizens will become part of the collective, though they are well on their way down that road. First comes the individual, then the following “herd.” American communist leaders tried to turn the country in the 1930s, but even in the awful Great Depression of that time, the citizens wouldn’t have it.

This is attributed to Niebuhr: “Democracies are indeed slow to make war, but once embarked upon a martial venture are equally slow to make peace and reluctant to make a tolerable, rather than a vindictive, peace.” Perhaps Niehbuhr has a point in some cases but one wonders how he could make that conclusion with the worst war ever fought – World War II. Or the Korean conflict soon after, two of this nation’s better moments!

The United States came in late (at least officially) in both WWI and WWII, proving that democracies (U.S. actually is a republic) use war as a last resort. In neither case was the resultant peace instrument vindictive, since the U.S. acquired no colonies and formed no firing squads for the losers’ citizens (just the bad guys, few in number at that). Indeed, the magnanimity (Marshall Plan) instigated for loser Axis nations of WWII was not only not vindictive but probably the most decent “peace arrangement” in all of history, as evidenced by the prosperity of those countries today.

As part of its beneficence (Niebuhr’s “vindictive” peace) to Germany (despite 405,000 American dead in WWII), the U.S. kept some 300,000 troops in that country to protect it from the Soviet Union following WWII until about 1990 and the dissolution of the Soviet empire. Today, there are still more than 54,000 American GIs in Germany even though Germany has 244,300 active military of its own.

Some 28,500 American GIs remain in South Korea (American presence been there since 1950) in order to protect it from North Korea, which has 1,106,000 active military, nearly 5% of its total population. South Korea’s military numbers 687,000 but would be crushed if the Americans were ever to leave since even the little tyrant that rules North Korea, Kim Jong Il, knows better than to attack an American. Another example of Niebuhr’s vindictive peace?

This is Harris again: “Now we have a president [Obama] who also acknowledges a debt to Niebuhr for his influence in the development of his religious and political philosophy. He has also acknowledged the influence of his faith in his approach to the challenges of his office.” If this is true and with the comparison to be made to the Carter administration, God help us all.

And so it goes.
Jim Clark

1 Comments:

Blogger Scott Paeth said...

You know, you've actually got Niebuhr exactly backward. He did not say that only collectivities can engage in evil, he said that collectivities are incapable of engaging in moral good. He never denied that individuals as well as collectives could commit acts of evil. His argument was that societies cannot transcend matters of what he called "collective self-interest" and act in ways that would be considered purely moral from a Christian perspective.

6:22 AM  

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