Saturday, November 8, 2014

All Dodging Our Way Through The World: On Opening Niebuhr's The Irony of American History

In his interview with Bill Moyer the great Black liberation theologian, James Cone, said that he would recommend reading The Irony of American History by his teacher, the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr.  I have started reading it and have found, yet again,  how impressive an intellectual effort and product the high end of theology can be.   

It is one of the most telling habits of the present college educated class, especially those enthralled with what they believe to be a modern, scientific world view, that so many learn no more about even the most enormously large and varied literatures and intellectual efforts in the Western and world tradition than that they are to disrespect and scoff at them.  And in no case is this as true as with theology and the writings of theologians.   Every time I have violated the tacitly imposed embargo on reading those theologians, I find that they seldom are less impressive than more officially respectable writers and more often than not, more impressive.  Having dipped, again, into Max Weber in recent months,  I couldn't possibly conclude that he is a more informed, more careful and more insightful scholar than Reinhold Niebuhr.  I have read nothing in sociology or any of the allied fields which can match Niebuhr's insights into the character of individuals or socieity. 

Since my blogging has concentrated on the criticism of atheism and what atheists say,  that figures such as Jerry Coyne and Richard Dawkins can summarily dismiss thinking of the depth of Niebhur, not to mention hundreds of other serious theologians who they have obviously not bothered engaging with, can do so from some of the most prestigious institutions of alleged higher learning - some of them where the theologians also work and worked, while displaying their declarations made of obvious ignorance is a pox mark of a diseased and terminal intellectual culture.    

I am, from now on, going to conclude that anyone who scoffs at theology or theologians are doing so from a near to total ignorance of the literature, as, in fact, so often they are of other things.  This practice of pretending to know things you've never read or studied, it is one of the emblems of the chatter of the college educated class whose educations seem to consist of how to pretend you know what you're talking about, covering your ignorance with the safety shield of repeating the required lines and intellectual framing of other ignorant people. 

1 comment:

  1. Niebuhr made the cover of Time Magazine. Now you only hear him mentioned by Andrew Bacevich, if at all.

    He really is an effect riposte to most on-line atheists who really don't know what they're talking about, and mostly know what they're against: a straw man of their own construction (Dawkins being the chief scarecrow contractor).

    Interesting excerpt at Salon now of a book attempting to put atheism on an empirical/logical positivist basis. I scanned it, I think logical positivism wins. It has major philosophical problems, but they aren't worth going into. Interestingly, the crowd (from what I glanced at in comments) seems to favor the non-atheist side. Again, I'm not going to waste energy with comments or the article, but I think the virulent atheists have run their course.

    It just gets boring, after awhile (and the book is about giving atheists a firmer foundation than "I'm agin it!").