My obsession with Reinhold Niebuhr

My obsession with Reinhold Niebuhr.  Sorry dear reader, I just can’t figure out my favorite theologian,  so I just keep trying.  Eight thoughts, none original:

  1. Pride

Reinhold Niebuhr is a theorist of original sin.  Not the Adam and Eve variety, but the sin that comes from human willfulness, what Niebuhr calls pride.  Pride is humanity’s refusal to admit its limits, refusing to recognize that the individual is not the source of all value, the ultimate answer to every question.  Humans usurp the place of God by raising their contingent existence and achievements to unconditioned significance. Pride stems from our anxiety at being at the mercy of the caprice of the world.  Pride is Niebuhr’s version of original sin, what he calls the only empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith (N&D, 167-177, 186-207).

Sensuality.  There’s another type of pride, important to Niebuhr, but to which he pays less attention.  He calls it “sensuality,” an odd choice of word.  In addition to pride, humans often seek to escape their limits and vulnerability by retreating from themselves into sensation.  It is an escape from freedom, and ultimately from the self.  In practice sensuality is the absence of responsibility, and absorption in the self and its little pleasures.  Pride is the attempt to deny human limits.  Sensuality is opposite, the denial of transcendence (N&D, pp 179, 232).

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