His Niebuhrian Moment

OBAMAjeffhaynesAFP

A reader writes:

I have to say Obama’s speech in Cairo was, for me, his most Niebuhrian moment. Religion in this speech became the ally of humility and reconciliation, not a barrier to them. He retained moral resolve without believing God’s purposes were his own. He even refused to turn his back on genuine progress and modernity — what Niebuhr would call the “growth” we see in history — while not being simply or naively progressive.

 

His invocation of the Torah, the Koran, and the New Testament at the end of the speech pointed towards the enduring necessity, beauty, and relevance of prophetic religion. We all are under the judgment of the One beyond the many, and as such only partially grasp his will — all our earthly projects and ambitions are tinged with sin, marred by our pride and partiality. Recognizing this is the precondition for working together.

A decent conservative movement would embrace the speech. I don’t think we’ll see that happen, but that shouldn’t detract from what was going on in this speech. It was genuinely important, I think. He understands what Niebuhr wrote on the last page of The Irony of American History:

“For if we should perish, the ruthlessness of the foe would be only the secondary cause of the disaster. The primary cause would be that the strength of a giant nation was directed by eyes too blind to see all the hazards of the struggle; and the blindness would be induced not by some accident of nature or history, but by hatred and vainglory.”
Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for this posting.  Click title to go to his web page….
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