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Reinhold NiebuhrOn Politics, Religion, and Christian Faith$
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Richard Crouter

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780195379679

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195379679.001.0001

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Connecting with Wit and Words

Connecting with Wit and Words

(p.59) 4 Connecting with Wit and Words
Reinhold Niebuhr

Richard Crouter (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Chapter 4 of this book argues that Niebuhr as writer and rhetorician draws from literature as much as from history. His gifts honed as preacher yield memorable phrases and ideas that draw from a deep encounter with literary classics (e.g., Greek tragedy, Thomas Mann) and poetry (e.g., Marianne Moore). For him poetic insight comes close to the language of religion in its ability to speak to human quandaries and anxiety in an imperfect world. Niebuhr’s Christian insight is “beyond tragedy” even as it explores the depths and contradictions of human suffering. As a “tamed cynic,” he is suspicious of all tendencies to retreat into an inner mental or spiritual world as done by the classical Stoics and their contemporary secular and religious imitators. As writer, Niebuhr resembles other distinguished writers whose vision is presented “upon occasion” and not as a finished understanding of the way things are or must be.

Keywords:   beyond tragedy, religious language as poetic, Greek tragedy, Thomas Mann, Marianne Moore, the parables of Jesus, poetic insight, inner spiritual world, tamed cynic, classical Stoics, human anxiety

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