“The Signs of the Times” by Reinhold Niebuhr

The following quote appeared in Reinhold Niebuhr’s sermon “The Signs of the Times,” which appeared in a collection of his sermons–“Discerning the Signs of the Times: Sermons for Today and Tomorrow,” (New York: Scribner’s), 1946.

In this sermon, Niebuhr asserts that all historical inquiry and analysis is interested (bias), because even though humans are rational and have the freedom/ability to recognize and transcend self-interested action it is incredibly difficult to do so. We often hide (or try to hide) from ourselves the fact that our judgements and perspectives are limited and influenced (to some degree or another) by self-interest. This is the context for the following quote, which is, in the end, a call for humility.

“There is no form of the Christian faith, no matter how profound its insights about the finiteness and sinfulness of man and the majesty of God, which can prevent some devotees of that faith from using it to claim God too simply as the ally of this or that human enterprise and as the justification for this or that partial human judgment.

But these terrible aberrations of faith also can not invalidate the truth of the final insight of Christian faith in which the God is recognized who stands above (and in some sense against) all human judgments; who judges us even while we judge our foe; who completes the drama of history which we always complete falsely because we make ourselves, our culture, and our nation, the premature center of its completion.”


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