Sunday, February 24, 2013

You Are There! Mike Wallace and Reinhold Niebuhr

Did you ever think you'd like to be present during some of the great debates and conversations in history? The Lincoln-Douglas debates for instance. Or some of us would like to be in Harlem during the Reinessance when Langston Hughes and Zora Neal Hurston lived there, along with some of the great black literary figures of our country's history? I know I have. 

Here is something close. A 55 year old television interview featuring the legendary Mike Wallace and preeminent theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. 

Of course some of the issues have changed. But its fascinating to watch the interview and actually hear and see Neihbuhr engaged in this dialogue. 

This isn't for everyone...but suffice it to say we don't have television like this anymore. 

Here is an excerpt from the transcript (you can read the entire transcript here)  and here is a link to the actual interview. 

For those of us who have read Neibuhr and have admired him, this is a treat!


Mike Wallace
WALLACE: It would look, Doctor Niebuhr, as though all of our major 

religions are becoming more influential. I say it would look that way 

because we hear so much about religious revivals with church attendance 

increasing, college students returning to religion, the apparent success of 

the evangelists. Yet, in large measure you have criticized this revival. Why?


NIEBUHR: Well, that's a long story, too. I wouldn't criticize the whole 


revival. I've criticized - the revival wherever it gives petty and trivial 

answers to very great and ultimate questions about the meaning of our life. 

There has been a religious revival because -- let me put it like this, the 

people that weren't traditionally religious, conventionally religious, had a 

religion of their own in my youth. These were liberals who believed in the 

idea of progress or they were Marxists. Both of these secular religions have 

broken down. The nuclear age has refuted the idea of progress and 

Marxism has been refuted by Stalinism. Therefore people have returned to 

the historic religion.


NIEBUHR: But now when the historic religions give trivial answers to these 


very tragic questions of our day, when an evangelist says, for instance, we 

mustn't hope for a summit meeting, we must hope in Christ without spelling 

out what this could mean in our particular nuclear age. This is the irrelevant 

answer, when another Evangelist says if America doesn't stop being selfish, 

it will be doomed. This is also a childish answer because nations are selfish 

and the question about America isn't whether we will be selfish or unselfish, 

Reinhold Niebuhr
but will we be sufficiently imaginative to pass the Reciprocal Trade Acts.




WALLACE: In other words, translate religion into a kind of active morality.

NIEBUHR: Yes, a morality of justice and reciprocity.



WALLACE: Well, let me ask you this: Now, we're constantly being told, Dr. 

Niebuhr, by our political and by our church leaders, that in our fight against 

Communism, we are on God's side that we're God-fearing people, they are 

atheists - the Russians, the Communists are atheists - and therefore we 

must ultimately win. What about that?


NIEBUHR: I don't know whether any religious leader would say that we 


must ultimately win, because we're on God's side. If they do say that, it's 

bad religion, because....

WALLACE: Well, haven't we heard from the the Old Testament that "right is might"?

NIEBUHR: No, no - well, that right is might ... but in the Old Testament, the 


God of the Prophets never was completely on Israel's side. There was a 

primitive national religion, but it was always a transcendent God who had 

judgment first in the House of God. This is the true religion. It has a sense 

of a transcendent majesty and a transcendent meaning so that that puts 

myself and the foe under the same judgment."

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