Sunday, February 15, 2009

Church vs. State and Reinhold Niebuhr

This morning, I heard another great show on NPR's Speaking of Faith--go here and you can hear it too, or just explore the website.

In this show, E. J. Dionne and David Brooks (two of my favorite commentators) talk about the theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and his influence both in the middle part of the twentieth century and on Barack Obama. It was such a civilized discussion, even when the two men disagreed. It was so different than the yelling one often hears on other networks.

I was also struck by how both men were able to speak about faith and its influence on political leaders without going into hysterics. I've often noticed that with my more secular friends, the idea that one's religious beliefs might affect one's political actions sends them into apoplexy. Yet these same friends launch into hysterical rages at the idea of hypocrisy of any kind. How is a religious working person to win?

Brooks and Dionne remind us of an earlier age (the 1950's), when Time magazine had a weekly theology column--often written by people that later generations would study in college. We currently live in an age of less rigorous thought--indeed, when there's any thought at all.

I was struck, listening to the two men, by how much they both knew about such a range of subjects and writers. And I felt that familiar longing to go back to school, to read all the books I'd missed along the way, to be surrounded by a community of scholars.

Of course, the likely scenario would be that I would be surrounded not by a community of scholars, but by a shallower kind of community. Sigh.

Perhaps I should start dreaming of a different kind of community, one that isn't school-based, but is intellectually stimulating. A retirement community perhaps? a monastic community of some sort? Hmmm.

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