Reinhold Niebuhr Timeline: Becomes ordained minister

Reinhold Niebuhr Timeline: Becomes ordained minister


Correspondence with Biographer June Bingham

Union Theological Seminary
Broadway at 120th Street
New York 27, N.Y.

June 14, 1954

Dear June,

Thank you so much for sending me Press' letter, which I hereby return. Comparing me with Harnack, who was an outstanding theologian of the 19th century, is rather extravagant on the part of my old friend, Dr. Press.
That embarrasses me about as much as you thinking it worth-while to write a biography.

I missed the real part of your previous question, which I want to answer now. I think you are quite right, if parents are not convinced atheists, if they have what most modern parents have, a kind of vague faith and a vague willingness to have more faith, they ought to expose their children to religion as you suggest. Arnold Bennett's example was not a good one because he was loutish as well as unbelieving.

Your letter reminds me of people like Ellen and Jim. They fit perfectly into the category of the parents you mention.

In regard to my "doubting Thomas'" experiences - there were years in my early ministry where I did not have specific experiences of doubt but a rather general experience pervading everything, which I expressed Scripturally in the words "I believe Lord, help Thou my unbelief". I did
not find any rest for this condition in which all the young people in my generation found themselves, until it became clear to me that by the nature of the human and the divine self there cannot be "rational" validations of religious experience. Religious faith must remain to the end on the one hand in Pascal's phrase "a great gamble, while it is on the other hand a certainty based on an accumulation of experience". Pascal, living in a rationalistic century dominated by Descartes, was incidentally my best guide, as he has been the guide for many in our generation.

The Oral History man is coming for another séance this afternoon.

Affectionately,
Reinie N.

Dr. Niebuhr is not coming back to the office today so I'm sending this along. He's seeing the Oral History man in his apt.
Nola

Reinhold Niebuhr Papers: Library of Congress, Manuscript Reading Room

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Paul Elie

is senior editor at Farrar, Straus and Giroux and author of The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage.

Jean Bethke Elshtain

is an author and Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

Robin Lovin

is Cary M. Maguire University Professor of Ethics at the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, and the author of Reinhold Niebuhr and Christian Realism.