Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Reinhold Niebuhr, fully Karl Paul Reinhold Niebuhr

American Ethicist, Intellectual, Leftist Neo-Orthodox Christian Theologian and Commentator on Public Affairs

"The final test of religious faith... is whether it will enable men to endure insecurity without complacency or despair, whether it can so interpret the ancient verities that they will not become mere escape hatches from responsibilities but instruments of insights into what civilization means."

"Goodness, armed with power, is corrupted; and pure love without power is destroyed."

"It is neither possible for man to know the truth fully nor to avoid the error of pretending that he does."

"The general tendency of scientific discovery has been to weaken not only religious but ethical values."

"Natural religion... finds a God who is majestic, but not majestic enough to threaten human self-esteem."

"Happiness is desired by all men; and moments of it are probably attained by most men. Only moments of it can be attained because happiness is the inner concomitant of neat harmonies of body, spirit and society; and these neat harmonies are bound to be infrequent."

"Democracies are indeed slow to make war, but once embarked upon a martial venture are equally slow to make peace and reluctant to make a tolerable rather than vindictive, peace."

"Humor is a prelude to faith and laughter is the beginning of prayer."

"If we survive danger it steels our courage more than anything else."

"Man's capacity for justice makes democracy possible; but man's inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary."

"Every experience proves that the real problem of our existence lies in the fact that we ought to love one another, but do not."

"Our best hope, both of a tolerable political harmony and of an inner peace, rests upon our ability to observe the limits of human freedom even while we responsibly exploit its creative possibilities."

"Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime, Therefore, we are saved by hope. Nothing true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; Therefore, we are saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone. Therefore, we are saved by love. No virtuous act is quite a virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as from our own; Therefore, we are saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness."

"God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other."

"The mastery of nature is vainly believed to be an adequate substitute for self-mastery."

"A genuine faith resolves the mystery of life by the mystery of God."

"A wise architect observed that you could break the laws of architectural art provided you had mastered them first. That would apply to religion as well as to art. Ignorance of the past does not guarantee freedom from its imperfections."

"A scientific humanism frequently offends the dignity of man, which it ostensibly extols, by regarding human beings as subject to manipulation and as mere instruments of some socially approved ends."

"All human sin seems so much worse in its consequences than in its intentions."

"All men who live with any degree of serenity live by some assurance of grace."

"All known existence points beyond itself."

"All life and existence in its concrete forms suggest not only sources but possibilities beyond itself. These possibilities must be implied in the source of they would not be true possibilities. God is therefore both the ultimate ground of reality and its ultimate goal."

"All social cooperation on a larger scale than the most intimate social group requires a measure of coercion."

"All you earnest young men out to save the world please, have a laugh."

"And the wisdom to distinguish one from the other."

"Comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable."

"Better not read books in which you make acquaintance of the devil."

"Democracy is finding proximate solutions to insoluble problems."

"Each life may have a significance which transcends the social process but not one which can be developed without reference to that process."

"Experiences are fleeting. Sometimes one has a strong awareness of the ultimate mystery of the divine, and sometimes one is troubled by what mystics call periods of dryness. For me the main point is that the experience of faith is a total attitude toward the mystery of God and life which includes commitment, love, and hope."

"Even as rigorous a determinist as Karl Marx, who at times described the social behaviour of the bourgeoisie in terms which suggested a problem in social physics, could subject it at other times to a withering scorn which only the presupposition of moral responsibility could justify."

"Despotism, which we regard with abhorrence, is rather too plausible in decaying feudal, agrarian, pastoral societies. That's why we must expect to have many a defeat before we'll have an ultimate victory in this contest with Communism."

"Evil is not to be traced back to the individual but to the collective behavior of humanity."

"Family life is too intimate to be preserved by the spirit of justice. It can be sustained by a spirit of love which goes beyond justice."

"Faith is the final triumph over incongruity, the final assertion of the meaningfulness of existence."

"God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things which should be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other. Living one day at a time, Enjoying one moment at a time, Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace, Taking, as Jesus did, This sinful world as it is, Not as I would have it, Trusting that You will make all things right, If I surrender to Your will, So that I may be reasonably happy in this life, And supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen."

"Freedom is necessary for two reasons. It's necessary for the individual, because the individual, no matter how good the society is, every individual has hopes, fears, ambitions, creative urges, that transcend the purposes of his society. Therefore we have a long history of freedom, where people try to extricate themselves from tyranny for the sake of art, for the sake of science, for the sake of religion, for the sake of the conscience of the individual "

"For man as an historical creature has desires of indeterminate dimensions."

"Goodness, armed with power, is corrupted and pure love without power is destroyed."

"God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that can be changed, and the wisdom to distinguish one from the other"

"Frantic orthodoxy is never rooted in faith but in doubt. It is when we're not sure that we're most sure."

"God grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference."

"Forgiveness is the final form of love."

"Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with Him."

"From the standpoint of the typical modern, Protestantism and Renaissance are merely two different movements in the direction of individual freedom, the only difference between them being that the latter is a little more congenial to the modern spirit than the former. The real significance of the two movements lies in the fact that one represents the final development of individuality within terms of the Christian religion and the other an even further development of individuality beyond the limits set in the Christian religion, that is, the development of the autonomous individual. It is this autonomous individual who really ushers in modern civilization and who is completely annihilated in the final stages of that civilization."

"Great talents have some admirers, but few friends."

"Human beings are endowed by nature with both selfish and unselfish impulses."

"Human existence is obviously distinguished from animal life by its qualified participation in creation. Within limits it breaks the forms of nature and creates new configurations of vitality. Its transcendence over natural process offers it the opportunity of interfering with the established forms and unities of vitality as nature knows them."

"I thank heaven I have often had it in my power to give help and relief, and this is still my greatest pleasure. If I could choose my sphere of action now, it would be that of the most simple and direct efforts of this kind."

"I cannot worship the abstractions of virtue: she only charms me when she addresses herself to my heart, speaks through the love from which she springs."