A reader writes:

I still can't quite get over the fact that, in front of that audience, Obama defended coercion and force in world politics. He could have soft-peddled that speech in so many different ways, but didn't. He took it to the "children of light." I think it will be one of his most important addresses as president -- not because of the short term political impact it might have (say, inducing a kind word from Pete Wehner) but because of how it illuminates his cast of mind and his approach to politics. Its as "telling" as Bush's utopian second inaugural.

One other Niebuhr quote:

"Thus wisdom about our destiny is dependent upon a humble recognition of the limits of our knowledge and our power. Our most reliable understanding is the fruit of 'grace' in which faith completes our ignorance without pretending to possess its certainties as knowledge; and in which contrition mitigates our pride without destroying our hope."

Those are the final words to The Nature and Destiny of Man. So literally the last word of Niebuhr's greatest work is "hope."

Interestingly, during Niebuhr's Gifford Lectures (which Nature and Destiny is based on) in Edinburgh, that city was bombed by the Nazis. The Germans hit a naval base not far from where Niebuhr was lecturing, and you could hear anti-aircraft guns firing in return. This was during an actual lecture of his. Niebuhr spoke a word of hope, and held onto a Christian understanding of our destiny, as the city he was lecturing in was attacked by Nazis. I always found that detail remarkable!

The two greatest works of Christian hope that I know of during that period are Eliot's Four Quartets and Messiaen's Quartet For The End Of Time. I had the chance of dramatizing the former and combining it with the latter in a production I directed at Harvard a quarter century ago. Sometimes, the extremity of evil allows the purity of good to break through. Messiaen composed his masterwork in a prison camp; Eliot wrote his as the Blitz continued.

De profundis ...

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