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Born May 18, 1953; got saved at Truett Memorial BC in Hayesville, NC 1959. On rigged ballot which I did not rig got Most Intellectual class of 71, Gaffney High School. Furman Grad, Sociology major but it was little tougher than Auburn football players had Had three dates with beautiful women the summer of 1978. Did not marry any of em. Never married anybody cause what was available was undesirable and what was desirable was unaffordable. Unlucky in love as they say and even still it is sometimes heartbreaking. Had a Pakistani Jr. Davis Cupper on the Ropes the summer of 84, City Courts, Rome Georgia I've a baby sitter, watched peoples homes while they were away on Vacation. Freelance writer, local consultant, screenwriter, and the best damn substitute teacher of Floyd County Georgia in mid 80's according to an anonymous kid passed me on main street a few years later when I went back to get a sandwich at Schroeders. Had some good moments in Collinsville as well. Ask Casey Mattox at if he will be honest about it. I try my best to make it to Bridges BBQ in Shelby NC at least four times a year.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Gus Niebuhr's Beyond Tolerance

I have had the good fortune to meet several folks of note in my otherwise unremarkable life. One of the most noble was Gus Niebuhr of America's first family of Protestant theologians Reinhold and H. Richard Niebuhr.
I first me Gus in August 1986 in Euharlee, Georgia. He came up from Atlanta and his first days with the Journal Constitution. Among other responsibilities he caught the throes of the SBC fundamenalist takeover as it was still very heated for several years on til 95 or so.
He did a series of articles on Religion in Latin America for the JC that I alerted Bill Moyers and his folks at PBS to. That is where I about peaked out because for that and other background info Moyers himself sent me a note in Nov 87 that said People like me make a Difference.
And so for a few years I reckon I did.
I had another connection to Niebuhr as it turned out. His Sunday School teacher in the late 60's Albert Blackwell, in Boston, became one of my religion proffs at Furman a few years later. Blackwell's Dad Hoyt was long time President of Mars Hill College in North Carolina.
For those reasons and others Furman would do well to have Niebuhr as a featured guest lecturer this coming year.

Niebuhr has a fascinating section toward the end of Beyond Tolerance--google up the Chatauqua student paper column on a Niebuhr visit back in August. He has a discussion of Al Mohler's influence on interfaith discussions in America, couched in the peculiar religious history of Louisville, Kentucky going back to a nativist flareup in in the 1850's. Some, including Yale's Harold Blood would say there was another Nativist flareup in Louisville in the 1990's, but while forthright, Niebuhr is a little more kind than Bloom.
Even in Mohler's resolute One Way Christian stance, Niebuhr sees room for hope. "And so I gathered (from conversation with Mohler) that a civility prevailed in Mohler's interfaith conversations that might be admired by [Louisville's current annual faith festival], but then I was privvy to information that the two groups themselves apparently had not exchanged."
That is where the intrigue begins for a fascinating 10 pages in Mohler's book; all a nuance new to me.
Early in book Niebuhr has a striking telling from his own Father as a 6 year old hearing a Hitler ralley on a visit to Germany with his grandfather, Richard Niebuhr, in 1932.
For these and many other fascinating episodic stories and insights, not to mention the family legacy Niebuhr carries, this should be a must read for a good many of you who see this.

Stephen Fox

Dec 15, 2008


Blogger bapticus hereticus said...

you and he are a bit more optimistic than me concerning the Louisville group or any other SBC entity within SBC and their willingness to signficantly reach out to other baptists or Christians of other perspectives. although the Calvinistic baptist identity movement encourages collaborative efforts and a spirit of association, i would not look for such to be manifested to any significant degree by them or their current SBC antagonists. Calvinst or non-Calvinist SBCers, it matters not, given both are deeply committed to an exclusionary fundamentalist perspective.

a good many of the noted bloggers are not the way forward, as some assert; rather, they continue to follow the same old orientation, bemoaning abusive power, yes, but mostly bemoaning they are not the ones controlling power. having it, and giving reasonable weight to the notion of past as prologue, they will likely do the same, that is, exclude and major on minor. what evidence do we have to the contrary?

i would like to be proven wrong, for such would do much to remove the negative conception that many people have of baptists ... of all stripes.

have you ever had this conversation among those of other denominations or those not affiliated with any religious group: "... yes, I am, but not that kind of baptist ... but basically they are very good people, however, I agree, very puzzling, indeed."

tolerance? yes. affirmation? yes. but the strangest thing is when you tolerate, affirm, and include fundamentalists, one is often perceived by some of them as being weak. so be it. for most mature Christians, it is not about power and control, rather it is about love and vulnerability. one cannot be in a relationship if one cannot be affected by the other.

-- bapticus hereticus

5:01 PM  
Blogger foxofbama said...


Thanks for the reply.
Niebuhr is not naive in these matters; he just realizes the bleakness of surrender to the darkness.
His last sentence in the book is: "The stakes are very high."
He reports in several places how frustrating, and many times ridiculous are the attempts at some kind of dialogue.
I have just give the book a cursory read. It deserves your considered attention. There is no excuse for Anderson College not having a copy.
In many ways Niebuhr's book serves as a companion hope to some of the vagaries Charles Kimball raised in When Religion Becomes Evil.
My point with the SBC excerpts is mostly a tease to bait the SBC powers into giving it a look.
I think you are right, and very perceptive about the blogging powers you and I have come to know over the last couple years; even so I guess it is good to engage the discussion.
The joke may be on us; you are right about that.
Get your hands on a copy of the book soon as you can. It deserves a wide read.

5:35 PM  
Blogger bapticus hereticus said...

Reinhold and Richard Niebuhr were good friends with Tillich, with Reinhold being an excellent complementary voice to his brother and Tillich; that is, Reinhold was a bit more pragmatic than either his brother or Tillich, but let's be clear, he had a deep appreciation for and ability to engage in intellectual pursuits, as well.

In later reflections on the pre-war Germany, Tillich lamented the anti-intellectualism of middle-class culture, but also that of the intelligentsia that often foolishly alienated itself from said group of people. Thus we can imagine attenuated interaction and questioning of social ... etc. relationships from a broader group of people, which would be needed to enact functional social change. Growing fractures in social coherence eventually led to the rise of Nazism, to which itself was largely fueled by religious, middle-class people seeking security over truth.

The point: it does not serve any nation well to diminish the importance and influence of its intelligentsia, but neither does it serve it well for said group to not concern itself with building bridges to the common individual, either. We need more public intellectuals (but as a side comment: universities often don't place a significant value on said employees). That was a lesson of the SBC, too. Its scholars were so far ahead of those, in general, in the pew, and instead of being seen as necessary pioneers on the frontiers of knowledge that would better enable the community to develop and mature as a people, they were seen as the enemy, and thus the anti-intellectual cohort behaved consistently with their beliefs in removing them. It was not to their benefit, but they were not alone in creating the conditions that facilitated the subsequent maddening behavior.

10:54 AM  
Blogger foxofbama said...


Gus makes a similar point in his book, but less alienating, less open to accusations of elitism that could come at you the way you made your point.
In no way do I think that was your intention; point is you need to go ahead and get the book pronto, cause our exchange here is already being read by influentials at Baylor.
BDiddy and Hankins need to get the book right away too and scour the SBC implications.
I'm hoping Furman has the good sense to get GNiebuhr there before the light goes on at Baylor.

7:08 PM  
Blogger bapticus hereticus said...

Current interest among some, including Gus, in bridging divides in American life and beyond, always a worthy pursuit and worthy of Christian sanction, even if subsequent strategies for doing so are not fully understood, are to applauded, and our prayers are to be with those taking seriously the call to be peacemakers, thus God's instruments of love, grace, empowerment, and sustenance, conscious of such or otherwise. In our time and circumstance existence is deeply problematical given the complexity of networks and the web of networks that give rise to extant forms; thus it behooves us to invest in and protect various cohorts capable of studying issues that divide us as a people and as a people among other people so that their research provides us a content for dialogue and debate, of which the goal of each is not on creating winners and losers, but on understanding, instead.

Life, Jesus shares with us, is to be lived abundantly, but such is not possible if truth cannot be reasonably ascertained, but the process for ensuring such will necessitate that, ideally, all segments of a community, society, or whatever level of concern one has, are involved not just in making decisions, but are involved in giving voice to perceived problems. We need not fear where truth may lead us, given its liberating quality, but we will and will surely have our moments of deep doubt; however, if we commit to being at least a reasonable people, understanding rationality is bounded, and truth, as we perceive it, being more provisional than certain, we may eventually affirm, as did Whitehead, that the function of reason is to promote the art of life, which in turn helps us live, live well, and live better. It pleases me that the spirit of the Niebuhr brothers lives on in their family and again among us.

9:38 AM  

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