chapter  9
21 Pages

Choosing sorrow

Niebuhr, contrition, and white catastrophe
WithChristopher Dowdy

This chapter explores the concept of contrition within Reinhold Niebuhr’s thinking. Niebuhr’s ascendancy as a national figure during the Cold War was in part due to his moderating voice in an age that threatened annihilation, urging humility and caution in international affairs. Christian worship is the backdrop against which Niebuhr’s distinctive theological anthropology and eschatological interpretation of history coheres, and in which Niebuhr’s sermons, articles, and polemical writings can be understood. Cone and Niebuhr concur that Christian worship is a locus of certain kinds of cross-context affective formation. Niebuhr misses, however, the richer collective tones of Christian worship in part because he is practiced only in white spaces: his world is all call, and very little response. Essentially affirming Niebuhr’s contribution to a theological analysis of power, Cone argues that Niebuhr nonetheless lacked personal, intellectual, or institutional capacity to confront white racism’s catastrophic impact on Black people.