chapter  5
16 Pages

Deceptive honesty

Myth and virtue in Reinhold Niebuhr
WithDaniel Malotky

Reinhold Niebuhr describes a conflictual, fallen, moral universe, in which a mature approach to goodness might require our knowing participation in behavior that falls short of the good, but in which that behavior might be characterized as virtuous. Niebuhr casts honesty – honesty about ultimate things – as a mean: between the flatness of reducing truth to a set of given facts and the ultimate absurdities of abstract propositions. The most prominent American theologian since Reinhold Niebuhr has argued that this approach is, at best, to hold the Christian tradition and its foundational stories at arm’s length. Kevin Carnahan wisely asks us to acknowledge some inconsistency in Niebuhr’s work but suggests that a sympathetic interpretation is possible. Hauerwas’ concern with Niebuhr’s ethic has to do with the extreme disjunction between the ideal and the real, a disjunction that Niebuhr frankly likes to highlight, and therefore has some merit.