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Reinhold Niebuhr Quotes & Sayings

Enjoy the top 100 famous quotes, sayings and quotations by Reinhold Niebuhr.

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Reinhold Niebuhr Quotes 1412558

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. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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All men who live with any degree of serenity live by some assurance of grace. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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Every profession has its traditions and its traditionalists. But the traditionalists in the pulpit are much more certain than the others that the Lord is on their side. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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To be religious is not to feel, but to be. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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Cheese, wine, and a friend must be old to be good. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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The pretensions of final truth are always partlyan effort to obscure a darkly felt consciousness of the limits of human knowledge. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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There was a time when I had all the answers. My real growth began when I discovered that the questions to which I had the answers were not the important questions. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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Evil is not to be traced back to the individual but to the collective behavior of humanity. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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If we survive danger it steels our courage more than anything else. — Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr Quotes 1903130

If we can find God only as he is revealed in nature we have no moral God. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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The old prose writers wrote as if they were speaking to an audience; while, among us, prose is invariably written for the eye alone. — Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr Quotes 1908405

Goodness, armed with power, is corrupted; and pure love without power is destroyed. — Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr Quotes 698148

A wise architect observed that you could break the laws of architec75tural 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. — Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr Quotes 1460853

Humor is a prelude to faith, and laughter is the beginning of prayer. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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What is so funny about us is precisely that we take ourselves too seriously. Laughter is the same and healthy response to the innocent foibles of men; and even to some which are not innocent. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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All human sin seems so much worse in its consequences than in its intentions. — Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr Quotes 259368

We have, on the whole, more liberty and less equality than Russia has. Russia has less liberty and more equality. Whether democracy should be defined primarily in terms of liberty or equality is a source of unending debate. — Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr Quotes 1988809

I wonder if anyone who needs a snappy song service can really appreciate the meaning of the cross. — Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr Quotes 253564

The essence of man is his freedom. Sin is committed in that freedom. Sin can therefore not be attributed to a defect in his essence. It can only be understood as a self-contradiction, made possible by the fact of his freedom but not following necessarily from it. — Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr Quotes 1877847

Our dreams of bringing the whole of human history under the control of the human will are ironically refuted by the fact that no group of idealists can easily move the pattern of history toward the desired goal of peace and justice. The recalcitrant forces in the historical drama have a power and persistence beyond our reckoning. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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The morality of the church is anachronistic. Will it ever develop a moral insight and courage sufficient to cope with the real problems of modern society? If it does it will require generations of effort and not a few martyrdoms. We ministers maintain our pride and self-respect and our sense of importance only through a vast and inclusive ignorance. If we knew the world in which we live a little better we would perish in shame or be overcome by a sense of futility. — Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr Quotes 1565884

1924 A revival meeting seems never to get under my skin. Perhaps I am too fish-blooded to enjoy them. But I object not so much to the emotionalism as to the lack of intellectual honesty of the average revival preacher. I do not mean to imply that the evangelists are necessarily consciously dishonest. They just don't know enough about life and history to present the problem of the Christian life in its full meaning. They are always assuming that nothing but an emotional commitment to Christ is needed to save the soul from its sin and chaos. They seem never to realize how many of the miseries of mankind are due not to malice but to misdirected zeal and unbalanced virtue. They never help the people who corrupt family love by making the family a selfish unit in society or those who brutalize industry by excessive devotion to the prudential virtues. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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[There is] an increasing tendency among modern men to imagine themselves ethical because they have delegated their vices to larger and larger groups. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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It is significant that it is as difficult to get charity out of piety as to get reasonableness out of rationalism. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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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 - this freedom is necessary for the individual. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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One of the most pathetic aspects of human history is that every civilization expresses itself most pretentiously, compounds its partial and universal values most convincingly, and claims immortality for its finite existence at the very moment when the decay which leads to death has already begun. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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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. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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Love is the motive, but justice is the instrument. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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We have had to learn that history is neither a God nor a redeemer. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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Reason tends to check selfish impulses and to grant the satisfaction of legitimate impulses in others. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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The final wisdom of life requires not the annulment of incongruity but the achievement of serenity within and above it. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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One of the fundamental points about religious humility is you say you don't know about the ultimate judgment. It's beyond your judgment. And if you equate God's judgment with your judgment, you have a wrong religion. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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However much human ingenuity may increase the treasures which nature provides for the satisfaction of human needs, they can never be sufficient to satisfy all human wants; for man, unlike other creatures, is gifted and cursed with an imagination which extends his appetites beyond the requirements of subsistence. Human — Reinhold Niebuhr

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Human Beings are just good enough to make democracy possible ... just bad enough to make it neccessary. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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The mastery of nature is vainly believed to be an adequate substitute for self mastery. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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Nationalism: One of the effective ways in which the modern man escapes life's ethical problems. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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Change what cannot be accepted and accept what cannot be changed. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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The measure of our rationality determines the degree of vividness with which we appreciate the needs of other life, the extent to which we become conscious of the real character of our own motives and impulses, the ability to harmonize conflicting impulses in our own life and in society, and the capacity to choose adequate means for approved ends. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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The church conference begins and ends by attempting to arouse an emotion of the ideal, usually in terms of personal loyalty to the person of Jesus, but very little is done to attach the emotion to specific tasks and projects. Is the industrial life of our day unethical? Are nations imperialistic? Is the family disintegrating? — Reinhold Niebuhr

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The chief source of man's inhumanity to man seems to be the tribal limits of his sense of obligation to other men. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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Religion, declares the modern man, is consciousness of our highest social values. Nothing could be further from the truth. True religion is a profound uneasiness about our highest social values. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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Ultimately evil is done not so much by evil people, but by good people who do not know themselves and who do not probe deeply. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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We have previously suggested that philanthropy combines genuine pity with the display of power and that the latter element explains why the powerful are more inclined to be generous than to grant social justice. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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Reason is not the sole basis of moral virtue in man. His social impulses are more deeply rooted than his rational life. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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To the end of history, social orders will probably destroy themselves in an effort to prove they are indestructible. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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Civilization depends upon the vigorous pursuit of the highest values by people who are intelligent enough to know that their values are qualified by their interests and corrupted by their prejudices. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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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. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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

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While it is possible for intelligence to increase the range of benevolent impulse, and thus prompt a human being to consider the needs and rights of other than those to whom he is bound by organic and physical relationship, there are definite limits in the capacity of ordinary mortals which makes it impossible for them to grant to others what they claim for themselves. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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Man is always worse than most people suspect, but also generally better than most people dream. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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This insinuation of the interests of the self into even the most ideal enterprises and most universal objectives, envisaged in moments of highest rationality, makes hypocrisy an inevitable by product of all virtuous endeavor. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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Life has no meaning except in terms of responsibility. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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

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The history of mankind is a perennial tragedy; for the highest ideals which the individual may project are ideals which he can never realize in social and collective terms. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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Faith is the final triumph over incongruity, the final assertion of the meaningfulness of existence. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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The sad duty of politics is to establish justice in a sinful world. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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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. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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The scientific observer of the realm of nature is in a sense naturally and inevitably disinterested. At least, nothing in the natural scene can arouse his bias. Furthermore, he stands completely outside of the natural so that his mind, whatever his limitations, approximates pure mind. The observer of the realm of history cannot be disinterested in the same way, for two reasons: first, he must look at history from some locus in history; secondly, he is to a certain degree engaged in its ideological conflicts. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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I think there ought to be a club in which preachers and journalists could come together and have the sentimentalism of the one matched with the cynicism of the other. That ought to bring them pretty close to the truth. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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The idea that the profits of capital are really the rewards of a just society for the foresight and thrift of those who sacrificed the immediate pleasures of spending in order that society might have productive capital, had a certain validity in the early days of capitalism, when productive enterprise was frequently initiated through capital saved out of modest incomes. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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Change is the essence of life; be willing to surrender what you are for what you could become. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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Man is endowed by nature with organic relations to his fellow men; and natural impulse prompts him to consider the needs of others even when they compete with his own. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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A genuine faith resolves the mystery of life by the mystery of God. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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History is a realm in which human freedom and natural necessity are curiously intermingled. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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The fence and the boundary line are the symbols of the spirit of justice. They set the limits upon each man's interest to prevent one from taking advantage of the other. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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The prophet himself stands under the judgment which he preaches. If he does not know that, he is a false prophet. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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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 a vindictive, peace. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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The whole art of politics consists in directing rationally the irrationalities of men. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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God, give us the grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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Our age knows nothing but reaction, and leaps from one extreme to another. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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THE CROWN OF CHRISTIAN ETHICS IS THE DOCTRINE OF forgiveness. In it the whole genius of prophetic religion is expressed. Love as forgiveness is the most difficult and impossible of moral achievements. Yet it is a possibility if the impossibility of love is recognized and the sin in the self is acknowledged. Therefore an ethic culminating in an impossible possibility produces its choicest fruit in terms of the doctrine of forgiveness, the demand that the evil in the other shall be borne without vindictiveness because the evil in the self is known. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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There are no simple congruities in life or history. The cult of happiness erroneously assumes them. — Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr Quotes 1420668

Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope.
Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.
No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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Our dreams of a pure virtue are dissolved in a situation in which it is possible to exercise the virtue of responsibility toward a community of nations only by courting the prospective guilt of the atomic bomb. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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I'm not afraid of too many things, and I got that invincible kind of attitude from my father. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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We don't properly discriminate. We never discriminate properly when we're dealing with another group and one of the big problems about religion is that religious people don't know that they are probably as flagrant in these misjudgments as irreligious people. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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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. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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The individual or the group which organizes any society, however social its intentions or pretensions, arrogates an inordinate portion of social privilege to itself. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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It is the evil in man that makes democracy necessary, and man's belief in justice that makes democracy possible. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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Rationality belongs to the cool observer, but because of the stupidity of the average man, he follows not reason, but faith, and the naive faith requires necessary illusion and emotionally potent oversimplifications which are provided by the myth-maker to keep ordinary person on course. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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Since inequalities of privilege are greater than could possibly be defended rationally, the intelligence of privileged groups is usually applied to the task of inventing specious proofs for the theory that universal values spring from, and that general interests are served by, the special privileges which they hold. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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The intimate relation between humor and faith is derived from the fact that both deal with the incongruities of our existence. Laughter is our reaction to immediate incongruities and those which do not affect us essentially. Faith is the only possible response to the ultimate incongruities of existence, which threaten the very meaning of our life. — Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr Quotes 1620711

We take, and must continue to take, morally hazardous actions to preserve our civilization. We must exercise our power. But we ought neither to believe that a nation is capable of perfect disinterestedness in its exercise, nor become complacent about a particular degree of interest and passion which corrupt the justice by which the exercise of power is legitimatized. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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Humour is, in fact, a prelude to faith; and laughter is the beginning of prayer ... Laughter is swallowed up in prayer and humour is fulfilled by faith. — Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr Quotes 1722688

Marxism is the modern form of Jewish prophecy. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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The stupidity of the average man will permit the oligarch, whether economic or political, to hide his real purposes from the scrutiny of his fellows and to withdraw his activities from effective control. Since it is impossible to count on enough moral goodwill among those who possess irresponsible power to sacrifice it for the good of the whole, it must be destroyed by coercive methods and these will always run the peril of introducing new forms of injustice in place of those abolished. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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Great talents have some admirers, but few friends. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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A republic properly understood is a sovereignty of justice, in contradistinction to a sovereignty of will. — Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr Quotes 1906227

A church has the right to set its own standards within its community. I don't think it has a right to prohibit birth control or to enforce upon a secular society its conception of divorce and the indissolubility of the marriage tie. — Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr Quotes 1929291

Marxism was the social creed and the social cry of those classes who knew by their miseries that the creed of the liberal optimists was s snare and a delusion ... Liberalism and Marxism share a common illusion of the "children of light." Neither understands property as a form of power which can be used in either its individual or its social form as an instrument of particular interest against the general interest. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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Nothing worth doing can be accomplished in a single lifetime. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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There is no social evil, no form of injustice whether of the feudal or the capitalist order which has not been sanctified in some way or other by religious sentiment and thereby rendered more impervious to change. — Reinhold Niebuhr

Reinhold Niebuhr Quotes 2000266

It is my strong conviction that a realist conception of human nature should be made a servant of an ethic of progressive justice and should not be made into a bastion of conservatism, particularly a conservatism which defends unjust privileges. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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What is funny about us is precisely that we take ourselves too seriously. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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It's always wise to seek the truth in our opponents' error, and the error in our own truth. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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Man is both strong and weak, both free and bound, both blind and far-seeing. He stands at the juncture of nature and spirit; and is involved in both freedom and necessity. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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Perhaps the most significant moral characteristic of a nation is its hypocrisy. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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Men have never been individually self-sufficient. — Reinhold Niebuhr

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Until the fear of catastrophe amends, or catastrophe itself destroys ... — Reinhold Niebuhr