Reinhold Niebuhr circa 1916…

Excerpted from Leaves From the Notebook of a Tamed Cynic:

“Doesn’t this denominational business wear on one’s nerves?  If I were a doctor, people would consult me according to the skill I had and the reputation I could acquire.  But being a minister, I can appeal only to people who are labeled as I am.  Yesterday that I professor I met asked me what denomination I belonged to.  Being told, he promptly pigeonholed me into my proper place and with a superior air assumed that my mind was as definitely set by my denominational background as is that of an African Hottentot by his peculiar environment.

Perhaps if I belonged to a larger denomination this wouldn’t irk me so much.  I suffer from an inferiority complex because of the very numerical weakness of my denomination.  If I belonged to a large one I might strut about claim its glory for myself.  If I give myself to religion as a profession I must find some interdenominational outlet for my activities.  But what?  Secretaries and Y.M.C.A workers are too inarticulate.  They deal too much with machinery and too little with ideas.  I don’t want to be a chauffeur.  Does that mean that I am a minister merely because I am a fairly glib talker?  Who knows?

But let us not be too cynical and too morbidly introspective.  I may find something worth saying in time and escape the fate of being a mere talker.  At any rate I swear that I will never aspire to be a preacher of pretty sermons.  I’ll keep them rough enough just to escape the temptation of degenerating into an elocutionist.  Maybe I had better stop quoting so much poetry.  But that is hardly the point.  Plenty of sermons lack both beauty and meaning.

2 thoughts on “Reinhold Niebuhr circa 1916…

  1. Very interesting… yeah I really don’t know what to do or think about denominations…. I really am quite sure the church we go to isn’t part of any denomination, but this is so very hard for others to grasp when they ask “which denomination”? Ummm, none. Huh well then, next topic…. I’m not sure if that’s much better either!

  2. Ben,

    This is a little weird. I was reading the same book the other day at the recommendation of a professor. I haven’t read much Niebuhr in the past, but this one is a gem.

    Grace and peace,


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