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In his 2001 book, With the Grain of the Universe, Stanley Hauerwas has made an extended case for Karl Barth as the model for how to do Christian ethics, and for Reinhold Niebuhr as the model for how not to do it. Though Barth's closer and deeper theological connection to the Christian tradition appeals to a Jewish traditionalist by analogy, nevertheless, Niebuhr's approach to social ethics, based as it is on a version of natural law, is of greater appeal. That is because it is more philosophically arguable in a secular society and culture, and because it is more politically effective there. It is what made Niebuhr a more effective opponent of Nazism than was Barth. Also, Niebuhr's version of natural law is not a christianized version of Stoic natural law teaching but, rather, a profound use of the biblical prohibition of idolatry, having heretofore unnoticed affinities with rabbinic developments of that prohibition.

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Toronto

Publication date: June 1, 2012

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