Reinhold Niebuhr's Impossible Ethical Ideal

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In Reinhold Niebuhr's "The Relevance of an Impossible Ethical Ideal," the author develops many claims regarding the difference of thought between orthodox Christianity and modern secular society. Of these claims, I shall address in this essay how the impossibility of sacrificial love, or agape love, is relevant to our moral lives. As Christians I feel that we are all too often conditioned to see ourselves as pursuing the ideals and beliefs of Christ, yet Niebuhr's explanation offers insight into how mankind is unable to possess true sacrificial love and furthermore how faith and repentance of sin are all that is needed to gain the eternal gift of life in heaven. In analyzing how sacrificial love is impossible, I found Niebuhr's example on page 243 to be particularly clarifying. "Men may defend the life of the neighbor merely to preserve those processes of mutuality by which their own life is protected. But that only means that they have discovered the Interrelatedness of life through concern for themselves rather than by an analysis of the total situation" (Christian Ethics 243). To me this means that as much as we would like to think we would lay down ourselves for our neighbors, we would only do so if we thought we might profit or gain from the action. Reinhold goes on to claim that "it is natural enough to love one's own family more then other families and no amount of education will ever eliminate the inverse ratio between the potency of love and the breadth and extension in which it is applied" (Christian Ethics 245). This piece of the passage was what ultimately led to my understanding of how Niebuhr could claim that agape love is impossible. Thinking of my own family I would undoubtedly choose my family over anyone or anything were it that I was forced to make a decision. The love which we feel for those who bore and raised us or for that matter lay within our blood line will always be closer to our hearts and minds. As much as we try as...
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