Sunday, July 25, 2010

* Deity Dumbed Down or Masses Raised Up?

Yale Alumni Magazine

Fred R. Shapiro's article (YAM July/August, 2010) "You can quote them" has a sub-heading which reads "Did Alcoholics Anonymous 'dumb down' the Serenity Prayer?" a question the article poses based on Elizabeth Sifton's book The Serenity Prayer (2003).

Sifton is the daughter of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr who is the disputed author of the "Serenity Prayer" itself.

I have read Ms. Sifton's book and it is a colossal exercise in theological name-dropping from her childhood of imbibing the fumes [sic] of a famous and controversial religious and social thinker of the early and mid 20th Century.

'Dumb down' is the wrong way to look at Ms. Sifton's complaint that the theological concept of 'grace' and the 'plural' pronouns (us) have been removed from the prayer.

I prefer to think that Niebuhr was streamlining his own prose for a century tired of rhetoric and soaked in war blood; a little less Henry James and little more Hemingway please, a lesson Ms. Sifton might learn for her next literary effort.

Or to put it another way: Niebuhr was praying with the masses and not for them.

Paul D. Keane
M. Div. '80

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