For Better Information

Government by Twitter is such a trendy thing. I’ve got a Twitter account and I can’t keep up with it most of the time. I wonder how anyone has time to get off the golf course long enough to let the thumbs fly these days. I got an article in my inbox stating that James Comey, the director of the FBI, has a hidden Twitter account. Well, you’d expect it to be hidden. This is the FBI, after all. The purpose of Twitter, however, is provide a steady flow of information—a stock ticker, if you will, of the radicalized normal. None of this is why I’m addressing the Hon. Comey today. It’s because those who suspect they’ve found his account believe he’s being using the name “Reinhold Niebuhr.” Those of us in religious studies with an interest in American religion can’t help but do a double-take.

Reinhold Niebuhr, along with his brother H. Richard, were prominent theologians. Reinhold was perhaps the last theologian, along with Martin Luther King, Jr., to whom anybody paid any attention. In fact, he was the rare academic who’d attained the sobriquet of “public intellectual.” He even taught in a seminary. Reinhold Niebuhr’s thought has influenced countless government officials who knew how to read, back in the days when being literate was a requirement for government office. Perhaps a little too Neo-Orthodox for today’s Nones, Niebuhr was nonetheless a pacifist and, dare I scrawl the word, a socialist. What’s more, Presidents in the days when the office had some dignity cited him as a source of political thought and contemplation. As much as they try to make us forget, I remember the days before a red hat was all you needed to dictate policy. The days of Reinhold Niebuhr.

Now, nobody really knows if this mysterious Reinhold Niebuhr account really does belong to James Comey. The FBI hasn’t been terribly friendly to the cause of freedom as of late. In fact, it may be the one government agency with timing even worse than mine. There’s a fair consensus that had the bureau not revived the passé email server scandal when it did we might still be living in a democracy. I have to try to be careful not to get too worked up. It’s easy to be anxious these days. When things start to get too oppressive, however, we can think of Reinhold Niebuhr, the last theologian. The man who gave the world the serenity prayer. We’re gonna need it.

Across the street from the J. Edgar Hoover building, Washington, DC

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