Films can often be a source of profound inspiration. And if they’re particularly enlightening, we are forever changed by what we see. Film is a great medium for teaching, and we’re very fortunate at Boise State to have the opportunity to learn from a new film — An American Conscience: The Reinhold Niebuhr Story — produced by the dean of Boise State’s Honors College, Andrew Finstuen.
A historian as well as the film’s producer, Finstuen joined award-winning director Martin Doblmeier at special screenings where they discussed the film with audiences at venues around the country, including Harvard Divinity School, Princeton Theological Seminary, Notre Dame, Washington University in St. Louis, and the Newseum in Washington D.C. Many Boise State students had their first introduction to Reinhold Niebuhr at a special screening on campus in March, but for anyone who missed it, the film is airing on public television this month. (Tune into Idaho Public Television at 10 p.m., April 21. Finstuen and the filmmaker Martin Doblmeier will be featured on Dialogue with Marcia Franklin at 7:30 p.m.)
Many may recognize Reinhold Niebuhr for the Serenity Prayer, one of the most quoted writings in American literature. He was also a man who inspired a nation at a time of enormous change — industrialization, race relations, World War II, nuclear power and Cold War. Niebuhr was a progressive social thinker who could speak from conscience with courage. He had a great understanding of human nature as a professor, pastor, writer and political activist.
For decades, Niebuhr was on the FBI watch list, but others were watching and listening too — from all sides. The film features his influence on Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Nazi resister Dietrich Bonhoeffer and includes diverse contemporary voices like New York Times columnist David Brooks and public intellectual Cornel West. People across political lines were drawn to Niebuhr’s integrity and humility for his realistic views. He said, “Man’s inclination to justice makes democracy possible. Man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” He was viewed as a man with hope for a better part of human nature and for the future. Dr. Finstuen noted that the divided political climate of recent decades underscores the need for voices of conscience such as the film highlights. He has written an opinion piece about the project and the trailer is online.
This is a film worth watching as it brings to light one of the most important thinkers of the past century, one of the giants of American thought whose ideas are very relevant today. And as the film may suggest — perhaps we should still be listening.
As always, thank you for all that you do for Boise State and its students.
President Bob Kustra