COMMENTARY: How I discovered I was wrong about the origin of the Serenity Prayer

Print More
Reinhold Niebuhr, then-dean emeritus of New York’s Union Theological Seminary. Religion News Service file photo

Reinhold Niebuhr, then-dean emeritus of New York’s Union Theological Seminary. Religion News Service file photo

Active RNS subscribers and members can view this content by logging-in here.

(RNS) I now am able to report that I have uncovered new evidence establishing to a high degree of confidence that Reinhold Niebuhr did originate the Serenity Prayer.

  • Atheist Max

    Thanks for doing all that research. It is fascinating.

    The Serenity Prayer was always my favorite prayer when I was a Christian.
    I did not abandon these sentiments when I became Atheist – indeed saw my Atheism as an answer to its prayer! (ironically).

    And so I fashioned for myself an even more meaningful
    Atheistic version:

    “I shall seek
    the serenity to accept those things I cannot change,
    Courage to change the things I can
    And the wisdom to know the difference.”
    – Atheist Max
    (With dutiful credit to Reinhold Niebuhr)

  • Jon

    Kudos to Fred Shapiro for all this work, for making a fair and evidence based statement in 2008, and for having the integrity to be open about correcting it (again based on the evidence), today.

    What a great demonstration of hard work and honesty!

    To me, this shows again how, when we base conclusions on evidence, disagreements can simply be solved instead of becoming personal attacks.

    And, Atheist Max – thanks for that too – Love it!

  • Rob T

    Excellent work Mr. Shapiro. Who knew there could be that much history to this?
    I had no idea that existed. Sounds like a great place to surf the web.

    And yes, ATHEIST MAX, your version is better….much!

  • bill

    It’s funny that as an athiest you edited God out of a prayer! What you miss out on is the “gift” from God to do these things. Of course you don’t think that you need someone that doesn’t exist, but RN knew in the depths of his being that he needed God’s help, and that it was God who granted him the ability to do these things. Don’t want to start a debate. Just thought it was ironic.

  • Michael Callahan

    ‘And when we were wrong, promptly admitted it’ Mr. Shapiro certainly does this with his followup article. The cartoon strip “Calvin and Hobbes” does a take on the prayer thusly – “The strength to change what I can, the inability to accept what I can’t, and the incapacity to tell the difference.” Peace.

  • Atheist Max

    God was never really there anyway. It is delusional.
    We never had a choice about it.
    We have to get by without God – because we always have.

  • David Whelan

    Not to depreciate any efforts to trace the origin of creative genius … I’m certain that even Niebuhr, himself, would agree: Any statement that bears intrinsic truth is Anonymous by nature. It’s true authorship is always divine and cannot be possessed nor claimed as original. We are but the conduit through which genius flows.

    I’m reminded of the native american’s comment. “The white man is crazy … he thinks he can own the land.”

  • Pingback: COMMENTARY: How I discovered I was wrong about the origin of the Serenity Prayer | Broward County, Florida, USA()

  • Brad Conley

    Not to mention the sentiment has been expressed and written for two thousand years by Greeks, Buddhists, Hebrews, etc.

  • Fred Gilchrist

    I have always felt the sentiments expressed in the Serenity Prayer (the first part only) offers a valuable insight and try to incorporate it in my approach to living. It is not a prayer for me, I am not an advocate of theism. Attempting to ascribe authorship to wisdom, can easily become the trees, that obscures the forest. Is it a valid observation or prospective? For me, that is the important question. I happen to like Mother Goose’s version the best.

    For every ailment under the sun
    There is a remedy, or there is none;
    If there be one, try to find it;
    If there be none, never mind it.

    And yes, the white man is crazy… he thinks he can own god.

  • Dave Surtees

    I like this version. It has a greater explanatory power;

    I seek

    the serenity to accept what I cannot change;

    the courage to change what I can;

    and the wisdom to know the difference.

    The Twelve Steps process can be described as a quest for effective power and control. Control is not a dirty word. The problem is when we keep trying to control what we have no business controlling.

    So, despite the name it is generally known by (“Serenity Prayer”), this quest is not just about Serenity. It is also about Courage and Wisdom. This quest is not just about learning to let go and learning courage. It is about knowing when to fight for change, and when to learn to live with what is.

    It wouldn’t accept the whole thing so… you will have to choose to link to it.

  • DeChamp

    Serenity Prayer