Monday, December 5, 2011

Bonhoeffer Struggles

I attended the Bonhoeffer conference at Union Theological Seminary in
NYC in mid-November, which was a celebration of the near-completion of the
Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works translation. I had a fine time. I was
delighted to be at Union, which I had never visited before. (I am told
that all the college campus scenes for the TV show Law & Order are shot at Union.) A bit of drama ensued as Occupy Wall Street was shut down while I was there, a blow to the 46 Union Theological students who had been participating and an upsetting event to the school in general.

The Bonhoeffer talks were very interesting, ranging from Bonhoeffer's
reception in different countries to issues with translation and
theology. I learned that Fortress will be releasing a volume of
Bonhoeffer poems and a volume of his sermons in the next few years.

I was also interested to hear several times that the initial reception
to Bonhoeffer in Germany in the 1950s was mixed because he was seen as a traitor to
Germany by some. That certainly made my mind reel. How could that be?
Hitler was a horror. But then I realized that the Germans take law
and order seriously (although the rule of law certainly suffered under
Nazism) and that having one's country overrun by invading armies,
even in the interests of toppling of a genocidal madman,
is still a terrible experience. Yet I struggle. As a Quaker and a pacifist, I
struggle with Bonhoeffer's decision to get involved in an
assassination plot, though I certainly understand his anguished sense of responsibility to do something to combat the evil. On the other hand, as a part of the human race, I struggle with any defense of Hitler. I do struggle to find that of God in Hitler. As one speaker said, however, "It's easy for Americans to love Bonhoeffer." That I agree with.

As an aside, I listened for how the Germans at conference pronounced Bonhoeffer, suspecting it would not be our "Bon-hoff-ER." It was not--the Germans have a more melodious pronunciation that sounded to me more like "Bon [with a slight long-E to the Bon] -HEFF-a."


Marshall Massey (Iowa YM [C]) said...

I suppose it’s worth remembering that Fox’s phrase “that of God in every man” does not mean “something good in every man” or “something divine in every man”; it means “the voice of God that tries to make itself heard in every man’s heart and conscience, showing him (or her) what is right and what is wrong”.

The early Friends felt that this voice may be withdrawn if a person locks it out too long. That is how one gets a sociopath like Hitler.

Diane said...


Thanks for that. But I also struggle with the--yes--Calvinist notion that while we are totally depraved, we are not utterly depraved, meaning that even the worst person, being formed in the image of God, contains a tiny shred of good. The enormity of Hitler's crimes, however, tends to obliterate any individual acts of kindness he might have perpetrated.