Friday, June 3, 2016

My new book

My book is out: The Doubled Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran theologian who resisted the Nazis and was executed for his complicity in the July 20, 1944  plot to assassinate Hitler. 

The focus of The Doubled Life is on reinserting women back into his life story, but possibly of more interest to readers at this site is Bonhoeffer's connection to Quakerism.  My writing of the book was informed by my Quakerism, which raised issues of women's silencing and equality for me as I began to research Bonhoeffer. Another connection to Quakers is in Bonhoeffer's similarities to Thomas Kelly:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Some theological similarities between Bonhoeffer and Quakers:

Pacificism (peace testimony): Although Bonhoeffer, no doubt with some anguish, got involved in the plot to assassinate Hitler, he was, as mentioned above, a pacifist. He felt, however, that so many people were suffering and dying that he had to sacrifice his own desire for moral purity. Violating his conscience was less important than saving others. He thus rejected Kantian moral absolutes. We continue to debate this decision.  

Living your beliefs in the here and now (integrity): Like the Quakers, Bonhoeffer didn't invest his faith in "airy notions" (though he was more overtly theological, probably, than the average Quaker) but strongly believed that Christianity was meant to be enacted now, today, in this world. For this reason, he embraced the Old Testament (what we now call the Hebrew Bible) because of its emphasis on finding God "in the center of the village." That was a radical move in Nazi Germany, which wanted to eradicate the Old Testament along with the Jews. Like the Quakers, for him faith was expressed in what you do, not in what you say. Despite his highly troubled relationship with his fiancee, Maria, he admired the many ways she lived out her beliefs in action. 

Religionless Christianity: Related to living in the here and now, Bonhoeffer, like the early Quakers, wanted a Christianity stripped of its cant. For him, Christianity came to be defined as prayer and action. The crisis in institutional Christianity he  experienced is on going today. 

The Inner Light isn't your conscience: Like the early Quakers, most notably Robert Barclay, Bonhoeffer rejected the notion of "let your conscience be your guide," understanding this as a way for people to set themselves up as God. Like the early Quakers, he was interested in the light (though he would not have used that term) as way of discerning and doing God's will in the world. 

Community and Simplicity: Bonhoeffer invested enormously in his believe in the power of community to shake off the Nazi yoke. He found his deepest fulfillment in the several dissident seminaries he founded. Life in these communities was lived very simply. 

Equality: Bonhoeffer might not meet the bar on the equality testimony as we understand it, as he was a product of a hierarchical and patriarchal culture. However, it's worth noting how profoundly he was influenced by the black church in Harlem in 1930-31 at a time when many Americans were blinded by racism. Further, near the end of his life, he embraced the idea of what might be called "the community of good people" that transcended notions of class. 
Some further Quaker/Bonhoeffer connections:

During the course of a year in Manhattan at Union Theological Seminary, Bonhoeffer met Jean Lasserre, a fellow seminarian and French pacifist. Bonhoeffer was converted into a Sermon-on-the-Mount Christian pacifist by the encounter. Bonhoeffer and Lasserre travelled to Mexico in 1931 and were asked to address a Quaker group there, as it was so unusual at that time for a German and a Frenchman to be friends, given the animosity World War I and its aftermath had bred between the two cultures. (I'd love to know more about the meeting these two had with Mexico Quakers.)

When Bonhoeffer decided to run a seminary, one of the models was Woodbrooke, in Birmingham, England. He imposed a period of silent worship on his his seminarians, with which they found difficult to cope. (Further, the Berlin Quaker meeting was active in helping Jews and others during the Nazi era. If Bonhoeffer had a connection with them, which is quite possible, it would necessarily be submerged.) 

Thomas Kelly's brother-in-law picked Bonhoeffer up in Manhattan when Bonhoeffer traveled there in June, 1939. 

Bonhoeffer was friends with Quaker physicist and pacifist, Herbert Jehle, whose peace-loving ideas were considered quite strange in 1930s Germany. After the war, Jehle named his children Dietrich and Eberhard, after Bonhoeffer and his best friend, Eberhard Bethge. Jehle also helped Bonhoeffer's fiancee, Maria, come to the U.S. after the war, where she studied at Bryn Mawr. 

Like many early Quakers, Bonhoeffer did jail time. Like a few Quakers, he was executed. 

Herbert Jehle, Quaker

I began the book at Earlham School of Religion. Without the Quakers and Brethren I met there, this book never would have gotten off the ground. 

For Bonhoeffer, at the end of the day, the personal was the theological and the theological was the personal. My book concentrates on the life, with all its flaws, as an expression of a lived theology during a period of war and totalitarianism. 

The book can be purchased through Amazon. A $9.99 kindle version is available. If you would like an actual copy, the best price ($30.40) is via Chris Graham at .

I hope you will read the book. I know it's expensive (and I signed a contract that more or less insured I won't make any money on it) but I would love it to be read and discussed. Many of the issues Bonhoeffer faced remain eerily relevant to our own times. In addition, one of Bonhoeffer's best friend Bethge's biggest disappointment after the war was his sense that the Lutheran Church in Germany simply wanted to return to "the day before" Hitler took power: it seemed to Bethge not to want to learn from the experience of Nazism. Do religious institutions suffer because they haven't fully come to grips with the modern world or the aftermath of World War II? 

More on the book at:

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