Bonhoeffer would never support identity politics

Doesn’t it feel good to find a quote from a trusted and much respected historical figure that states exactly the point we want to make to prove that we are right and to justify our particular point of view. It seems easier than ever to quote someone and pull their whole life and their whole belief system completely out of context with a single quote.

Case in point Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

For anyone who has read Bonhoeffer, they would know that Bonhoeffer would have never supported identify politics. In fact in his last book Letters and Papers from Prison, he had much to say not only about the stupidity that drives identity politics but grave warnings about one’s participation. Furthermore, Bonhoeffer does more than address an individual’s political participation but speaks specifically to how the church should move forward in the world to have credibility…especially after their own participation in politics.

“Chapter 3: Conclusions: The church is church only when it is there for others. As a first step it must give away all its property to those in need. The clergy must live solely on the freewill offerings of the congregations and perhaps be engaged in some secular vocation [Beruf]. The church must participate in the worldly tasks of life in the community—not dominating but helping and serving. It must tell people in every calling [Beruf] what a life with Christ is, what it means “to be there for others.” In particular, our church will have to confront the vices of hubris, the worship of power, envy, and illusionism as the roots of all evil. It will have to speak of moderation, authenticity, trust, faithfulness, steadfastness, patience, discipline, humility, modesty, contentment. It will have to see that it does not underestimate the significance of the human “example” (which has its origin in the humanity of Jesus and is so important in Paul’s writings!); the church’s word gains weight and power not through concepts but by example, (I will write in more detail later about “example” in the NT—we have almost entirely lost track of this thought). Further: revision of the question of “confession” (Apostolikum); revision of apologetics; revision of the preparation for and practice of ministry. All this is put very roughly and only outlined. But I am eager to attempt for once to express certain things simply and clearly that we otherwise like to avoid dealing with. Whether I shall succeed is another matter, especially without the benefit of our conversations. I hope that in doing so I can be of some service for the future of the church.”

Given all that Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived, died for, and was in his last days writing about, it is completely inexcusable on every level to separate this man’s writings on religion from his words and actions against the political evil of his day. Likewise, it has been equally grotesque to link Dietrich Bonhoeffer with the likes of Eric Metaxes or to believe you know who Bonhoeffer was or what he was about from Metaxes’s whitewashed version of Bonhoeffer.

“Events dominate this biography, and Metaxas only devotes a few pages to discussing Bonhoeffer’s writings. Indeed it is hard to tell how much he has even read of Bonhoeffer’s corpus. For example, in 1932-33 Bonhoeffer taught theology at the University of Berlin; two of his courses were published: Creation and Fall and Christ the Center. Though Metaxas lists both in his bibliography, he does not discuss them nor cite them. Both of these works contain ideas that would cause most evangelicals to cringe (or worse). Even Bonhoeffer’s Ethics receive only cursory treatment, and Metaxas does not fathom Bonhoeffer’s support for situation ethics therein.

Metaxas, then, has presented us with a sanitized Bonhoeffer fit for evangelical audiences. Evangelicals can continue to believe comfortingly that Bonhoeffer is one of them, and that his heroic stance against Hitler was the product of evangelical-style theology. This view is naive, but many wish it to be so. They might prefer Metaxas’s counterfeit Bonhoeffer to the real, much more complex, German theologian who continued to believe in the validity of higher biblical criticism, who praised Rudolf Bultmann when he called for demythologizing the New Testament, and who in his prison writings called for us to live “as if there were no God.” In 1944, toward the end of his life, Bonhoeffer admitted that he was a theologian who “still carries within himself the heritage of liberal theology.” [5]

Further addressing Eric Metaxes…”In the last week or so we have called your attention to stories about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. First, there was Stephen Haynes’s “An Open Letter to Christians Who Love Bonhoeffer but (Still) Support Trump.” And then there was this post: “International Bonhoeffer Society Calls for Ending of the Trump Presidency.” Eric Metaxas Vs. Every Bonhoeffer Scholar in the World

To be the person who supports Trump, promotes conspiracy theories, speaks misinformation, furthers disinformation or to be caught up in the “masquerade of evil” and to then believe you can properly quote Bonhoeffer is from my opinion what Bonhoeffer states is the “very confirmation of the abysmal wickedness of evil.”

Funny enough, Bonhoeffer addresses such delusional thinking in his last book “Letters and Papers From prison:

“On Stupidity

Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed—in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical—and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self-satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for when dealing with a stupid person than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.

If we want to know how to get the better of stupidity, we must seek to understand its nature. This much is certain, that it is in essence not an intellectual defect but a human one. There are human beings who are of remarkably agile intellect yet stupid, and others who are intellectually quite dull yet anything but stupid. We discover this to our surprise in particular situations. The impression one gains is not so much that stupidity is a congenital defect but that, under certain circumstances, people are made stupid or that they allow this to happen to them. We note further that people who have isolated themselves from others or who live in solitude manifest this defect less frequently than individuals or groups of people inclined or condemned to sociability. And so it would seem that stupidity is perhaps less a psychological than a sociological problem. It is a particular form of the impact of historical circumstances on human beings, a psychological concomitant of certain external conditions. Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. It would even seem that this is virtually a sociological-psychological law. The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other. The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances. The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with him as a person, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurks, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.

Yet at this very point it becomes quite clear that only an act of liberation, not instruction, can overcome stupidity. Here we must come to terms with the fact that in most cases a genuine internal liberation becomes possible only when external liberation has preceded it. Until then we must abandon all attempts to convince the stupid person. This state of affairs explains why in such circumstances our attempts to know what “the people” really think are in vain and why, under these circumstances, this question is so irrelevant for the person who is thinking and acting responsibly. The word of the Bible that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom declares that the internal liberation of human beings to live the responsible life before God is the only genuine way to overcome stupidity. But these thoughts about stupidity also offer consolation in that they utterly forbid us to consider the majority of people to be stupid in every circumstance. It really will depend on whether those in power expect more from peoples’ stupidity than from their inner independence and wisdom.”

By all means, read Bonhoeffer but do not quote him unless you have read and understood his commitment to Truth and willingness to physically live and die for it.

“In flight from public discussion and examination, this or that person may well attain the sanctuary of private virtuousness. But he must close his eyes and mouth to the injustice around him. He can remain undefiled by the consequences of responsible action only by deceiving himself. In everything he does, that which he fails to do will leave him no peace. He will either perish from that restlessness or turn into the most hypocritical of all Pharisees.[1] Who stands firm? Only the one whose ultimate standard is not his reason, his principles, conscience, freedom, or virtue; only the one who is prepared to sacrifice all of these when, in faith and in relationship to God alone, he is called to obedient and responsible action. Such a person is the responsible one, whose life is to be nothing but a response to God’s question and call. Where are these responsible ones?” Bonhoeffer

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