Posts Tagged ‘bonhoeffer’

“Only that which participates in Christ can endure and overcome. Christ is the center and power of the Bible, of the Church, of theology, but also of humanity, reason, justice, and culture. To Christ everything must return; only under Christ’s protection can it live.” p. 341 Ethics, Bonhoeffer


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“The way of Jesus Christ, and thus the way of all Christian thought, is not the way from the world to God but from God to the world.” p.356 Ethics

An important distinction raised by Bonhoeffer in his Ethics. A distinction, that I personally draw, not that he explicitly wrote about, is that this point is where many religions part ways from Christianity.

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“Knowing good and evil in disunion with the origin, human beings become self-reflective. Their life now consists in understanding themselves, just as in the origin it was knowing God. Gaining self-knowledge is the essence and goal of life. This is so even where human beings seek to push beyond the limits of their own selves. Seeking self-knowledge is the never-ending attempt of human beings to overcome their disunion with themselves through thought, and, through unceasing self-differentiation, to find unity with themselves.” p. 308 Ethics

Bonhoeffer talks at length about this topic of disunion with God. I will quote more later. But here, “origin” means God in some senses, and I think in others it means the point of creation as with Adam and Eve. I could be wrong, we’ll see.

I find this very interesting. By gaining knowledge of good and evil, we separate ourselves from God, and become self-reflective. In our new state we stop reflecting on God, through which knowledge of our true selves is known, and focus instead on our self, which, apart from God, cannot be known. I can imagine we then start to formulate our own judgments about morality, and apply them to God, thereby further separating Him from us…perhaps even calling him a tyrant and hiding from Him (Adam and Eve hid from God).

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“Only the person taken on in Christ is the real human being; only the person confronted by the cross of Christ is the judged human being; only the person who participates in the resurrection of Christ is the renewed human being. Since God became a human being in Christ, all thinking about human beings without Christ is unfruitful abstraction. The counter-image to the human being taken up into the form of Christ is the human being as self-creator, self-judge, and self-renewer; these people bypass their true humanity and therefore, sooner or later, destroy themselves. Falling away from Christ is at the same time falling away from one’s own true nature.” p. 134 Ethics

Before any non-religious people get upset, I apply this passage to myself and all ‘believers’ as well. At the end Bonhoeffer reminds me of Kierkegaard in The Sickness Unto Death. I see the counter-image to the human being taken up into the form of Christ in the self-righteous, “holy” man who thumps his bible at people and condemns them, as well as the ‘free’ thinker who seeks to ‘free’ those still enslaved to religion. What were you created to be? Who you are in the eyes of God is what matters…can you see it? In the love of God, in Christ, we find ourselves as we ought to be, and as we shall be.

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“Those, however, who take their stand in the world in their very own freedom, who value the necessary action more highly than their own untarnished conscience and reputation, who are prepared to sacrifice a barren principle to a fruitful compromise or a barren wisdom of the middle way to a fruitful radicalism, should take heed lest precisely their presumed freedom ultimately cause them to fall. They will easily consent to the bad, knowing full well that it is bad, in order to prevent the worse, and no longer be able to recognize that precisely the worse choice they wish to avoid may be the better one. Here lies the raw material of tragedy.” p. 80 Ethics

Another ethical orientation described by Bonhoeffer. I don’t want to get political here, but this is reminding me of President Bush saying, “I’ve abandoned free-market principles in order to save the free-market system”. It seems to me the ‘worse’ case scenario would have been better.

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“The safe way of duty seems to offer escape from the bewildering profusion of possible decisions. What is commanded is grasped as the most certain. The person in command bears responsibility for the order, not the one who carries it out. however, those who limit themselves to duty will never venture a free action that rests solely on their own responsibility, the only sort of action that can meet evil at its heart and overcome it. People of duty must finally fulfill their duty even to the devil.” p. 79 Ethics

Another ethical category that a person might take on. Notice how Bonhoeffer says that a free action is the only type of action that can ‘meet evil at its heart and overcome it’. I think the final line is very powerful, and reminds me of the time he was writing this; how Nazis were exterminating people under the rule of Hitler.

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“Men of conscience fend off all alone the superior power of predicaments that demand decision. But the dimensions of the conflicts in which they have to choose, counseled and supported by nothing but their own conscience, tear them to pieces. The countless respectable and deductive disguises and masks in which evil approaches them make their conscience anxious and unsure until they finally content themselves with an assuaged conscience instead of a good conscience, that is, until they deceive their own conscience in order not to despair. Those whose sole support is their conscience can never grasp that a bad conscience can be stronger and healthier than one that is deceived.” p. 79 Ethics

To me, this is very powerful. I hear echoes of Soren Kierkegaard here “in order not to despair”. The bad conscience, knowing full-well that it is bad, and what is bad and what is good…is better than that which is deceiving itself into thinking what is bad is good. A distinction, between bad conscience and deceived, which we don’t often hear about.

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