Posts Tagged ‘ethics’

“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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“And this is enough: for grace is sufficient, even for ethics! Like the turning of a key in a lock, it is the prelude to a new action, to that conduct which is marked by the divine protest against the great illusion, through which the light of the coming Day shines clear and transparent. Grace is sufficient to destroy the noxious assurance of men and to give them the status of the new man in Christ. Grace is sufficient to awaken them from the sleep of righteousness, and to make of them men who have been sacrificed. Grace is sufficient to prevent men being removed altogether from that which is good and acceptable and perfect; from the behaviour which is well-pleasing to God and in which His glory and the downfall of men shine forth.” p. 437 The Epistle to the Romans

Yes, Grace is sufficient…

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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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“More appalling is the bankruptcy of ethical fanaticism. Fanatics believe that they can face the power of evil with the purity of their will and their principles. But the essence of fanaticism is that it loses sight of the whole evil, and like a bull that charges the red cape instead of the one holding it, fanatics finally tire and suffer defeat. Fanatics miss their goal. Though their fanaticism serves the lofty goals of truth or justice, sooner or later they are caught in small and insignificant things and fall into the net of their more clever opponent.” Ethics p. 78

The second category Bonhoeffer describes is that of the ethical fanatic. I actually have seen this type in newly converted Christians. They usually come from a poorly run church, and know very little about the faith. But they are fervent and zealous in all they do, especially keeping themselves ‘pure’ and ‘holy’. Not that this is the only type of ethical fanatic…far from it.

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“The failure of reasonable people is appalling; they cannot manage to see either the abyss of evil or the abyss of holiness. With the best intentions they believe that, with a little reason, they can pull back together a structure that has come apart at the joints. In their defective vision they want to be fair to both sides, and so they are crushed between the colliding forces without having accomplished anything at all. Bitterly disappointed that the world is so unreasonable, they see themselves condemned to ineffectiveness. They withdraw in resignation or fall helplessly captive to the stronger party.” p. 78 Ethics

Here Bonhoeffer goes over the ethics of “reasonable people”. He goes on to describe five more types of people and how they approach ethics and why they fail. I shall post those in the coming days.

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