May 2, 2013 @ 0:11 By  

Those Americans who know Bonhoeffer tend to think about the church and theology under Hitler through Bonhoeffer’s experience. That is, harassed, spied upon, arrested, secretly tried, and eventually murdered. Bonhoeffer’s experience was not the norm for German theologians and pastors though neither was it atypical. Other kinds of experiences are known:

Some capitulated to National Socialism, to racism, to German culture as a relentless machine of superiority, to technology as the future, to human life as utilitarian, economic success regardless of its implications, shutting down alternative voices, and the destruction of nature. Some turned their theology into a tool for the National Socialists, led by the “German Christians” (Deutsche Christen, and some turned their academic work into the same (Gerhard Kittel, Paul Althaus, Emanuel Hirsch). On this read R.P. Ericksen,Theologians under Hitler and S. Heschel, The Aryan Jesus.

Some capitulated by refusing to withstand and so became complicit. Some later confessed complicity; some didn’t.

Some resisted and died, like Bonhoeffer. Some resisted and escaped, like Karl Barth. Some were stained by sins under Hitler and then resisted and were imprisoned but confessed, like Martin Niemöller, while others were stained and survived, but never confessed, like Martin Heidegger. On philosophers under Hitler, see Hitler’s Philosophers by Yvonne Sherratt, a book I have not yet read.

Others resisted and survived. It is perhaps my ignorance of all the machinations or my familiarity of the stories of Bonhoeffer and Niemöller but I have always wondered how anyone could survive under Hitler without complicity in National Socialism. The story of Rudolf Bultmann is one such story, and Konrad Hammann’s full biographical study of the development of Bultmann’s theology is a singularly important achievement. The book is called Rudolf Bultmann: A Biography.

Do you read Bultmann? What do you think his seminal contributions were?

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